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People hate watching credits. Here's how to do it right.

Peter Gerard
May 30, 2017 by Peter Gerard Alum

When you put videos out in the world, you want them to be seen. And for online videos, you have seconds, maybe just milliseconds, to grab a viewer’s attention and get them to watch — not only the opening moments, but hopefully your whole video. One of the most common pitfalls we see is starting a video with opening logos and credits. In our short attention span culture, they are a major turn-off.

Play counts can be misleading.
You want lots of people to actually watch your film, episode, or marketing video. And when I say “watch,” I don’t mean get a big play count, as most video platforms count a play even if the viewer didn’t watch most of the video. Facebook counts a play when a silent auto-playing video has been on screen for just three seconds. Snapchat counts a play the instant a video hits the screen, even if you skip it immediately.

On Vimeo, we only autoplay videos when we are confident a user wants to start watching, so Vimeo’s play counts tend to reflect people’s deliberate interest in watching your videos. Still, if you’re monitoring your Video Report in Advanced Stats you’ll see that few people make it to the very end of your videos, and a lot even drop off in the first few seconds. That trend is natural — but there are actions you can take to seriously change those numbers!  


A lot of people fall off quickly at the start of the video, and few stay to watch the end credits.

Many filmmakers make a huge mistake by starting their film slowly — often with tons of time spent on a black screen or logos and credits — thinking it’s nice to ease the viewer in. While this approach may work at a film festival screening where everyone is sitting and waiting for your film, it unfortunately does not work online.

Here’s a documentary that I made a few years ago that premiered at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA). You have to wait 22 seconds before you see the first shot of the film. While that intrigue worked for a festival audience, on Vimeo a lot of people give up before they see a single frame of my movie.

With 22 seconds of black screen, at what point do you stop watching?

The lesson to learn is that even if you get a viewer to click play deliberately, in today’s hypermedia environment, you have to act fast to grab someone’s attention before they get bored or distracted. The first few seconds of any online video need to be immediately arresting: you want to grab hold of my eyeballs and fix my gaze so hard into your video that I ignore all the interesting stuff going on in the outside world.

The right way to get it started
Here are a few great examples of videos that are doing this right.

In this documentary, the opening shot captures my attention through a collision of nostalgia and intrigue. I’m excited to see a cassette player that reminds me of my youth, and also I’m immediately curious what the “question” is going to be.

This animation snags me immediately through strong imagery and an overlaid title. It doesn’t waste any time with black screens.

This video also does a nice job of hooking me. It opens with a striking image that triggers my imagination, and then on-screen text teases a discovery that I now want to learn about.

If you have a series, it’s also important not to start every episode with the same sequence. I like how in The Impossibilities web series, each episode starts with a different magic trick. I’m immediately captivated by the mystery of magic, and then I get drawn into the story.

What about end credits?
When you are deciding whether to watch a video, there are a bunch of calculations going on in your mind (whether you’re conscious of them or not), and duration is typically one of the factors. You may have a limited amount of time, or it may just seem too daunting to invest in a longer video.

End credits make a video’s runtime longer than it needs to be — and they have a bigger proportional impact on the duration of short films. Since the vast majority of people won’t actually read your credits (except maybe your mom, your Kickstarter backers, and Jeannie), you can just list your credits on your website, and link to it from the video outro and description. So you’re still giving credit where it’s due, without negatively impacting engagement.

The following thumbnails from some of my favorite Staff Picks all show a runtime that includes opening and closing credits, making each video look 15%-30% longer than they need to.


Just as $99 feels cheaper than $100, if you show a runtime of 11 minutes while your movie is actually 9 minutes, then you’ll get fewer people taking the plunge.

What if your contract requires certain credits?
You may have a contractual obligation to show funder logos and/or key credits before or after your film. I have a few tips:

  1. Re-negotiate your deal so that there’s an exception for online use. You should be able to explain to your funders that it’s better for people to actually see the film than to turn off viewers with a series of logos before the video starts.
  2. If you really need to include some logos and credits, then find a way to subtly overlay them on top of the starting shots of your film, or show them at the end. And find a way to make them interesting (like in this Young Thug video).
  3. For the online version of your film, make the credits scroll a lot faster (hey, it works on TV!).

