Who’s making video clips? Not me…but does it matter anymore?

video clip
Clip, clip, clip...
I’m usually happy and eager to explain my work to anyone who asks. I keep cool when people mix up technicalities related to film and video – after all, I don’t know the finer points in other professions and industries.

One thing I’m a bit tired of hearing is the wide-spread misuse of the term ‘video clip’. I try to keep a straight face when well-meaning people ask me about recent ‘video clips’ I’ve made. The truth is, I don’t make any: I make fully edited films – sometimes long, sometimes short, but always finished (That is, if a film can ever be called ‘finished’. An industry giant once told me that no film is ever finished; it’s only abandoned…)

For example, my latest climate film Small Islands – Big Impact is slightly under 6 minutes, yet it’s a complete product. I spent two months working on actually making it, and almost 20 years covering the story itself.

But the distinction between film and clip is not widely understood. In fact, the digital revolution seems to have added to the confusion.

The Wikipedia says a media clip is a short segment of media either an audio clip or a video clip. In other words, a part of something bigger.

It further explains: “Media clips may be promotional in nature, as with movie clips. For example, to promote upcoming movies, many actors are accompanied by movie clips on their circuits. Additionally, media clips may be raw materials of other productions, such as audio clips used for sound effects.”

Video clips are short clips of video, usually part of a longer piece. Wikipedia adds, however, that this term is “also more loosely used to mean any short video less than the length of a traditional television program.”

That’s part of the confusion. With the spread of broadband Internet , which enabled greater bandwidth to both content creators and users, video clips have become very popular online.

About.com, another widely used online reference, says: “A video clip is a small section of a larger video presentation. A series of video frames are run in succession to produce a short, animated video. This compilation of video frames results in a video clip.”

But that’s not all. While the TV/video industry widely accepts the above definition, the computer industry seems to use ‘video clip’ generically to mean any short video, processed or otherwise. This is how video clip is defined, for example, by YourDictionary.com and PC Magazine’s online encyclopedia.

New Real Player
Snip, snip, snip...?
In this era of media convergence, when films an TV programmes are made using non-linear technologies enabled by computers, it’s no wonder that ‘video clip’ means different things to different people.

Wikipedia also talks of an emerging clip culture: “The widespread popularity of video clips, with the aid of new distribution channels, has evolved into clip culture. It is compared to “lean-back” experience of seeing traditional movies, refers to an internet activity of sharing and viewing a short video, mostly less than 15 minutes. The culture began as early as the development of broadband network, but it sees the boom since 2005 when websites for uploading clips are emerging on the market, including Shockinghumor, YouTube, Google Video, MSN Video and Yahoo! Video. These video clips often show moments of significance, humour, oddity, or prodigy performance. Sources for video clips include news, movies, music video and amateur video shot. In addition to the clip recorded by high-quality camcorders, it is becoming common to produce clips with digital camera, webcam, and mobile phone.”

Until recently, I used to get irked when people ask me about ‘video clips’ I make. My stock answer has been: “We only make fully edited, self-contained short films of various durations…partly because less is more these days. We don’t, as a policy, make ‘clips’ which in TV industry terms means semi-edited or unedited extracts that are not self-contained.”

Maybe I should stop being such a purist. After all, as I keep reminding my colleagues, students and anyone else who cares to listen to me, media is a plural!

One thing is for sure. Literacy rates and computer literacy rates have been rising worldwide in recent decades. But when it comes to basic media literacy, our societies still have a long way to go.

PS: In July 2007, we had an interesting discussion on this blog on the shrinking durations of Nature and environment films and TV programmes. The moving images community seems divided on this, with some purists holding out that to pack complex, nuanced messages into a few minutes is akin to ‘dumbing down’. Noted film-makers like Neil Curry disagreed.

Author: Nalaka Gunawardene

A science writer by training, I've worked as a journalist and communication specialist across Asia for 30+ years. During this time, I have variously been a news reporter, feature writer, radio presenter, TV quizmaster, documentary film producer, foreign correspondent and journalist trainer. I continue to juggle some of these roles, while also blogging and tweeting and column writing.

