The Fallacy of Prioritizing Surface Over Substance in Videos

Don’t get me wrong, a great looking video can take you a long way, but if you don’t spend the same amount of time developing your story, no one will care how pretty your video looks. 

There’s something to be said for artistic vision in your projects along with high production values. It adds a sense of legitimacy to your work while showcasing the skills you’ve learned along the way. Filmmakers just getting started, or with only a little experience under their belt, tend to get hyper focused on the technical details. In an effort to make it look perfect or try out some showy technique, they forget about the most important aspect: story.

You can have the sleekest, most technically sound, and stylish video in the world, but without engaging content no one’s going to care to watch it.

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You can have the sleekest, most technically sound, and stylish video in the world, but without engaging content no one’s going to care to watch it. Viewers need substance behind the flash, or they’ll quickly lose interest.  When that happens and they decide to stop watching all the effort put into those surface details will have been wasted — not to mention the fact it’ll be difficult to convince audiences to come back for future videos.

It’s tough to fault newcomers for this attitude. As with anything in the arts, there’s pressure to stand out; additionally in video production there’s a pressure to be technically superior. While these are important aspects and skills to hone, they shouldn’t come at the cost of your story.

Crafting a memorable story along with engaging characters should always be at the forefront of your project and through all three phases of production. Throughout each development stage — writing, production, post-production — every decision should be made according to what the story needs most.

A unique camera angle or flashy effect that doesn’t enhance or improve the story in a meaningful way is superfluous. This isn’t to say style can’t serve the story, but it’s a conscious decision that must be made, not done simply because it looks neat or impressive. Films like 300 and Sin City exemplify this idea, where in the visual flairs serve to enhance story elements and suck viewers into the world more effectively.

Combating this mentality when you’re starting out requires active effort on your part to remember what’s important. Having a firm grasp of your basic techniques also helps. Knowing how to shoot your project effectively makes you less likely to fool around with superficial, untested techniques that ultimately distract from the story and waste time.

The temptation to throw in something quirky and unique to your videos will always be strong. As the medium evolves and new technology is discovered, there’s always something new to try out. Demo reels and test videos are the perfect way to develop those new techniques; then, when a project comes along where the story would be better for it, you already have the skills to do it properly.

Oftentimes, young filmmakers see a cool technique and scramble to find a way to insert it into their next project, altering their plan/story in order to accommodate the cool factor. The surface fluff only takes you so far, though. If you want audiences to return for future projects you need substance to carry you forward.

Jordan Maison is an editor and VFX artist who has plied his talents in web content for Disney Studios and many movie/videogame entertainment websites.

Susan is the Art Director at Videomaker and YouTuber Magazines.