Nonprofit Video: How Rhythm Keeps Us Watching

Posted on November 21, 2011. Filed under: Power of Video | Tags: , |

This article by Cam Hayduk and Kat Kelly is a wonderful exploration into what makes a successful video tick and it gives some great tips on how to structure your video storytelling.

The next step is to monetize your video content to open up a new fundraising channel for your organisation, and create an effective social media strategy to promote it.

Thank you for sharing Cam and Kat!

Nonprofit Video: How Rhythm Keeps Us Watching


Why do some online videos grab us, pull us in and capture our imagination for the few minutes that we watch them? What is it that separates the good videos from the truly great videos? We all know that length is important; online audiences demand brief messaging, and the importance of story telling cannot be emphasized enough, a good story is necessary. But, there is also another important element of a great video, something that drives the viewers attention and creates a deep connection: in a word, rhythm.

Human nature is drawn to rhythm. Our heart beats in rhythm and we struggle when we feel that things are out of sync. It’s easy to get distracted when we are confronted with multiple rhythms at once. When watching a well-crafted scene in a movie, documentary, or even an online video, the world outside melts away and our internal energy and emotion are in sync with the energy of what we’re viewing. We are experiencing life in the same rhythm. You can feel it, but it isn’t easy to articulate.

In editor Karen Pearlman’s book, Cutting Rhythms: Shaping the Film Edit, she states that most great editors claim to edit by “intuition”. She also equates film editing with dance choreography:

The intuitive, choreographic shaping of movement and energy over time… creates the rise and fall of tension and release in a film. That is the purpose of rhythm in film: to shape understanding and emotions through cycles of tension and release. Rhythm signals the story’s meaning and the character’s intentions at an immediate, physically recognizable level. By creating the waves of tension and release, the editor creates the film’s ‘beat’ or ‘pulse’. By riding the waves of tension and release, the spectator’s body rhythm is drawn into a kind of synchronization with the film’s rhythm.

The visual rhythm of the action in each individual shot is one element that drives the pacing of edits. Feeling the beat of people’s, movements, even the emotional pulse of a still image; this awareness of rhythm is key to creating engaging content.

Here is an example that creates incredible rhythm with the action in each shot. You are swept up as the tension and pacing mount.

Music can, of course, be a powerful tool for driving the rhythm of a video. The style can range from simple, intro and outro music to full on music video.

The “music video” style of this piece for Charity:Water is an almost perfect marriage of the tempo of the song and the emotion of the message contained in the lyrics and visuals.


The original Girl Effect video spawned a plethora of copy cats because it was unique and successful. Many of the copy cats incorporated the same motion graphics style, but few managed to achieve this level of emotional connection. Even if you’ve seen it a hundred times, watch it again with an awareness of its rhythm.

The tempo of the dialogue, which can be scripted, interview format, or even visual dialogue is another element that establishes the rhythm. In this piece promoting the creation of a National Park, we worked with the client to create rhythmic dialogue, which was edited beat for beat over a musical score we designed to mirror the pacing.

As all these rhythmic elements come together, it’s important to maintain a sense of the wider emotional arc of a piece. In feature animation, one of the first things that is often created during pre-production is something called the “emotional beat board”. The story department actually creates a graph for what they want to be the viewer’s emotional experience and each animated sequence is laid out along the graph. It may not be necessary to go to that level of detail for an online video, but it is important to make sure the pacing of the editing and the scoring or music match the wider, overall emotional arc of the audience experience.

We all know that online video can be a powerful way to reach an audience. By making ourselves aware of, and developing a sense of pacing and rhythm, we can produce captivating content that moves people to take action.

Launched in 2009 and based on Bowen Island, near Vancouver BC, Turtlebox Productions creates innovative and engaging advocacy, educational and fundraising videos for non-profits, foundations and socially responsible businesses.

Source: Nonprofit Video: How Rhythm Keeps Us Watching – http://bit.ly/pVukzA

Authors: Cam Hayduk and Kat Kelly, Turtlebox Productions

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