Eye Movement – They’ll remember your story better, no really!

There is research that shows horizontal eye movements causes the two hemispheres of your brain to interact with each other.  A lot of this research is about eye movement and memory recall.  If you can get your audience’s eye moving horizontally more than they would typically and there is even the slightest hint that they’ll remember your story, I say that’s one more tool in your editing arsenal.

The story I am going to use for this post is Lots of Snow.

We want to get the audience’s eye moving across the screen. Let’s break down doing this. I’m a huge fan of any movement in your edits. Now let us see if we can actually guide the eye around the screen.  Eye movement;

  • Makes your story look better
  • Movement imitates life and the way your eye would pick up visual cues
  • You can also move the viewer’s eye with audio cues
  • Eye movement helps the viewer retain more information in your story.

If you are hesitant to buy into my logic, here is some research on eye movement

Moving Your Eyes Improves Memory, Study Suggests

A quick eye-exercise can improve your performance on memory tests (but only if you’re right-handed)

This does not work for every edit.  If I could get this to work for every edit, I’d be an editing genius. I’m not.  I do, though, understand the power of making the eye move.

Let’s examine our story.

Our story begins with two wide shots of the East High practice field covered in snow.

The first 3 shots in the story don’t have any movement, except for the opening shot of the high school student [:01] walking away from the camera.

I usually don’t like editing so many shots back to back edits without any movement.  In this case, I wanted to show the practice field with no action going on, just snow.

But at [:09], I establish a good portion of what the story is about with the shot of shovels and kids. And…

our eye movement adventure begins here.

You probably didn’t notice, but your eye was focused on the turned over traffic cone [:07].  Then your eye immediately moved to the left of the screen to pick up the shovel at [:09].  Your eye then moved from the left of the screen to the right side of the screen, where a young girl is pushing down on the shovel with her foot.  I have your eye exactly where I want it.  Because in the next shot at [:10], you see snow added to a pile.

  • I used a visual cue to move your eyes

In that instance, I led your eye visually.

Your eye is on the right side of the screen when the next edit comes along, and it moves to the right side of the screen. It’s not a visual cue, it’s an audio cue this time.  You here a girl say, “It’s time to get out and play.” Your eye immediately starts searching for who is saying this.  Your eye discovers it’s a girl on the left side of the screen.  I moved your eye again.

  • You can lead the eye with audio cues

At the end of this shot, a shovel throws snow across the screen.  As your eye moves with the snow, the very next edit at [:13] has shovels moving primarily on the right side of the screen.  This is another time when I’m leading your eye across the screen.

The next 4 edits don’t have a lot of eye movement.  Like I said, as much as I try, I can’t accomplish this in every edit.

At [:24] we pick up some more leading the eye.

Your eye moves to the right side of the screen and the end of the shot.  The very next shot has action I want your eye to focus on right there on the right side of the screen.  Your eye now focuses on the shovel and actually stays mostly on the right side of the screen.

As the shovels are pushed into the snow, and I make an edit.

Everything in the next shot at [:26] is screen left. I’m moving your eye to the left simply because there is nothing to see on the right side of the screen.

I like to have a balance.  Meaning an equal amount of action on the left side of the screen as on the right side of the screen.

  • By keeping your eye moving, I’m also balancing my edits

Shooting with the rule of thirds really helps in balancing your edits.

The next shot at [:27]

I keep your eye on the left side, but your eye now moves down and will focus on the shovel at the bottom of the screen.

At roughly the same point at the bottom of the screen in the next edit, a tarp full of snow begins moving as your eye picks that up.

It’s the action at the end of the edit at [:28] that helps with eye movement.  Editors often wonder when to start an edit.

  • I think it’s just as important to think about what happens at the end of the edit as well.

In this case, the shovel pushes into the snow, I make an edit, and there’s your eye right where I want it to be.

The next 3 edits don’t really have a lot of eye movement.

At [:35], Your eye moves to the left of the screen, searching for who is talking.  The next edit is a tight shot of the tarp dumping snow.  The action starts screen left and moves your eye screen right.

Your eye then comes back to the left as you focus on the man singing at [:37].  As he bends down at the end of the shot…

your eye moves down. I’m leading your eye to the next shot of a shovel right where the shovelhead is.  Again, what’s going on at the beginning of the edit isn’t nearly as important as what’s going on at the end of the shot before I make an edit.

That shovel moves screen left-right to the next shot of a person throwing snow.

I have a lot of first eye movement from [:48] to [:51] Pay attention to the shovels.

My favorite edit of this story happens at [1:05]. It’s what happens at the end of the edit that makes these two shots work so well together.  You see, a girl picks up snow and throws it.

And the very next shot is snow coming down on the top, on the right side of the screen; right where I want your eye to be.  This is also matching my action.

Editing with Eye movement logic isn’t something that I understood immediately.  It takes a while to work into stories and understand how to make it work.

I have to admit I never would have known about eye movement had it not been for John Hyjek.


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