Cinematic Corporate Videos: In the Blink of an Eye

In a 1973 Christian Science Monitor interview, legendary director John Huston (The Maltese Falcon, Key Largo) stated, “Film is like thought…it’s the closest to thought process of any art.” And I couldn’t agree more.

This simple exercise, which I’ve adapted from Huston’s original, helps illustrate the point:

Look at something across the room (e.g.  the window). Now look back at your computer screen. Look back at the window. Now look back at the computer screen.

After the first look, you know there’s no reason to pan continuously from computer screen to window, and more than likely, you blinked. Your mind cut the scene to juxtapose and compare the two elements – “computer screen” and “window” – without irrelevant information getting in the way.

This is exactly what film editors do when they make cuts.

The above interview and exercise are recounted in Walter Murch’s philosophical essay on film editing In the Blink of an Eye, in which he explores the most basic editing question: Why do cuts – the instantaneous change that occurs from one shot to another – work? [1]

It was while working on Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation that Murch – the Academy Award winning editor/mixer of The English Patient, Apocalypse Now and The Godfather trilogy – developed his theory to explain. He noticed his cuts occurred very close to the point when Gene Hackman (as Harry Caul) blinked in the film. He didn’t make much of it until reading the Huston interview.

If you accept that blinking is not merely a biological means of moistening your eyes, but is also “something that helps an internal separation of thought to take place or an involuntary reflex accompanying the mental separation that is taking place anyway,” you can see the truth in Huston’s statement and understand why Murch believes cuts work.

It is not that much of a stretch to replace the word film with video and art with medium so that Huston’s statement reads: “Video is like thought…it’s the closest to thought process of any medium.” What better way to make your message appeal to a targeted audience than to deliver it in a medium that emulates their thought process?

There are many reasons your organization should incorporate more video into its marketing program, but I believe the conclusions of Murch and Huston are among the most fundamental. Think of video as a visual appeal to the emotions of your key audiences. The various cuts that make up the whole of the message are the punctuation, helping transition thoughts to deliver the desired impact. Video is a powerful tool and its potential gets stronger with every blink of an eye.


[1]  Of course, not all cuts work. Murch’s use of an apposite example in nature (in which bees can re-orient their senses when a beehive is moved two inches or two miles, but become fatally confused when it is moved two yards) to illustrate the difference between cuts that work and those that don’t is worth the book’s price alone.


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