We all know that links are vitally important – but we often get the reason wrong.
Links connect your sequences, and generate twists and turns. But they should do a lot more.
Links are often misunderstood. People often think of them as 15 seconds of flabby wallpaper stuck in between the good bits, something like this:
That’s not how links should work at all.
Using links this way often leads to a story feeling fragmented. You end up with a beat or two of waffle in between every sequence. You end up signposting that the two sequences are not really connected. The commentary might as well just say “glue… glue… glue”. This kind of link breaks up the story’s flow.
Links should add to your story’s flow.
Links belong inside your sequences, not in between them. In fact, in many ways…
Links are your Story.
Think of it like this:
- Sequences offer us information, insight and entertainment; they are the ‘wow’ factor of your film
- Links create the context: they are the film’s structure, laid bare.
That means that links tell us:
- where we have been
- what we hoped to learn
- what we actually learned
- what we need to learn next
- where we are now heading, and why
And they do all this with reference to the film’s central mission.
Links are deeply embedded in each outgoing sequence and in each incoming sequence. They are not a few beats of wallpaper sitting between self-contained sequences.
Links should constitute at least the last 15-30 seconds of one sequence, and the first 15-30 seconds of the next. In other words, a good link (a) doesn’t look like a link, and (b) lasts the best part of a minute. Something like this:
If a link doesn’t do this, then it’s not helping your story. All you are doing is making a point of connection.
Finding a point of connection between any two things is easy. For example, post boxes and the communist flag are both red. So we could ‘link’ two sequences like this:
- INTERESTING SEQUENCE 1:The history of the post-box is vexed. No one was prepared to have them on village greens.
- CONNECTION:Post boxes are red. So is the Chinese flag.
- INTERESTING SEQUENCE 2:Speaking of China, Chairman Mao came to office vowing to transform the economy…
Great! Post boxes are interesting! And Chairman Mao is fascinating!
Er… what was the story again?
You see the problem. This kind of ‘link’ performs no Story Function at all. It has no sense of purpose in the context of the whole film. We are heading in a new and unexpected direction, but without a new mission arising from the old.
Links are all about purpose, direction, and structure.
We tend to think of our films in terms of the sequences we will shoot. Then we assemble those sequences. How to join them up is almost an afterthought. We really, really shouldn’t think that way.
Think about links early. Embed them in your sequences. Cherish them. And remember this:
LINKS ARE VITAL TO YOUR STORY.
IN SOME WAYS, THEY ARE YOUR STORY.
At least, they should be.