The most important part of any film or video is what it makes you feel. So how do you convey emotion in your video? We break down some of the key things you can do to add emotion into your videos.

How to Convey Emotion in your videos
Part 4 of our How To Edit Better Videos Series

In this post, we set about putting the 7 Rules of Video Editing into Practice. How do you convey emotion in your video? Like any form of art, if your film or video doesn’t make your audience feel anything, well the creator is either rubbish or a total genius. It’s actually quite hard to make people feel nothing, but you want them to get the feeling you intended, right? Not just a feeling of ‘wow this is really boring’. If so, read on!

Rule One – Emotion

This post continues on from the 7 Rules of Video Editing, with some ideas on putting those rules into practice in the real world. I’ll be referring to Walter Murch’s ‘Rule of Six’ again and breaking down some ideas on how you can practically use these guidelines, so if you don’t know what this means (or who the heck Walter Murch is) please refer back to the previous post for a rundown. Starting with Walter’s ‘Rule of Six’, the first three rules will take time to cover. I’m going to devote the whole of this blog to the first, and most important rule of any video or film.

How to Create Emotion

The most important part of any film, video, advert, or other visual media (including experimental and art videos), is what it makes you feel. Like any form of art, in fact, if it doesn’t make you feel anything at all, the artist is either rubbish or a total genius (for some reason, Yves Klein springs to mind here). Arguably that is the purpose of any art. To make you think, sure, but to make you feel above all else – even if what you feel is confusion, ambivalence or disgust. I once saw a sculpture at the Art Gallery that evoked such a strong feeling of disgust and disquiet in my companion that she had to move away from it – an impressive reaction to a static object!

The most important part of any film or video, including marketing videos, is what it makes you feel.

So, Emotion. It sounds simple right? It’s not. That’s why I’ll be devoting this entire post to it. I’ve already said that I agree with Walter Murch in considering this the most important consideration of your video editing. The first thing to note is that the emotion of your video is going to depend very largely on what you’ve shot. You’re going to use that as the ingredients in a cake. Whether the cake rises or not is down to the ingredients you add, and the recipe you follow. Whether it also looks and tastes amazing as well, is down to your skill. If we were talking about creating a video or a film from scratch, you’d have got here a long time ago – in fact right at the start when you were writing a script, thinking of ideas and setting up a shooting schedule you would be thinking of what emotions you wanted to evoke, and what story to tell.

Let’s assume that you’re the Director; the crew, the actors, extras, and editor and post-production team should all have a very good idea of the emotions you planned to convey in your finished video because your job as Director is to tell them. You’d have a carefully crafted script for all involved telling everyone exactly how you wanted the film shot so that once it got to the editor it would be more of a case of putting a jigsaw together by choosing the best shots, timing and score to enhance that emotion and tell the story in the best possible way. I’m not disparaging film-editors here in any way, incidentally. This can be done superbly, and a skilled editor can bring a bad shoot back from the brink and make it look like all the problems on-shoot, bad weather, or busted cameras never happened. Equally a great film can be completely destroyed in the edit and post-production stage. The closest analogy I can think of is a sound engineer who can make a fantastic band sound amazing or rubbish, or depending on their skill (and possibly on how nice the band is, and whether they shared the drinks ‘rider’).

Back in the real world, if you’re working on footage that was shot on your holidays, it’s a different situation. You need to look at what you have first, and then decide how to approach it. You may have a heap of footage of your first snowboarding trip, but you’re still learning how to snowboard and you’ve got about 3 hours of yourself falling over. It’s unlikely you’re going to be able to pull off something like the ski scene from a James Bond film, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a good video.

So you have a hard-drive filled up with video clips: where to begin?

It may sound strange but start by considering the intention of your video. What is its purpose? I am often surprised by how many of our clients don’t know the purpose of their videos. Even businesses who want a promotional or marketing video don’t have a clear idea of its goal. It is one of the first questions I’ll ask if the client hasn’t thought about it. Every video should have a purpose – otherwise, you would be wasting your time making it. In the case of business videos, it may seem straight forward, but the video could be a client testimonial, an information video to tell you about the company, or it might be a marketing video or advertisement to encourage people to buy their product. All these will require a different approach to filming and editing, preferably right from the start.

