A Valuable Lesson About Excess from Amadeus

One of the hardest things for me to do as an artist is cut my art. To make my videos shorter. To reduce the number of clips in my portfolio. To keep these blog posts under 1,000 words. 🙂 Do you ever have that problem? Come on…be honest. When you’re sitting in front of your computer weaving together your latest opus, admiring the beauty of your handiwork, don’t you hear that voice in your head saying, “Wow. Look at that beautiful slider shot. That’s GOT to go in. Oh, and this one too. And this one. And I can’t leave out the time-lapse I spent two weeks figuring out how to do. Ahhh…that shot of the tiny Chihuahua is so precious. That’s got to be in there too. Oh, and I can’t forget this slider shot.”

And it’s not just us filmmakers. You photographers suffer from it too. If the online portfolios I’ve seen are any indication, seems like it’s just as hard for you to limit yourselves as it is for us filmmakers.

Freddie Wong's videos are short and sweet. Scene from his "Cowboys & Aliens" spoof that starred the movie's director, Jon Favreau.

But there is one truth in filmmaking and photography I’ve come to learn and respect: less really can be more. As I wrote about here, there’s a reason they call editing “cutting.” You have to make the hard choices necessary to get your work down to the absolute shortest it can possibly be. Sometimes you have to be ruthless about it. Whether it’s a film you’re editing, or your online portfolio. There are three great reasons to keep it short:

  • Increase the chance the whole thing will be viewed. Whether it’s a promotional video for a client, a wedding video trailer, a YouTube sketch, or an online portfolio, the shorter the piece, the greater chance the whole thing will be watched. One of my favorite YouTubers to follow is Freddie Wong. His weekly action-oriented YouTube sketches are on average about 90 seconds. They each get millions of views. I’m sure a significant part of his videos’ successes is that they are short and sweet.
  • Reduce the chance of the viewer losing interest in your work. This benefit is most applicable to how many photos or videos you decide to put in your online portfolio. (Given last week’s events, for a lot of you, your online portfolio’s have become considerably sparser). You should only show the best of the best. If you throw everything you have up there, including those pieces which you know are only “okay,” you risk the person viewing your portfolio to become less interested. As my senior year high school English teacher Mr. Nicholson used to say with regards to our essays, “Give my fudge, not cotton candy.”
  • Improve your own editing skills. The discipline of shortening your work will really sharpen your own editing skills. The more you learn to cut out the excess, the better you’ll be at zeroing in on those clips, soundbites or photos that really tell the best story.

“Too Many Notes”

The clip below is from one of my favorite movies, Amadeus. I don’t want to set it up. Just watch. Luckily, as you can see, it’s short enough for you to get through the whole thing, despite your busy day. 😉 As you watch it, look at Mozart’s face and consider his reaction. Do you ever look and feel like that when confronted with the possibility that you have just…too much? (As a fun game, as you watch the video, substitute the word “notes” for clips or photos or slider shots and the word “ear” for eye and “hear” for watch.)

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4 thoughts on “A Valuable Lesson About Excess from Amadeus

  1. The idea that a musical idiot trying to tell a musical genius, like Mozart, how to create his art is just absurd. I’m going to side with the artist here. There just as many clips as I require – nothing more, nothing less.

    Anybody want to go tell Peter Jackson that The Lord of the Rings was too long?

    1. Hey Kenny. Always nice to have you visit the blog. 🙂

      There are a few things though you missed in this clip and from the movie. First, the emperor may have seemed idiotic (I think you’re reading his character as the principle for “Ferris Bueller” though. His character is not really like that in this movie). But regardless, his sensibilities were spot on. His reaction to a show was always a great indicator about how that show would ultimately succeed for fail. If he yawned a certain number of times, you knew the show would be in the crapper. So his opinion did count.

      Second, the other court composers, although obviously not as brilliant at Mozart, also had a similar opinion. So it’s not just an untrained ear that felt the same.

      Third, even geniuses can make mistakes. Steve Jobs had a number of flops and missteps from Apple.

      Last, and this is the most important. The video is just a metaphor for the overall message. In this case, the message is that in MOST cases less is more. Not everyone is a Mozart or a Peter Jackson. 9 times out of 10, it will be better to err on the side of less.

      Speaking of LOTR, yes it was long, but it didn’t FEEL long because everything that is in there needs to be in there. They propel and contribute to the story. It’s all relative. I have the extended editions at home, and I can tell you that after watching them, the scenes they added back definitely do not add much of anything to the story. They feel out of place, not because I don’t remember them in the theatrical release, but because they were extraneous.

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