The Editing Lessons of Vine

Vine can teach you a lot about economical storytelling, which translates perfectly into editing lessons for trailers! 

If you're not familiar, Vine was a app/site for 6 second videos. Using the app, montages could quickly be assembled by pressing and holding on the record button. Shot length was determined by how long you held the button down, but once you recorded 6 seconds, that was it. Vines also played back on a continuous loop.

Many Vines were single shot takes, but there were a number of brilliantly edited Vines with impeccable comic timing. Not all were edited from inside the app, but there was something special about the spontaneity for the ones that were.

Here's one of the most iconic vines, and a favorite of mine:

What can we learn about this when it’s just two two simple shots?

The young man saying: "Back at it again at Krispy Kreme!" is the introduction/setup; we're now ready to see this thing he says he typically does at Krispy Kreme. The second shot is him doing a series of backflips and twists. 

In final moment, his feet hit the sign, which immediately dislodges from the wall! The brilliance is how it cuts at the precise moment he hits the sign, and we hear just the slightest hint of people reacting.

Interesting to note this vine isn't a full 6 seconds; it's just shy of 4.

I've watched this clip over and over, and I've never felt horrified or bad when it finished. This seems like the natural thing to feel, right? I know intellectually, the sign damage must've resulted in a loud crash, and abject horror from the managers and customers, and yet I don't FEEL it in my gut. Instead, my emotions are frozen in the visceral emotion of "OH MY GOD" coupled with nervous laughter. My brain knows this was not a good thing to happen, but my gut can't help but enjoy the clip over and over again. Why is this?

Another favorite vine of mine with similar comic timing.

I think this is what we do when we see a sequence of shots:

  1. Read

  2. React

  3. Judge

The first step is seeing and understanding what is happening, the second is our visceral reaction and/or first impression, and the third is when we process and contemplate what it is we saw.

I think the brilliance of Vine is how the best ones cut off right after we react; there's no time for judgment because as soon as it's over, it's already looping. 

In the case of "Back at it again at Krispy Kreme" My brain is stuck at the moment the sign dislodges from the wall, it enjoys it, and then I have no time to judge the events or people involved in it before it starts again. I think not seeing the crash gave my gut permission to react this way since it has plausible deniability. I don't actually KNOW what happened at the end, maybe someone swiftly caught the sign! (If you're curious, there is an article about the aftermath)

This is a feeling I frequently try to create in my trailers. I find the precise moment where the audience reacts to what they saw, and then cut at that peak of emotion. This way they have no time to resolve the feeling before I'm showing them something new. This is the problem with the more is more approach, for better or for worse you give people AMPLE time to judge what they're seeing. 

This is another hilarious vine, but I think it would be even better if the last 1.5 seconds were cut off. We don't want to have time to think about how much pain he might be in or how unfortunate it is his drink got spilled, or that the person isn't helping.

I was recently on the Spelunky Showlike podcast to talk about making the trailer for Spelunky 2, and they mentioned liking how the trailer ends just before the player is killed by the wave of lava. It was never a question for me to end the trailer any other way; I love cutting away just before something resolves. But it hadn't occurred to me this wasn't an obvious choice to everyone. 

Trailers do this ALL THE TIME. Think about every trailer that ends with a person taking a massive leap, but cuts before they land. If you can't think of one now, you'll notice it every time it happens, and it happens a lot. This is why my line of rising action for trailers has no downward line after the climax. I'm cutting off when it's most exciting so the audience is left on that high. This is also part of the idea behind match cuts, which I discussed in this post.

So when making or watching trailers, pay attention to how long a clip is allowed to play out or when it gets cut off. What is the threshold of a clip overstaying its welcome versus exciting the audience as much as possible? 

In the simplest terms, this Vine teaches us to clearly set up an idea, pay off that idea, and then move on as soon as possible.