Or just watch Billy’s Balloon, which, in addition to being hilarious, teaches several valuable lessons about the art of pacing.
Watch the movie first, then come back.
I’m going to analyze how the pacing in the story works using the youtube clock to demonstrate the principles put forth in my last post about the three speeds of pacing (slow-time, real-time, fast-time).
To demonstrate pacing, I’ll analyze the first half of the film. The story is made up of 325 seconds. In addition to putting up the seconds that have occurred, I will post the TOTAL amount of the movie that has been completed in Red. The percentage of the movie that takes up the scene will be in Green. These will later be used to illustrate the difference between slow-time and real-time.
0-9 seconds. 3% // 3%
This is the title card. Nothing of great importance. Included is the black screen.
10-40 seconds. 12% // 9%
Nothing really happens, although our expectations are raised. It’s a kid, so what? But the balloon is there, which draws our attention. There isn’t much to be said for pacing until the next scene, save that although this feels like a long time (because the character and their conflict hasn’t been introduced), its only a bit over 1/10th of the whole thing.
40 – 1:30 (50 seconds) 28% // 15%
This scene comprises all of Act 1. The inciting incident is when the balloon initiates a simple downward blow on the child’s cranium. This is further escalated with the charging aerial assault, knocking the child facedown into the ground (classic) and further administering a beating that would make a bobo doll feel pain. The balloon even starts to strangle the kid.
Time to pause and talk about expectations. In the 10-40 second segment, the audience’s expectations were raised. The tension — and conflict — comes from our initial expectation that something is going to happen between the boy and his balloon.
This tension is delivered upon in the next segment, 50-1:30 . The balloon starts to attack the kid and keeps raising the stakes. This is culminated in the tying of a noose around the child’s neck, which is important because it sets the stage for the next phase: how is he going to top THAT?
Events here, although exciting, occur in real-time. This means that we see them as they occur because they are exciting. The scene ends with a release of dramatic tension by the adults walking by.
Before I go into the next scene, remember these two things. First, we know what’s going on in the story now: this is a conflict between a boy and his balloon. Second, after raising tension, it has been released. But the conflict hasn’t been solved. This is a perfect time to play with audience expectations and employ slow-time… which is what happens.
1:30 – 2:25 (55 seconds) 45% // 17%
55 seconds, counting the time it takes Billy to fall to the ground and the one second it takes for me to click pause while laughing. In this one scene, all that happens is the balloon picks up the kid by the hand and drops him. If you shave off rattle-retrieval time, you’re still looking at around 15% of the story devoted to this one event.
Look at how much time the last beating took. 50 seconds, and it had several escalations. This is a single event slowed down to 1/3rd it’s speed (which we KNOW because of the next scene, covered in a few) to increase pleasure and tension in the viewer. This is the power of slow-time.
2:25-2:40 (15 seconds). 49% // 5%
Welcome to fast-time. It takes 1/3rd the time of before to drop Billy onto his face. One might argue that this takes place in real-time — it may. But compared to the last scene, it may as well be fast.
I’m going to stop the analysis here because the points have been made. Look at the percentages in the paragraphs above for a good lesson in how to manipulate time and what the audience sees.
OBVIOUSLY this isn’t a story, more of a single, escalating scene, but the lessons in pacing are quite good.
Note the escalation at the end — that’s the best use of fast-time. We don’t see each individual balloon assault each individual child. We skip immediately to the part where it’s a full on balloon riot.