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4 storytelling tips for making 6-second short films with Vine from the folks behind

February 4, 2013 03:05 PM

Some people have wondered if six seconds is too short a time span to take videos in Vine, Twitter's new video social sharing app. Is there anything beyond taking short clips of cats or babies within that timeframe?

The folks behind would say six seconds is plenty of time to tell a story. They've been releasing six-minus-one second-length comedy shorts on their site and on their YouTube channel daily since 2008.

There's not much to the series of popular mini films, which has starred actors like Patton Oswalt and Juliette Lewis. No heavy plot or character development. Just a setup, punchline, done. Like why 9 out of 10 scientists say guns are okay or why someone should crabwalk at their own risk.

For tips on how to shoot Vines that tell stories, we spoke with Brian Firenzi, one of the site's filmmakers (and also the guy who hilariously explained why MTV doesn't show music videos anymore).

If you're feeling inspired after reading these tips and Q&A, check out #beanstalk,
our daily video challenge community.

1. Use titles smartly:
Half of the jokes we shoot at 5sf have no right being only 5 seconds long. Let's just say we've gotten very good at talking fast and throwing out words that don't cut to the chase. Now, Vine is thoughtful enough to give you an extra second, but in case that's still not enough, you should take a look and see if your title (i.e. whatever you see fit to type in the tweet that accompanies your Vine) is setting up the joke effectively. For example, in "Stay Out of Bad Pun Neighborhood," you need the title to let you know where the 5sf takes place and who these people are - without it, it would be just a touch too random. When we're not sure whether people can effectively hear the punchline in our fast-paced talking (a common problem), we sometimes put the important dialogue right in the title, like in "Engaging the Enemy" (and Vine lets you add captions, just in case you shot your Vine in the middle of a wind tunnel and all your audio is bunk). In other cases, like "Straight Shooters," the title is actually part of the joke. In case you can't tell, we sure do love our puns - the last refuge of the witless, as Samuel Johnson would say, but also the last refuge of the online comedy makers who are operating on an absurdly tight schedule.

2. Reaction shots are the meat in the (non-vegan) comedy sandwich.
The best acting is reacting, and the best comedy acting is someone watching someone else fall into an open manhole cover and scream all the way down for 6 seconds. Trust us, we used hard science to determine that one.

3. Throw a few curveballs.
We've always said that if people can see where the joke is going before our 5-second film finishes unspooling, we've failed. That goes for your six-second Vines, too. Even a spin on an expected punchline, or a funny turn of phrase or oddball performance from an actor, is all you need to give your Vine a unique voice, that shot of quirkiness that's inherent to almost all good comedy. If it's got to be a pie-in-the-face gag, why not do a pie-in-the-face gag from the point of view of the pie? Poor pies. They never asked to be hurled in the faces of important, dignified lords and ladies.


Tips from experts on how to take great Vine videos

February 1, 2013 09:55 AM

Vine is Twitter's attempt to make video social in an Instagram-like fashion. It's a mobile service for people to take short clips of video (limited to six seconds long) to share with followers who also have the Vine app or on Twitter or Facebook.

The service was released at the end of January and though many have hesitated to try it out, trying to determine if its just a fad, other early adopters have already swung into the experiment (Check out People who have used the video-sharing service have generally left with good impressions. The app's interface is sleek, simple, and minimalist. The compression rate for video play is great-- the size of a single Vine video seems to be 900 kbs-- so there's hardly any lag for users. Most importantly, it has the backing of Twitter.

Though Vine video makers are still experimenting with the new format, we gathered some tips on making short-form films from a couple experts, David Humphreys, an adjunct professor at Emerson's Department of visual and Media Arts, and Thea Breite, the Boston Globe's Senior Multimedia Editor.

"If you look back at the history of film-making, it was very bare bones and basic," said Humphreys. "In the early 1900s, late 1800s, the first films were a few seconds to a minute long."

The first movie copyright was of a Kinetoscopic by William Dickson for the Edison Manufacturing Company. "Frank Ott's sneeze is five seconds long and would've been perfect for the use of Vine," said Humphreys.


1. Keep it simple.

You have six seconds, so start off with what you want to end with. There's not a lot of room for anything superfluous to the story, so the simpler the story is, the easier it will be to tell in a short amount of time.

2. Work off peoples' assumptions

Use things that people can relate to in the story. Bring stereotypes into the story (but not as a crutch). If you frame your story in such a way that people can see it and immediately make assumptions, you don't have to tell the back story for it.

3. Try to minimize background noise

Get close for the audio. If you're not close, the audio will not sound good. Even in a 6-second video, audio is critical (unless it's silent).

4. Plan it out

Storyboard it if possible. Try different things, don't expect to get it right on your first try. But don't stop after your first try.

5. Steady

Keep it steady. Any way you can. Use a tripod, rest your elbows on a surface, lean against a wall, or if nothing else, take on a wide stance, hold your elbow(s) into your body and try to stay steady.

6. Consider lighting

Try this technique: Have shadows on the face. It creates depth, and the illusion of three dimensions.

Next: An interview with the folks behind who have been making five-second long films since 2008.

Do you use Vine? Use the hashtag #beanstalk and we'll display the best ones.

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