3 Tips For Filming Techniques To Help Your Ad's Story

As Orson Welles first demonstrated in Citizen Kane, the way a filmmaker shoots a scene can tell as much a story as the action in the scene itself. The intensity of a silent close-up, the suspense created by darkening a room, the uneasiness conveyed by a slightly askew camera angle — all can add drama to a piece of film, even to a 15-second commercial. But when used incorrectly, these techniques can alienate viewers, preventing an ad from getting attention. To help your story rather than hinder it, keep these three tips in mind for advertising production.

1. Crossover to the dark side with intent.

Darkness is a great tool for establishing a mood or adding texture to a setting or situation. But it’s important to be deliberate with lighting levels. Lighter images draw more attention than darker ones. And if viewers can’t see an image, it can lead to confusion. 

This DirecTV ad purposefully uses darkness to generate confusion that the brand ultimately resolves. The contrasting light that subsequently appears on all the screens focuses viewers on the new product.



The dark lighting in this Time Warner Cable spot prevents viewers from seeing the audience’s positive reaction to the motivational speaker. Viewers are less likely to remember the audience when contrasted with the over-zealous, brightly- lit, motivational speaker. 

2. A body is more than the sum of parts.

Sometimes ads show a specific body part, or part of a body, to focus attention on a product or feature like the collar on a shirt. Because consumers tend to disengage from images that only include a body part, take care when using a specific part or area as the focal point for a product.

Puma focuses this ad on one person, Sergio Aguero, and his singular quest for athletic excellence. The occasional focus on Aguero’s feet and legs draws viewer attention to the product, Puma’s shoes. The shoes’ repeated appearance becomes a visual anchor, an image that will stand out to viewers in a montage format.

This Lee Jeans spot intersperses images of waistbands, thighs, and back pockets with a variety of lifestyle images across multiple, unconnected people. Because there is no progression or consistency with the jeans’ close-ups, the images that are designed there to show the quality of the product are not likely to be noticed by viewers.

3. Turn around bright eyes.

People are biologically conditioned to pay attention to faces. And in advertising, faces help the viewer orient to a scene and connect with key characters in the story. When characters are filmed from behind we often rob the viewer of that connection. 

In this example from Eliquis, the introductory mention of the DVT blood clot is critical to the ad’s story. Unfortunately, the first 30 seconds of the spot only show the character from behind, which will likely cause viewers to lose interest in the ad or miss the DVT copy. By the time the camera reveals the man’s face, it may be too late to involve the audience in the Eliquis solution.

Filming a lead character from behind can make the viewer feel like they are outside of the story of an ad. This method could be used effectively to create a sense of obstruction or exclusion — like how it feels to wait in line or to be excluded from a group — but often the result is simply a loss of engagement in the ad.

In contrast, in this ad for Eliquis, the lead character’s face is partially hidden by her camera in order to create interest, and then her full face is shown to draw viewers into her story and to see her commitment to the advertised product.

Advertisers have access to many filmmaking techniques. Understanding how these approaches support your story, and where they hurt it, can help your ad get attention and drive home your message.

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