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.