Seven years ago, I took my first lesson in film production as a student. I had filmed a lousy portrait of a classmate that would be screened for the whole class. Afterwards, my teacher was very critical; the sound was both sad and bad.
“You must remember that television is 50 percent visual and 50 percent audio,” he said, glaring at me. “Nobody wants to see movies without sound.”
That’s not the case any longer. Today most of the productions I work on are expected to run without sound when they are published on social channels. The majority of viewers want films to be soundless: just like the early silent movies, but without the piano accompaniment.
As an old-school filmmaker, if I can call myself that at the tender age of 26, I have found it hard give up sound. But when current statistics show that people no longer consider sound to be necessary, I have no choice but to adapt to the reality of the situation, and rethink what I’m doing. While this is admittedly a bit frustrating, above all, it’s actually a lot of fun.
It all started when Facebook introduced its video auto-play function, which assumes that users want to see movies with the sound turned off. In just a few years, this function has come to change the way we watch movies.
As a producer, I have always used sound in my films to generate feelings and create a certain atmosphere. Now instead, I have to use visual effects and design to achieve the same results. This is my greatest challenge today: to convey emotions and tell stories, without the help of sound – one of the most powerful dramaturgical tools available to a filmmaker.
One way of addressing this challenge is to adopt a silent film format from the start: preferably a format that is unique to the social channels. Unfortunately, many still do the opposite: they shoot a movie in the traditional way, adding subtitles afterwards to fit Facebook. Quite frequently this results in a bland product that doesn’t work on any of the social channels.
Besides this, an increasing number of people are choosing to make two versions of the same movie: a shorter version for the social channels; and a longer version to fit websites, for example. This approach works if the films are treated as two separate projects from the start, because few of those who watch the short version of the movie will want to see the longer version too. This means the short film must stand alone, surviving on its own merits.
However, my most important tip when it comes to filmmaking for social channels is quite different: the most important thing is to get started! It’s OK to try out different things. Why not experiment with several different formats and various visual and graphical approaches, and then evaluate them? There is much to learn from looking at the statistics. When does the viewer turn the sound on? How long does he or she spend watching?
And if it’s any comfort to anyone facing this new silent film landscape, I would be happy to give you the contact details of my old teacher who appreciates movies with good sound.