7 thoughts on “Who’s making video clips? Not me…but does it matter anymore?”

  1. Clips, shorf films, soundbites, video. Does it matter what we call it as long as they tell a good story? I think you are being a bit fastidious here. Ease up – digital technologies allow everyone to make films.

  2. Ayesha,
    I agree that labels don’t matter all that much, and the story is more important. But conceptual clarity and technical accuracy/precision are important, too. Most people can all discern the difference between a newspaper report and a well-crafted essay. Both have a value and purpose, but they are distinctive. So why not recognise the distinction between a properly crafted, self-contained film (irrespective of duration) and a raw or semi-processed piece of moving image? I’m not suggesting one is superior to the other. But they are not the same.

  3. Some comments above remind me of a discussion we had almost a year ago, in Nov 2008, when I wrote a blog post titled “Anyone can make video film, right? Why do we need professionals?”

    At the time, in response to reader comments, I wrote:
    “The digital revolution has made it easier for anyone to acquire the skills and tools for creating their own videos, and indeed any modern man or woman should be able to make a reasonably good video. I hope it will soon become as commonplace a skill as using a phone or a bank teller machine. But there is still a place and niche for professionally made video films – the equivalent of gourmet cooking at fancy restaurants! When we recognise there’s a place for skilled amateurs AND super-skilled professionals, both can coexist.”

    See full discussion at:

  4. I think the reason I get irritated when people refer to my documentary films as video clips, is that it somehow invalidates the effort , and time, and experience, and often blood sweat and tears we use to create our work.

    I think with the digital age, though everyone can make a movie, which I am glad about, it doesnt mean that many of them will make anything worth watching.. Its like (in your metaphor) inventing a great kitchen whisk to make baking easier.. but the cake still needs to taste good- and that surely take a skill that people shouldnt underestimate.

  5. Once again I think you’re hitting the nail right on the head and (to mix metaphors), probably also opening a can of worms at the same time!

    You’re quite right, not everyone with a good camera is automatically a good photographer, any more than someone with a gold-plated Parker pen is a good writer. The downside (among the many up-sides), of the home-video revolution, allied to internet access, is that every self-opinionated Tom, Dick and Harry with a video camera, or even a cell phone, now thinks he or she is a film director. Anyone who has sat through a couple of dozen ‘clips’ on YouTube, MSN, Yahoo! Video etc, is made painfully aware that there are obviously thousands of hours of boring, unadulterated, video-crap flying around in the ether, made by people who ‘think’ they have something important to say that other people will be interested in. In many cases, they’re the modern equivalent of those ghastly, 8mm holiday and wedding movies that – the older among us anyway – probably had inflicted on us at one time or another.

    On the other hand, it’s wonderful that those who really do have something worthwhile to say now have ready access not only to inexpensive video technology that enables them to say it, but also to the means to reach an audience without restriction. For many of us who have been in the ‘professional’ film business for years, the sheer cost of making films in the past, and the fact that access to large audiences was almost exclusively in the hands of a small number of cinema chains or television companies, meant that we often spent years scrounging around to find the funding for the film we wanted to make, or had to go cap-in-hand and on our knees to the tin-Gods running the channels, to beg them to commission our ideas. Now, at least, we also have access to the ways and means of making programmes at minimum expense.

    In my view – as you rightly say – the question in the end is not about the technology itself but about the art and craft that is brought to bear in putting together a story that people will not only want to watch, but that will have an influence on their minds and behaviour in some way afterwards. Like any other profession, it’s a skill that only comes with years of practice – for most of us anyway – and, for that reason, I agree that there needs to be some distinction between ‘proper’ movies (of the kind you described), and the raw, wobbly-scope ‘clips’ that their inexperienced makers imagine, we will be interested in watching.

    There might well be a place for the latter somewhere in the whole scheme of things but, as Chandi says in his response, when they’re all lumped together under the name video clips, it kind of demeans the time, effort and experience, and often also the blood sweat and tears, that professional film makers put into bringing their work to an audience.

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