With your holiday videos, it’s a little different. The purpose of a holiday video is fairly simple to figure out. ‘I want a video memory of our holidays’ for example, but still, it can help if you look a little deeper. Who is your audience here? For example, let’s say you have a video from a trip to the Bermuda Triangle. What kind of trip was it, and who is the likely audience? Do you want to make a video about all the mischief you got up to with your mates in the Bermuda Triangle? Will the audience be you, your mates, and a couple of beers? Maybe it’s a film about the ‘spooky’ nature of the Bermuda Triangle and you’re entering it into the local film festival. Or maybe it’s a video to show to your Mum to prove that you actually went there? You can see how these different purposes could mean a completely different editing approach, even though the footage is the same. You’re not going to include swearing in the one for your Mum (well, depending on your Mum), but it may be perfectly appropriate in the video for your mates. Start thinking about this as early as possible, it will affect almost everything about your approach to the edit. Do this before you even start to think about titles, transitions, music or anything else. These are like the icing on that cake, and if you start with a solid idea of what you want the finished film to be, the rest will fall into place much more easily.

Here’s an example from one of our editing projects. The footage is from a riverboat trip in Myanmar. Our clients were on their honeymoon, and when I asked what kind of video they wanted, they wanted me to convey the sense of a magical, strange place and full of epic scenery and contrasts – the devastating poverty contrasted by the gilded temples that they’d experienced on their trip. In this riverboat sequence, I wanted to capture this by showing both the local people in their daily lives and the stunning temples and Buddha statues cut into the rocks. My aim in the edit was to evoke the strangeness and magic of the landscape, as well as giving a sense of space and place with the people living out their normal lives. I wanted to evoke both the awe of the landscape and monuments and the dignity of the people.

I stripped out most of the original sound in this video, adding clean sound effects and samples instead, but I’ve kept a few pieces, like the monks boarding the ship, and the prayers. The ox carts were unfortunately quite bad sound-wise, with a constant squeaking that was super-annoying, so I also removed this and replaced it with a sound sample.

The original music in this video clip was from Sigur Rós, the atmospheric Icelandic group. Although a million miles away from the location, our client loved the choice and became an instant new fan! Music is massive in terms of creating emotion in film and I often edit to music to get the right kind of emotion in the editing. You’d be surprised how well this works, although you should vary the soundtrack until you’re sure of which songs you’re using. It’s easy to get wedded to a particular track, start cutting to it and then find that the producer, director or client wants to change it. Play music with the right emotion in the background while you edit the video, but don’t cut in a track until you’ve confirmed with the client, otherwise, you may find it hard to re-edit to a new track.

The cool part of being the director or the editor is that you always get to make your own cut – assuming you have the time. If you’re editing your own footage, or paying a custom video editing service like Sonic Eye, you get to choose! If your video is holiday footage, think about it this way; what emotions did your trip conjure up for you? The footage from this example, shot in Myanmar, stirred up quite strong emotions for our client. The feeling she was trying to recapture was one of awe, the sense of a fairytale landscape, a magical place, something special and undiscovered. We tried to capture this in the video we made, giving some of it a dreamy feel and other sections like this next video of a Myanmar market, a busy, crazy bustling vibe. Because there is little dialogue in the footage aside from a bit of free-form voiceover from our client, we have created a lot of the mood using music, including some of it from the original sound. In the client’s original of this clip, the music in the Market scene was ‘Run Boy Run’ by Woodkid. Here we’ve used a production track called ‘Stomp Snap Clap’ by Bekibeats to get a similar feeling to the original.

We also used music from M83, UNKLE and Woodkid on the original soundtrack to this video. Our client particularly wanted music she didn’t know, to emphasise the ‘strangeness’ of the location and the unique nature of the trip. So there are some ideas to start with; creating emotion in film is incredibly deep and complex, as many different options exist as the emotions themselves, and it takes imagination, vision, and preferably some awesome footage to achieve. I hope this post has given you some good ideas on where to start. Until then happy film making!

  • Thalia Kemp is the video editor and sound designer at Sonic Eye video editing in Sydney, Australia.

Want more posts like this? Check out our post on the different aspects of the video editing process, What Video Editors Do or head to Our Work to watch some of our videos.

How do you create emotion in your videos? What are your top tips for making your audience feel it?