As a film enthusiast and used-to-be-frequent-movie-goer (is that a thing?), I love a well crafted flick or a documentary that places me right into a world that I wouldn’t normally have exposure to. When I watch anything, be it a movie a video game or a well-written show, it doesn’t take me very long to get pulled right into the story. This is partly because I am a very visual person, a visual learner as opposed to an auditory learner. I need to see it all happen before I can fully comprehend it. The fact that my brain is wired this way often makes watching a movie quite enjoyable, and when I am fully engaged and lost in a film I am taken for a ride where I often lose myself. But is that the goal of every film or every video short? Does every DP or editor or producer have this plot to hypnotize their audience through well thought out tactics and carefully constructed schemes? To some extent I believe the answer is, yes.
I am one that is easily mesmerized by the creative who is behind the scenes of any art-form. But from the creative’s perspective, they have to create something that will not only captivate someone as willing as me They also have to get that much needed attention and commitment from the most critical of viewers. Can it be done? There is so much going on in the invisible world of video, within the places that are not directly seen with the eye but those places that can be experienced in the mind. This is where art and psychology meet, where imagery and composition go beyond the technical and into the cerebral, to actually affect the emotional part of us.
Editing: Psych 101
One tactic that is used in the editing room is what is known as the Kuleshov Effect. It is a montage effect in which the audience relates two images together in a way that produces more feeling or understanding than if just one visual was displayed. In this original Kuleshov example, the test subjects reported things like, “The actor in this film did a fantastic job at portraying the different emotions he was feeling when looking at the various subjects and objects.” Of course, the actor in this short film was not acting at all, he had one consistent expressionless face. And he did not even look at any of these objects. Kuleshov simply used the same exact shot of this man, and juxtaposed other images to make the audience think that the actor was responding to the imagery. This is an old experiment so it most likely won’t ‘wow’ you but I’m telling you, we fall for this same technique all the time in today’s films and videos.
We have all succumbed to the life-changing wonder that is “the movies”. Watching a film transports us to a place totally unreal and adventurous, a place where we can really walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, a place that opens up our understanding of the world in which we live in a much greater way. Is this language too much, “life-changing”? It sounds like it is, but just think back to when you were young and more impressionable. I still have real-life experiences and moments, when I am outside at night in an empty parking lot and that real moment that I am in, brings me back to an amazing memory I had of watching a movie. I am digressing a bit here I know, but how does my reality bring me back to a movie that I watched over 20 years ago? A simple example, but it really has affected my emotions and impacted my brain in a very precise way. It is quite amazing that our very understanding of the world, of life, can be partially shaped and greatly affected by a movie.
Some forms of video have a very specific agenda, such as advertisement, promos and the like. Many documentaries will also, sometimes very blatantly, pull your heartstrings in all sorts of directions. There are some filmmakers/video producers that know how to bring the audience in, a sort of invitation rather than a spoon-fed manipulation. This strategy can be so subtle, so stealthy, that the viewer is not even distracted by the imagery to be pulled away from the story, but they are brought in closer and “sold” on whatever thought or suggestion is made. Creepy? Sure, ninjas can be creepy I guess, but it depends on what the creative ninja is wanting to tell or sell. When this works well, the viewer leaves saying “Wow that was good.” It’s as simple as that.
Whether or not we want to admit it, there is a hidden power behind what the editor is doing. But it really isn’t mystical, it isn’t supernatural, it just comes down to psychology. Deep in the shadows silently moving through the psyche, is the editor. As the editor your goal is knowing, understanding, and caring about your audience in such a way that your story could possibly impact them forever. That is what the psychology of visual media is all about.