Taking my own medicine
Here’s how I’ve shaved a minute off the runtime of my film, and as a consequence, I’ve given it a much more engaging opening. You’ll see I’ve linked to the full credits in the outro and the description — so everyone gets their proper shout out — and I’ve incorporated my contractually obliged funder logos into a single end card.

Is this version more engaging than the one above?

There are tons of insanely clever and inspiring examples out there, too. If you’ve seen other great videos on Vimeo that are instantly engaging or have interesting approaches to credits, please share in the comments.

18 Comments

Vincent Price Plus

I realized my first video on Vimeo few weeks ago, this is exactly all the questions and doubts I went through ( the intro, the end credits, the average of full views...). Thank you so much ! It makes feel so much better :-)

Peter Gerard Staff

Thanks - I've felt the same - most of my older videos are good examples of what not to do!

VitaScope

Stopped reading after the bit about autoplay. So "monies" is the reason for this autoplay hell online. It's a form of advertising and clickfraud...If i want something to play, i push the button.

Richard M Exelby

Thank you! Immediately began by taking down my newest video and re-making it!

will menter Plus

Yes, but..... A big part of my aesthetic is about stillness and savouring sensory experience. Of course the internet isn't primarily about that, but we can use it as a medium for communicating with people who do appreciate that. It's valuable even if it is a minority. Having said that I totally agree that titles and end credits should be kept to a minimum or preferably be completely cut out.

Robert B. Thorne, M.D.

Very interesting comments. I videoed, for free, 3 New York 9/11 Truth meetings and put them up on YouTube; one other person also videoed them. It's occurred to me that if Joe and I hadn't videoed they'd have gone unrecorded. That's a Very Big Problem when it comes to extremely controversial, political, historical issues where the news-fakers won't touch it. How are we going to take this country back without honest reporting and videoing?? Incidentally, I'm a medical doctor and 3 patients I was seeing on Thursdays at an office 3 blocks from the World Trade Center (130 William Street, as I recall), died on 9/11. Had I been working at that office on Tuesdays, I'd have been in the Starbucks at the World Trade Center Plaza, and likely dead. I used to say, "when the first plane hit", but the son of the founder of Lear Jet is on a YouTube video for ~ 40 minutes showing that there were "no airplanes" hitting the WTC Towers, and that these were, in fact, "laser holographic illusions" of planes.

Ermolay

@petergerard there was this video with Scorcese interview blankonblank.org/interviews/martin-scorsese-directing-mean-streets-taxi-driver-westerns-nyu-parents-priesthood-directing/

""> I like credits. They promise something. Like posters, they promise something, you know because for me credit sequences are sometimes more important than the movie, I don’t know, because they present the picture a certain way.

I tend to get impatient with the title sequences that are unimaginative that are just showing up with shots of people driving, going in their house. I think in that case, don’t do that. I think in that case, put white on black, put some music over it. It’s even nicer. It’s much more honest about it. Then get the story started because you’re wasting story time.

RIVERING Plus

As someone who used to work in the TV business, I take credits very seriously. That is how your crew members can prove they did the job. Credits are not just a vanity, they are integral part of your professional profile. Credits are what get you on IMDB.

I think we have become very blase about giving credit where credit is due. Agreed, long openers are unnecessary--I think Breaking Bad nailed that one. But end credits are different. They are like the bibliography at the end of a book. Not everyone will read through them, but they need to be there. To say we should do away with credits is irresponsible.

However, we can be clever about how we do them. Depending on the film, credits can roll over or in between artwork, outtakes, a short comedic dialogue etc. I never leave a Pixar film until the credits end because I know I will miss something.

In my case, I continued a conversation by two of my interviewees earlier in the film while rolling my Indiegogo donor names.

What you need to do is keep it interesting until the end.

This is a very good piece on this subject:
youtube.com/watch?v=hJjal1Wpo1M

Peter Gerard Staff

Good ideas. By no means was I suggesting that we should do away with credits and not give credit where it's due. However, when it comes to online video in particular, we have to be even more clever with how to handle credits because of short attention spans.

Quid In Shrapnel

As a Film Festival Director watching a film that has a running time of 12 minutes with 1 minute of opening credits and 2.30 closing credits is a turn off for the festival. The viewers hate it, we hate it and it often can stop good films getting in.

Quid In Shrapnel

What I didn't say, is this is a great article and will promote at my next Festival Submissions talk.

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