This Shocking 'One Second a Day' Video Taps into a Unique Narrative Concept (& Our Hearts)

1 second a dayI'm sure we're all familiar with those "one second a day" photos and videos, yeah? The time-lapsed pieces of a child growing up, a man getting older, or even the videos you make with 1 Second Everyday (if you don't have that app, get that app). Recognizing the unique storytelling potential of this concept is pretty easy, but its potential was realized in incredible fashion in this shocking ad for the charity organization Save the Children. In the video, a year in the life of a young girl is documented in one-second shots, and the transition from her happy suburban life in the UK to -- well -- you'll just have to see for yourself, but it's pretty astounding.

It's amazing how much information our brains can process in a single second, and as it turns out, a second is all this video needs per shot to tell this story. This filmic concept has been used many, many times, like in the examples I gave above, but rarely will you come across a full narrative -- one that tells more of a story than a human being aging or growing a beard.

As you'll see in the video soon enough, it documents a year in the life of a little girl living happily with her family in the UK. Eventually, things start to go very wrong -- and it's painful, and yes, pretty shocking. I thought about this for quite some time after my 10th or 11th viewing of the ad, about why it touched me, and what I realized was that there are several things at work here.

But first, take a look at the video:

First of all, the video is only a minute and a half long, which gives you no time to ease into the emotional responses to what you're viewing. That first image of a super cute kid blowing out her birthday candles with an adoring family behind her -- precious! Fast forward a minute or so and you see that haunting image of her -- the tear-soaked thousand-yard star of a kid that looks so much older than she did a year ago, no family other than her mother offering her a nondescript dessert in a metal pan with a single candle. The juxtaposition is powerful especially because the transition from the picturesque image to the dreary one happens so quickly.

The other thing that came to mind as to why this video was so powerful was that we're given such minimal information -- and yet so much. Let me explain. We don't know what's happening on a political, societal, or national level -- why people are evacuating, why the military is involved, what that explosion was, or why the girl and her mother are wearing hospital gowns at the end. All we know is that this girl's life changes dramatically. However, we know so much about this girl. We know she's loved, she likes sweets, she's musical, she likes sports, she's smart, she got kissed by a boy. We know she has that childlike innocence when she cozies up to her teddy bear at night. We know she's happy -- until all of a sudden she's not.

What do you think? What are your thoughts on the concept of making a film with second-long shots? Let us know in the comments below. (I know that this ad is politically charged, but let's keep the discussion focused on filmmaking.)

[via Save the Children]

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Your Comment


Wow, that was really well done! What other era of film making would this have worked? It really shows just how effective "web video" can be when done with taste and meaning. Thanks for sharing!

June 14, 2014 at 10:00PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


This was brilliant! Raised a lot of questions without giving any answers. I think the vlog style filming was a great choice for this video. It gave a strong feeling that the girl is telling this story.

June 15, 2014 at 1:07AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Well done! great well thought!

June 15, 2014 at 1:28AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Use of repetition is key here. Repeated compositions and the repeated event of the birthday. The latter repeat is extremely powerful especially because of the contrast and change that has taken place. Anyone that has seen The Act of killing will recognise this arc.

June 15, 2014 at 2:37AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

David A

Incredible video. 31m views for a great charity. Brilliant project.
Thanks for posting.

June 15, 2014 at 5:54AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


It's a relief to see NFS increasingly touching on more topics related to film theory and language lately. I guess this is where that ol' film studies major might actually come in handy! What Renee is touching upon here is essentially the power of montage. This might be a worthwhile opportunity to briefly touch upon Sergie Eisenstein and Lev Kuleshov's theory of intellectual montage. They theorized basically film's capacity to create meaningful 'film metaphors' through the thoughtful juxtaposition of independent shots to the effect that Shot A + Shot B = Meaning C (greater than sum of its parts). Here interestingly the filmmaker has elected using 'scenes' instead of 'shots' as the individual building blocks of meaning so that the juxtaposition of said scenes create a meaning (in this case a very effective emotional appeal) greater than the sum of it's seemingly disjointed parts.

June 15, 2014 at 1:11PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Here are a couple of articles where we touch on montage theory. More coming soon!

June 15, 2014 at 6:24PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

V Renée
Content Manager at Coverfly

This is not the first time this messaging has been used. Its a very well done updating of this memorable ad from a few years back. The current spot by savethechildren brinks the message into the cellphone produced youtube world we live in brilliantly.

Here:s the older U.N. spot. Still effecting and moving.

June 15, 2014 at 2:36PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


First, I love the fact that this short is complete with a full story that makes sense. We know how her normal life was before the event but we don't know why the story changes except that it affects many people and mainly her family. Second, I think they did a great job with showing as much as they can within the frame. Each second is precious and they utilized everything; surroundings, background conversations, media, movement, makeup. They did a great job of using every nook and cranny of each shot to introduce and build the story. Just enough to keep us going.

June 16, 2014 at 12:26AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


I can think of a handful places on this planet where children are seriously injured, losing their limbs and lives right now at this minute because of egos, religion/ideology and greed of rich and powerful sociopaths.

June 19, 2014 at 4:26PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


that is an incredible piece of work - a minute and a half that tells a story so powerfully and which is also a reality in parts of our world. A genius of a film that gives a voice to those thoughts that most of us hardly have time to consider in this modern society

June 19, 2014 at 11:04PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

john leigh london uk

just great.

June 21, 2014 at 12:53PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


I prefer this version.

June 28, 2014 at 9:31AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


It's amazing what you can protray in just 1 minute! Well done.

August 20, 2014 at 6:57AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM