Visual Education

I was talking to a client and a DP (director of photography) today and we discussed how to present learning content for a young audience – an out of college sales force let’s say – and at the same time get the suits that make the buying decision excited about the presentation too.

In an earlier post I talk about the future of storytelling and how there is no linear story telling anymore as we knew it only a few years back (OK, many years back). To expand on that discussion we should also look at the way we have learned to “read” and understand visual material, especially if it moves.

When I started working in film production some 20 years ago (I was VERY young) the images we produced where clean, clear and crisp. We told stories literally and linearly. Transitions where hard cuts and fade in and out or a dissolve where major effects and placed thoughtfully. Voice over and graphic cards underscored what we felt was visually not absolutely crystal clear. We left breathing space so everybody could “read” along with us.

Enter digital filmmaking, YouTube, Flip cameras, iMovie and Final Cut Pro. Everybody is a filmmaker. Picture quality declined both in the literal, technical sense and in terms of story-telling. Out of focus was art, so was off-kilter framing. Fragments of story lines, slice of life vignettes emerged (some fascinating and many of them truly dull). Stories were told faster, more effects where used sometimes to enhance the message, more than not however ‘because they could’. Audiences learned to read imagery, quicker, more intuitively; they understood what was said even if it wasn’t.

Today no one shuffles their feet in a client meeting when an image starts with a slow focus pull that throws the background out of focus and the fore ground into focus, or if we start on a partial frame or an empty frame. We create three ring circuses with three emerging story lines simultaneously developing in one frame. We have learned to read all three and put them together. We read a wallpaper video in the background and a content video in the foreground and listen to a voice over (often competing with music – which always drives me nuts as a producer) and ‘get’ the message and think nothing of it.

We’ve also learned that we’re not being spoon-fed a linear story. It all happens NOW or it unfolds backwards, or in pieces, or entire chapters are left out – we can fill them in surely – just a waste of time to show it all and be linear, because time is what we do NOT have.

We have learned to “read” movies very fast and if the tempo is not fast enough we move on to the next clip – there are so many of them after all. The smallest common denominator is the fastest paced movie – as we all seem to have come out with attention deficit disorder.

But I’m still a sucker for linear story telling… I’m all for innovation and ‘not so perfect’ and artsy new ways of telling the story, but I want to have a beginning, middle and end. Call me old-fashioned.