30 Seconds or Less

One significant element to consider when shooting a commercial is how long the spot is going to be. Longer productions require more filming and a greater amount of editing, so it would stand to reason that they would be trickier to produce, right? Not necessarily. We have found that it can be quite difficult to communicate an idea in 15-30 seconds. When you think about taking a complex message and stripping it down to the bare bones in order to fit time constraints, you can understand how greater thought and effort might be required to create a comprehensible and entertaining message.

If that’s still not making sense, let me use an analogy to elucidate. Think about a sonnet, which is generally fourteen lines, and condensing it’s message to a haiku, which is just three lines.

This is an example of an Italian Sonnet:
Within the warmth of home, I sit amazed
at the gentle fall of snow through window pane.
Cup of tea in hand, my layered thoughts unchain,
and tumble from the tip of tongue unfazed
to land upon a pristine page appraised,
aided by the silent fall through snowy pane.
Oh, the soft white wintry glow ‘pon the lane
leaves a graceful drape, Lord be praised.
Within the warmth of home, I muse on themes
of days to come and those gone bye and so,
I thank the Lord for all of nature’s schemes,
for the gift of time, for peace, and for the snow.
Oh, make the blanket deep, I wish to dream,
may all my days and ‘morrows have this glow.

I took it upon myself to convert this sonnet to a Haiku. Be mindful that I am not a poet, so my rendition is passable at best. Yet it took me near ten minutes to come up with these three simple lines – seventeen words – to sum up the essence of the sonnet:

Snow falls against window pane
In the warmth I muse nature’s wonders
Thanking God for ‘morrow’s glow

Now just imagine trying to turn an ESSAY into a haiku. That’s what it’s like when you have an extremely dense topic that needs to be simplified for production. To put it in different terms, think about how movie trailer producers have to capture the major themes of a feature length film in a very short amount of time. Usually, there’s one or more versions of the  trailer that are anywhere from one to three minutes that play in theaters, but there’s also an even more abridged version of that made for television. For example, take the various trailers for Wes Anderson’s 2014 film The Grand Budapest Hotel. The first is the official trailer which runs 2:26 minutes. The second is the television spot which is only 31 seconds.

Think about the creative decisions that had to be made in order to convey essentially the same message in a quarter of the amount of time. What did they include from the original trailer and what did they leave out? Were these wise cuts or could they have been better? If you’ve seen the film, how was the trailer as a whole? Did it adequately sum up the film? Did it entice you to go see it if you hadn’t already?

These are just a few of the many questions a producer has to consider when making creative choices about what to include and what to leave out in a short TV spot.

Alyssa Rudisill

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