I’ll never forget my high school biology teacher. Mr. Rutledge was terrific in the classroom. He was lively, funny and entertaining – in short, he made learning fun. Then came the the day he gave my class a taste of what many of our future college lectures would be like. Announcing that it was “college lecture day,” he sat at his desk, opened a text book, bowed his head and read, in a monotone, for the entire class period. His voice never varied in pace or intonation. It was all I could do to keep from being lulled to sleep. In short, it was one of the longest lectures in my life – an object lesson in how not to teach.
So what does this have to do with video biographies? Well, a common mistake I see made in video biographies, be they professional or amateur, concerns pacing. Many producers never vary the tempo of their programs or give viewers a little bit of time to digest the information they’re given. These shows are, in fact, the video equivalent of a monotone. And they send their audiences (at least me) to dreamland.
How can you avoid creating a “monotone” video biography? There are lots of techniques, but in this article I’d like to offer you one particular bit of advice: Let your interview “breathe.” Y’see, many video biographers seem to think they need to present interviews exactly as they were recorded, with minimal cutting and shaping. They let the interviews set the pace, or tempo, for the video, instead of shaping the interviews and varying the pacing through editing.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you’ve got half a dozen photos of Granma Annie during her childhood years on the family farm. During the interview, however, Annie only mentions the farm briefly. There’s not enough time to insert all the photos you have in the few seconds she gives you – so what do you do? Some producers cram in a few photos in the time available, resulting in shots that are on the screen for too short a time, which makes them distracting and also doesn’t give the viewers enough time to enjoy them. Not good. The better option is this: After Granma mentions the farm, stop the interview, mix in some music, display the photos (perhaps dissolving between them as they pan left and right or zoom in and out) and then dissolve back to Granma as she continues her answer. This gap, or “breath” gives your viewers the time they need to process the information they’ve just heard in the interview and enjoy the visuals.