The Psychology of Video: Editing

October 14, 2015

As a film enthusiast and used-to-be-frequent-movie-goer (is that a thing?), I love a well crafted flick or a documentary. One that places me right into a world to which I wouldn’t normally have exposure. All our videos should be that way, at least to an extent. Today, we at Waves would like to explore the psychology of video.

When I watch anything, be it a movie or a well-written show, it doesn’t take me very long to get pulled right into the story. This is partly because I am a very visual person. I need to see it all happen before I can fully comprehend it. The fact that my brain is wired this way often makes watching a movie quite enjoyable. When I am fully engaged and lost in a film I am taken for a ride where I lose myself. But is that the goal of every film or every video short? Does every video producer have to hypnotize their audience through carefully constructed schemes and tactics? To some extent I believe the answer is, yes.

Editing: Psych 101

One technique that is used in the editing room is what is known as the Kuleshov Effect. It is a montage effect in which the audience relates two images together in a way that produces more feeling or understanding than if just one visual was displayed. In this original Kuleshov example, the test subjects reported things like, “The actor in this film did a fantastic job at portraying the different emotions he was feeling when looking at the various subjects and objects.”

Of course, the actor in this short film was not acting at all. Instead, he had one consistent expressionless face. And he did not even look at any of these objects. Kuleshov simply used the same exact shot of this man, and juxtaposed other images to make the audience think that the actor was responding to the imagery. This is an old experiment so it most likely won’t ‘wow’ you. But I’m telling you, we fall for this same technique all the time in today’s films and videos.

Mind Altering

We have all succumbed to the life-changing wonder that is “the movies”. Watching a film transports us to a place totally unreal and adventurous, a place where we can really walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, a place that opens up our understanding of the world in which we live in a much greater way.

Is this language too much? “Life-changing” – really? It sounds like it is, but just think back to when you were young and more impressionable. I still have real-life experiences and moments, when I am outside at night in an empty parking lot and that real moment that I am in, brings me back to an amazing memory I had of watching a movie years ago.

A simple example, but that film really has affected my emotions and impacted my brain in a very precise way. It is amazing to think that our understanding of the world, of life, can be shaped and greatly affected by a movie, a play, a book, you name-it.

Story-telling Vid-Jitsu

Some forms of video have a very specific agenda, such as advertisement, promos and the like and could potentially turn you off being too ‘sales-y’. However, there are some video producers that know how to bring the audience in, as a sort of invitation rather than a forced-fed manipulation. The strategy can be so subtle, so stealthy, that the viewer is not even aware as they are brought in closer and “sold” on whatever thought or suggestion is being made.

Creepy? Sure, ninjas can be creepy I guess, but it depends on what the creative ninja is wanting to tell or sell. When this works well, the viewer leaves saying “Wow that was good.” It’s as simple as that.

Whether or not we want to admit it, there is a hidden power behind what the editor is doing. But it really isn’t mystical, it isn’t supernatural, it just comes down to psychology. Deep in the shadows silently moving through the psyche, is the editor. As the editor your goal is knowing, understanding, and caring about your audience in such a way that your story could possibly impact them well past the final cut. That is what the psychology of visual media is all about.