Flesh and Bones: What Makes a Video Memorable?

I am not a producer, a video editor, or a cinematographer, but I’ve been on enough sets to appreciate the amount of time, money, and manpower it takes to make even the smallest of video projects come to fruition. You miss one step in the production process and you’re left with an incomplete project—something that can pass but that will probably be memorable for the wrong reasons. But memorable for the right reasons? If you ask me, it’s in the emotion and the editing—the flesh and bones of a piece.

Though I am not a video expert, I am both a writer and an editor. As such, I’ve honed my ability to wrangle ordinary writing into something masterful. Forget the scalpel; the red pen is my surgical tool of choice. Editing allows you to tighten the structure and tempo of a story or article; with it, you can tell a compelling narrative rather than simply having fragmented pieces that vaguely connect. But it’s not just in the pacing and arrangement of words; it’s the emotion that gives flesh to the bones of a piece, that makes it live and breathe. Stories with grit, passion, a sense of realism, and imagination tend to stick with people.

And you know, I think the same goes for film. The videos that resonate the most with viewers—from TV commercials to feature films—are those that elicit a reaction, whether from the dialogue, the way it is cut, or the cinematography. And I’m not just talking about the ones that pull at your heartstrings and make you cry. (I’m looking at you, Budweiser.) I’m talking about the videos where you laugh until it hurts because a punchline is cut so perfectly with a character’s reactions. (Michael Scott, anyone?) It’s those that make your heart start thumping with anticipation as the music shifts into a minor key and the shadows get longer, that set your imagination free and cause you to see a bit of yourself, and your own human experience, portrayed on that screen.

In life, we’re always looking for things to connect with. So when we recognize ourselves in a film, an article, a book, or a commercial, we remember it because it’s as if someone is saying: “I’ve been there too. And wasn’t it hilarious/heart-breaking/inspiring/life-changing?”

It’s memorable because it moved us, because we believed it. But don’t just take my word for it—take a look at the following clips, which I’m sure will stick with you long after you’re done watching them.

Exhibit A: Nostalgic Narrative—Monty the Penguin

All of one’s childhood imaginings are wrapped up in this two-minute ditty. It’s proof that a video doesn’t have to be long to be significant or memorable. With no dialogue, a few choice looks from both boy and penguin, and an emotionally engaging soundtrack, John Lewis manages to tell a story full of imagination, love, and selflessness. This clip strikes a chord with me because I remember what it was like to have such a well-worn pal accompanying me on life’s adventures (Ace the Dalmatian in my case). Oh, the memories!

Exhibit B: The Funny Guy—The Dollar Shave Club

This is a lesson in not taking life too seriously. It’s hilarious, absurd, and makes you feel like this company is in your corner. It compels you to take action because it makes you believe that life will be more fun with this guy in your life. Even though he’s not in your life at all, just on a screen, online. Regardless, excuse me while I go buy some razors.

Exhibit C: Stories of Substance—Last Minutes With Oden

If this video didn’t have you crying big, gushing tears by the end, then I must ask you this: do you have a heart? Are you a robot? The portrayal of unconditional love and the heartbreak of loss show up in the voice that cracks, in those puppy-dog eyes, in the drizzling rain and the music that swells and softens. This rips at our hearts because we’ve been there. There’s nothing in this clip that calls you to action—it simply makes you pause and reflect. It’s heartbreaking, but it somehow gives you hope, just for knowing that such love exists.

So, what videos have you found most memorable and compelling lately? Why?

P.S. Want a behind-the-scenes perspective from the real film experts—the directors themselves? I find the Anatomy of a Scene clips from the New York Times infinitely interesting.