Dramaturgy in 6 seconds

4 Min. Lesezeit  ·  
Anna Dömling
17. Juni 2016

Things are moving faster every day and the internet is responding: everything’s getting shorter, faster, and needs to be current. That includes moving image content, too. The latest trend: microfilms, i.e. clips that last just a few seconds. On Instagram, for example, the films have a maximum length of 15 seconds, while Vine caps them at just six seconds! But how can you tell a story in such a short time? Here are a few tips:

Setting the stage, reversal of fortune, denouement

You might still have these in your notebooks from school (maybe even with the Greek protasis, peripeteia, and catastrophe attached) and they’re supposed to be the elementary components of each spot. We’re taught from an early age how a good story should be constructed: explain the starting situation, slowly build up the tension to a climax, and then a rapid resolution to the denouement.
But that’s not going to happen in any six-second clip. Check this out:

Granted, the video’s a satire, yet there’s some truth to it. So we need to throw out the way we’ve been doing things and at every level:


What’s probably the most fundamental principle for micro films is actually quite basic and also the greatest challenge: keep it simple.
If we’ve only got a few seconds, there’s no time to explain complex scenarios. Instead, you need to sit down and figure out exactly how you’re going to convey the message. Emotional or humorous scenes are best suited to the task because they are more quickly understood by viewers than detailed product information.
So a catchy and uncomplicated plot is key. Due to the short amount of time you’ve got, all you can do is create awareness for a product or brand and not tell a detailed or very informative story.
If the plot is clearly structured, you might get away with only showing a part of the story. Maybe we only need the conclusion so that the earlier parts of the story can be imagined by the viewers, which, in turn, gives them a chance to create their own unique series of events that had the conclusion you’ve shown. A good example from literature is this story by Hemingway: “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.” With just six words, he’s managed to achieve what others can’t do in 90 minutes.
Another variant is to tell the story only up to the climax and leave the viewers hanging with their emotions, i.e. skipping the denouement. This can motivate the desire for resolution and lead them to click, even if only to satisfy their curiosity.
Open dramaturgy with cliff-hanger can thus function as a call-to-action. But only if the story is interesting enough. Online user behaviour is extremely different from that of TV viewers and spots need to adapt accordingly. Only when viewers are entertained by a clip and aren’t turned off by it will they watch it and click to get more information.


Again: keep it simple. Viewers should be able to tell in a split second where the scene’s taking place. If they can’t, they’ll waste the first few seconds of the clip trying to figure it out and won’t be following the plot. And if we only have six seconds, we don’t have much room content. In this case, it’s often helpful to play with well-known motifs or clichés.


The same applies to the protagonists. These don’t require complex layers of character, but should instead be self-evident stereotypes: a businessman with suit and briefcase, a witch with magic wand and hat, or a farmer in rubber boots carrying a pitchfork. Or the faces are already known to us from previous spots or are popular celebrities.
It’s often effective not to exaggerate the spot, but instead to focus on a few characters.


Online videos are mainly consumed on mobile devices. This means that the shot should be focused since too many details are hard to make out on tiny screens.
If your shot is square, as is customary with Vines, or even in portrait, the natural viewing habits are completely disrupted. So, to keep from overwhelming viewers with too many new things, keep the plot simple so that they can concentrate on what’s essential: the product.
Each setting has to function on its own just like a photo. It needs to be unambiguous and easily associated with the brand. It can also help if what’s shown is adapted to the colour and visual style of the brand’s CI to allow a subtle connection to the product throughout the video.

So it’s always a balancing act. How much is too much and how much is too little?
Only one thing is clear: with each microfilm, you need to think carefully about how to break with the traditional rules of advertising and not how to cram every-thing into six seconds.

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