Samantha Scharff may be the world’s most successful short-storyteller. “Three to six seconds,” she says, “is my sweet spot.” As a founder of Giphy Studios, the first creative agency devoted to making original GIFs, she knows how to slow your scroll.
Scharff spent nearly two decades producing skits and shorts for SNL, The Colbert Report, YouTube, and Fox. In 2016, she was recruited by Giphy to launch a production studio, where she introduced “celebrity reaction packs,” expressive GIFs filmed in-house and based on popular search terms. Envision a sort of looping human emoji—Michael Bolton miming “Netflix and chill” or Lil Yachty acting “shook.” It’s a comically emotive, collaborative process, made easier if the subject is naturally effusive and familiar with the clipped, shareable format. (Bolton agreed to get GIFed partly because a family member was into the medium, Scharff says.) Still, creating a crowd-pleasing GIF from scratch is harder than it looks. You try telling a funny story in three seconds, sans setup or sound. “I think in punch lines all day long,” Scharff says. “We have mere seconds to grab your attention.”
Exaggerated eye rolls, it turns out, have incredible reach: On an average day, Giphy’s 300 million users share 5 billion GIFs. Now Scharff is channeling that virality to transform Giphy into a full-service entertainment platform, including forays into VR. (Think YouTube, with less baggage.) “I always want to be coming up with new ways to entertain and communicate,” Scharff says. As she knows, our affinities—and attention spans—can turn in a second.
Samantha Scharff, GIF guru
Gwen Stefani, Mariah Carey, Portugal. The Man, Neil Patrick Harris, Lil Yachty
Tom Hanks’ animated web series Electric City, a postapocalyptic utopia run by a secret society of old women
SCHARFF’S TRENDS TO WATCH:
Digital stickers, gamified social networks, blockchain-based crowdfunding
This article appears in the July issue. Subscribe now.