Can drama be “video-clippable”?

From the beginning of the cinematic industry in the late 19th century, the general length of a complete cinematic storyline has changed. Progressing from the longer-form theatre films which, after the landmark films of D.W. Griffith, became the norm for Hollywood features, the cinematic industry eventually incorporated the episodic format which was encouraged by television (and had been initially promoted through radio).

With the rise of the World Wide Web in the 1990s and 2000s and the popularization of video hosting sites such as YouTube after 2005, the cinematic industry has been at pains to incorporate the “video clip” format, in which 5-8-maximum-length videos are published for posted commentary.

The irony about today’s clip culture is that similar-length clips, viewed through peepholes, were what had initially popularized motion pictures before film directors began to lengthen their works to what is now known as “feature-length”. Similar-length music videos (musical shorts), news segments (film reels) and comedy skits were initially popularized through theatre films before the more efficient medium of television.

However, while compilatory, non-plot-driven television series have easily made a transition to the Web as clips, plot-driven dramatic works have not been given a similar, refitting experience from the feature-length theatre and episodic television formats to the Web video clip format.

Situation-driven dramas have constituted a core part of the cinematic arts since the 19th century, but, perhaps due to their adherence to linearity, they may have had the worst time in adaptation to the Web clip format. Radio and, later, television allowed for formulaic dramatic works to adapt to an episodic storyline which could be shown on a daily or nightly basis, a different experience than the feature-lengths which were put out by Hollywood and other industrial centers in the 20th century.

Unlike the episodic series format, which carries a set of central characters into multiple situations which last around 30 minutes to an hour between the beginning of the dilemma to its resolution (or a cliffhanger which links to the next episode in order to see if the dilemma is resolved), the web clip format is of lesser length (each clip being 2-8 minutes at best) and is far more often used to tell unconnected, unserialized short narratives.

A web clip, from the looks of it, may be a poor format in which to tell a long-form dramatic story depicting recurring characters participating in the resolution of some current situation.

However, because of the hyperlinked nature of the Web, it may be possible to allow more than one possible follow-up clip in order to successfully continue the story in the eyes of the user. Any video on YouTube, for example, will link at the end to at least 4 other clips from both within and outside the list of uploads made by the author of the video. Webcomics, while providing for sequential links to the next panel, also link to the first and most recent panels.

So there are a number of possibilities for hyperlink-friendly dramatic situation narrative, such which could be realized through YouTube-sized web clips. After all, pages and chapters don’t really exist on the Web, so why should “episodes”, “seasons” and “series”?

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