One of the most overlooked aspects of any video is the intro shots, and California-based director, filmmaker and cinematographer Ben Hess explains how to captivate and engage viewers right from the start – plus pointing out some obvious mistakes that are commonly made.
Taking three examples in our Music Matters video series, which Ben shot in New York City - featuring Shameless Maya, Rob Strok and TOTHE9s - he explains that all three started with a funny snippet that was shot during each of their interview segments, then leading straight to the opening visuals. “This is perfect because it sets the stage for who we’re going to be watching, plus it gives that personal connection right off the bat,” Ben explains.
Shameless Maya’s video opens in a location called The Colour Factory because it would have a “wow factor” and “since people aren’t used to seeing all these crazy colours everywhere… it would grab their attention and make them wonder what’s going on”. Likewise, Rob’s video opens with him walking through the subway smoke because it’s not an everyday sight and creates immediate intrigue. For TOTHE9s, one of the key locations to film was a rooftop, so naturally, a helicopter view over sprawling NYC was an interesting way to start, then when Cassie and Ricci appear in the shot, it’s actually upside down and reverts to right side up. Each one unique, reflective of the subject, and different in style to keep people watching.
In terms of general tips, tip No.1 Ben says is to “think outside the box – add a fresh twist to your content by doing the exact opposite to what you would normally do… film upside down, find a new angle, do something you haven’t done before”. Keeping things fresh and unexpected will offer something new and exciting for viewers, rather than the same old style every time. More creative for you to shoot and edit; more interesting for your viewers. Win-win.
For the title shots, Ben suggests starting with upbeat music. “What your viewers hear is just as important as what they see,” Ben says, “so I’d highly highly recommend finding some upbeat, high energy music to start off your videos – It’s super convenient on Epidemic Sound’s site to sort through the tempo and the energy so you can find the perfect song.”
The next tip Ben offers is to leave your viewers hanging. Hold off on the best bits just before they begin to tease into the content and to offer something to wait and watch for. “Start your videos with some of the best footage you have, but you want to cut it right before it gets to the good stuff or cut it before it reveals too much; sort of like a flashback, this leaves viewers wondering ‘What happens next?’
On a similar note, the biggest, most common mistake (one Ben himself makes often) is leaving the best footage for the end. “You should be using some of your best footage right at the beginning – you need to give them a reason to stick around and keep watching,” Ben advises. Like a sandwich, have your best content at the beginning and at the end, to reel people in, get them interested, keep them watching and see it through to the end.
You can follow Ben Hess on YouTube and Instagram.