All non static mediums have a duration. Ideally the length of that duration should be just enough to express the content. In reality, there’s no telling how long it will take to get someone on board with what your expressing, this makes knowing when to stop a bit of a crapshoot. A more reliable way to cater timing to an audience is to carefully set the pace.

By deliberately pacing something you can set a tone. If a languid pace is set then the audience accustoms themselves to that and is allowed time to focus in on details. This is most often seen in art house film where tedium is used as a tool to engage the focus of the viewer, for example in Bela Tarr’s Turin Horse, with it’s very deliberate slow repetition. This sort of pacing, deliberate or otherwise, is what constitutes a hard watch/read/etc. On the other end of the spectrum we have the frantic pacing of action films like MAD MAX FURY ROAD (which can only be written in all caps) or The Raid. The pacing in these is designed to be completely immersive by throwing so much at you that you have little time to dwell on details. It gleefully affords room for illogical narratives and blaring inconsistencies, whilst often restricting how complex or thought provoking the content can be. This is why I tend to term these as easy watches/reads etc.

When it comes to pacing the most interesting part is the cut, the places where we leave one scene for another. Traditionally an action movie has many cuts and an art house movie few. How often we make those jumps and how large those jumps are, completely conditions the viewing experience. We can combine how often and how large into how dense a film is with those jump spaces. A film that is more dense has more told off screen, it is almost as if the film is indirectly telling us that detail is unimportant and then asserting what is important just by simply allowing us to see it. This presented importance, if used correctly, tricks us into thinking that whatever is on screen is engaging and therefore entertaining. A film that is sparse with jump space is relatively restricted in scope, that is it’s unlikely that what we see is going to feel “larger than life”, but it makes up for it by feeling more true to life. We have time to consider the detail of each shot with the camera acting as our window into whatever world we’re viewing. This is why it’s often the case that in slower paced films the camera begins to feel like a character in itself since, in contrast to a faster pace, it is the only thing that tells us what is important and therefore where our attention should lie. This extra freedom on the viewers part, to pick out what interests them in each shot, gives a feeling of depth but can leave a film feeling like hard work.

The largest cuts are those in episodic content. Although these were introduced for historical reasons to do with printing costs, radio & television programming and more recently attempts to garner brand loyalty to certain video games, the very nature of having these cuts, so delayed that from start to finish you spend more time away from the content than actually accessing it, completely changes the way we view the content. Traditionally a feature consists of a single narrative in which we learn about the characters and their world by how they make they’re way through the running time. Whereas in episodic content we have a collection of many relatively unimportant narratives that build up a world and usually some kind of meta-narrative. The thing of real importance is how the characters approach each new narrative. This lets us attach ourselves to the characters and world to a greater degree. This comes at the expense of time and often the devolution of original artistic intent often leading to what feels like a mixed whole. By virtue of the artists being able to see audience feedback while they still work on new episodes, there is often a temptation to pander to the requests of that audience. This loss of clear intent can leave the content feeling inconsistent and stagnant. It’s why its good to stay wary of ongoing books, shows or games that are not pre-planned. My main issue with episodic content, and the reason why I react more favourably to features is simply that by moving away from a single narrative, knowing when to stop becomes too difficult. We move from aiming to stop things when they begin to lose their edge to ending them when they are exhausted.

An interesting example of a hybrid of episodic and feature content is the album. It is released as one whole feature but given with the option of experiencing each track alone. I often hear people citing how good an album is by how many tracks they enjoyed and i can’t help but feel that takes something away. Certainly some albums are designed to be listened to as a collection of standalone tracks and should be judged as such, but there are just as many albums that are paced to be listened to as one feature, with certain tracks slowing the pace to pave the way for the future ones. These albums may not necessarily be telling deliberate narratives but they aim to develop and change over the run time into a greater unified whole. If every track was an ear worm then the album taken as a whole would begin to sound amorphous.

As always the most appropriate pace comes down to what the content in question is trying to express or achieve. If it is meant to grapple with difficult or distressing themes then its likely a slow paced feature would be suited since it gives the issues the gravitas they deserve and doesn’t wear out the viewer with a huge collective view time. Comedy on the other hand is about subverting expectation. This requires first setting an expectation allowing you to create the unfamiliar in the familiar. That is more readily done in episodic form since we have the familiarity of the characters transposed against the wackiness of new narratives and situations. If you want people to be exhilarated its probably best to stick with fast paced short features since the details are likely interchangeable, making the benefits of world building posed by episodic content redundant. Unfortunately things aren’t so simple, art is rarely one thing and tonally different scenes are needed for variety and context. Which is precisely what makes good pace making a skill and something that requires practice.


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