As someone who watches a lot of youtube movies (probably more than I should) and as someone who makes a few youtube movies (definitely fewer than I should), I’m curious about what actually makes for a captivating (or even just watchable) video online, especially short narratives.
Through deep introspective analysis while watching several youtube videos, I’ve managed to decipher 6 components that get people (ie, me) interested in watching a video. A video doesn’t need all of these components to be successful, but in my experience a successful video will strongly tap into two or more.
Comedic: The video makes you laugh, or smile. It’s comedic. I think we all know what comedy is. One of the easiest to do, as long as you don’t have a terrible sense of humor.
Horrific: College co-eds being chased by a hockey masked chainsaw murderer! Or maybe a creepily slender man standing just outside your window. Good horrific videos shock us, frighten us, freak us out. Perhaps they work through psychological horror that gets under your metaphorical skin or physical horror that literally gets under your skin (and then bursts out through your chest in a shower of gore). A video that scares us has a strong horror component.
Clever: Think Sherlock Holmes. The story folds back into itself. Things that happen in the beginning come back around in unforeseen ways by the end. A clever solution to a complex problem. This is one of the hardest components to get right, because cleverness takes a lot of mental work and planning. Technical mastery also forms part of this component, through exceptional editing, well thought out color design, etc. Clever movies grab your attention because of how well put together they are.
Puzzling: Who is Keyzer Soze? Puzzler movies set up a mystery and the search for an answer drives us to keep watching. Sometimes the answer is explicitly revealed, sometimes not, but a good puzzler will provide enough clues for people to come to a reasonable conclusion. It’s a mystery with a satisfying (and possibly debatable) answer.
Spectacular: Anyone who’s ever gone to a summer blockbuster has seen spectacle. Something you don’t see everyday. Explosions. Car chases. Crazy Kung fu fighting. Hot people. Maybe even just good editing set to a thumping beat. Something with spectacle is cool, it’s awesome, kickass, and it wows the audience.
WTF?!: Inexplicable moments that seem to defy all reason and explanation. The bizarre, the surreal, the stuff that makes you ask “what the f***?” Something so strange that you’re not sure what you just saw (or why you even kept watching). While the Puzzler is a mystery in search of an answer, the WTF?! element is something that defies any answer.
One of my big takeaways from trying to figure out these components is knowing what kind of movie we’re trying to make, and playing to its strengths. So, if we’re making a horror movie, really focus on the elements that make it scary. If we’re making a spectacular movie, make sure to get the stunts look just as amazing as they should. By figuring out what elements are most likely to keep people watching, we can (hopefully) make our movies the best they can be.
But I’d also like to give others the chance to weigh in. What gets keeps you watching videos to the very end?