How to make films that get watched on YouTube

Why are some films such hits online?

If there was one simple answer to this, then everyone would be making them.

As Paul Gowers, director of Buddy Films, says: “One of the things I dread being asked by a client is to make a film that will go viral. After seeing what’s watched and isn’t watched on YouTube the only thing I’m sure about is that no one can predict what is going to spread. Often it’s the most random of ideas that will break through. Who would believe a Norwegian song about the noises foxes make would be such a big hit?"

There’s no guarantee of success, but here’s some advice from film makers, and those who commission them, for making video that is more likely to get noticed.

Tips from film makers

Paul Gowers, director at Buddy Films:

- Entertain, tell a story, make it funny, uplifting, powerful, sad. It doesn’t matter what the emotional connection is, as long as there is one!

- Don’t bore. Dry, corporate spiel struggles in a conference setting, so has no chance online.

- Make it relevant to the audience you want to reach, use ideas they can relate to, people they admire, and music they like. If you can afford a commercial track or a celebrity it’s a bonus because you’re more likely to attract viewers.

- However, don’t rely on celebrities or pop music too much because it only guarantees views, but not necessarily worthwhile views. The idea, the script, and the story is still paramount.

- Consider using interactivity. It can make a film more engaging and fun to watch!

- Use a visual/narrative technique that feels fresh and original or just leaves people wondering how it was done.

- Don’t make it too long unless it’s beyond brilliant. People have a short attention span online.

- If in doubt resort to puerile and crude!

Aaron Carty, executive producer (co-founder) of production company Carve Productions:

- Do your research. Look at what other people are doing, and check out videos closely related to your own concept. How have they been received? Read comments; look at what their audience is saying.

- Meet the campaigns goals. It is crucial that your team understands from the concept stage exactly what your video should achieve. What are the key words in the campaign or message, and does your script capture this on paper?

- Focus on details and be realistic. Is each shot practical? And to make it look professional, sound and lighting are key.

- Pick your cast and crew well. You may cast a Shakespearean thespian, but for a corporate video, it's a good idea to select people who will get involved in the promotion of the video later on. You want them to be keen to share the end result with social media (particularly if they have a strong following).

Tips from agencies

James Alexander, head of audiovisual content and production at PR agency H+K Strategies:

- Idea first, everything else second. Get the idea right and everything else will follow.

- Think about distribution. Even more depressing than video content being ignored, is good video content being ignored. Getting the blend right between earned, shared, owned and paid support is a fine art. The right combination of influential tweets, editorial coverage, shares, and so on, can be the difference between hundreds, thousands or millions of views.

- Focus on the opening moments. As well as revolutionising paid-video advertising online, TrueView has highlighted the importance of the opening five seconds.

Pamela Lyddon, CEO of digital agency Bright Star Digital:

- Keep branding to a minimum. Many producers just won’t use something that is like an ad or a corporate video.

- Keep it short and sweet. In the world of social media, everybody wants things quickly and to the point so keep it focused.

- Make it like TV. That’s what the audience is used to.

- Have high production values. The audience can spot a mile off if it’s cheap.


What are your tips for making engaging films?

James Bell, content specialist at communications agency Text100: “The same story-telling principles apply to video as they do for written content. This means starting with the same questions: what do you want to say, who you want to hear it and why should they listen?”

Gillian Quinn, senior content manager at PR agency Threepipe: “In order to create films that will get watched on YouTube they need to be telling a new story – one that your audience has not heard before. If you are doing this from a brand perspective it is key to tell this story in your own unique brand voice, the voice that you have spent years developing so that it resonates with your loyal consumers and delivers on your value proposition.”

Written by Daney Parker

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