Short Ideas Blog Post 18 on the review genre

Defining Genres — Review


Review videos are anything where a subject is speaking directly to camera as themselves. The feel here is that the person is speaking authentically to the audience, and there are usually stylistic trappings that should be observed, whether it’s in the “rant” style of a speaker doing a walk-and-talk with an obediently following camera, or a self-shot vlog.

Rick’s Rant — Trump and O’Leary

Writing for someone else

If you are writing for an existing property, it can be tricky to get the feel for the voice and character of the style, but watching a few examples should give you the rhythm for it. Consider very carefully how much the new piece would benefit from belonging to their usual world of videos or looking and feeling completely different. You may want to try to keep things as familiar as possible without making any “improvements” to elevate the production value, because their audience will instinctively know what’s authentic and what isn’t, and if it isn’t you’ll put them off.

Of course, you can deviate from this for effect, which can be great so long as that’s a conscious choice — some audiences would be happy to see the host in a different style of video as they’ll be excited for their “friend” to move into new territory. So be clear on who is your audience, so that you can determine if you are appealing to the existing one, introducing your host to a new one, or trying to do something somewhere in–between.

Find The Story

After the voice, the easiest thing to lose in these videos is the plot. A strong video should still have a beginning, middle and ending to it, not just cease to continue. It’s amazing how little you need sometimes to move something in the right direction for this, such as using an arrival at the beginning and a departure at the end, to make the video feel complete.

For recurring videos, watching structured lifestyle television can be a huge education in making successful, watchable online videos. We’ve been conditioned to internalise this type of formatting and it pays off when you employ it, making the video feel clear, to the point, and well produced. Don’t be shy to be quite clear at the beginning about what to expect in this series and episode, such as the host saying, “Hi guys, thanks for joining me today. I’ve always wondered what it’s like to eat in this amazing hotel. Let’s find out!” As obvious and painfully clear as this is, the audience will know what’s in store and won’t be wondering what is the point of the video or where it is going.

Break down the bigger story into smaller sections and make sure that you understand how each one is supposed to work in terms of beginning, middle and end, all the while emphasising clarity of story and setting up questions wherever possible — will he succeed at this activity? Is this indeed the fastest phone? In the example above, the beginning, middle and end can be parsed as follows:

Beginning— “Hi guys, thanks for joining me today.”

Middle— “I’ve always wondered what it’s like
to eat in this amazing hotel.”

End— “Let’s find out!”

Nothing epic here, and these elements don’t have to be literally spoken to camera but they should be present. You could replace the first line with a visual sequence of the host appearing at a location, which establishes the beginning thought that “the host has arrived somewhere”. This quickly becomes more complicated when you’ve got a real scenario on your hands, but the basic questions should always be answered in one form or another, or delayed for a great reason like building viewer interest. Just make sure that this is authentically building interest and not an easy out to avoid answering the question.

I attempted this with a TV documentary that I was editing, hoping that viewers would be intrigued by the slow pace and mystery of the edit, and the producer’s honest and brutal reaction was effective and clear. “Who cares? Why would I watch this?!” Answering that he was the producer and should know perfectly well was not the right answer. The right answer was to build a section at the beginning of the film that answered those questions in a way that built interest and eagerness to find the answers to the questions posed at the beginning, like “what is it like to eat in that hotel?” This provides an important guiding structure to the work, as the viewer will have an instinct to the pacing of the video. Once the food arrives, we know that we should be well into the video, and once it’s gone, we know that we should be near the end. This process of setup and satisfaction is critical to storytelling, and it’s best not to try and subvert it unless you are very aware of what you are doing and why, in which case you can reap the glorious benefits of breaking the mould.

When you finally put the script together, you likely won’t need chapters or section markers, but the fact that it was planned out will undoubtedly be palpable and provide fantastic momentum and keep your piece feeling structured.

Sony IFA 2014 Product Launch

This product launch video is a straight forward review at an event, much in the style of a reporter for the news. It is at an event but is not an event film as the focus is on the individual products and their features, not on the success, size or importance of the event itself. Similarly, it is not in the factual genre because this film is using the source facts as a platform rather than the story itself, concerned with opinion and commentary about the facts. This distinction of focus about where the story lies is the key to figuring out in which genre your film lies, as we have seen previously in determining if a film is a commercial (product focused) or a brand film (brand focused).

Philip Bloom

As always, Philip Bloom sets a high bar for production value, depth and comprehensiveness in his camera reviews. The opening sequence, for example, features the camera that he is discussing and employs a technique discussed (zooming into 4K footage for a close up). Again, while this is material stems from the factual world it is entirely based upon opinion and review, not finding the story itself within the facts.

Product Review: DZ09 Bluetooth Smart Watch Phone

$37 DZ09 Smartwatch review

Consider these two different approaches to the same material — reviewing the DZ09 watch. Both shot from the first person perspective, both unboxing, both about 8 minutes, but the production values are completely different, undermining the professionalism of the first though perhaps boosting its authenticity. The second video’s relative polish could be produced by a production company trying to seem authentic, but the first video? Not very likely… I think anyone with training or experience would be fighting the instinct to improve the production values.







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