Advanced Video Camera and Editing

Editing Aesthetics

The advent of consumer non-linear editing software has broadened the exclusive club of professional video production to just about anyone with a computer and camcorder. But editing is much more than using a technological innovation. Editing itself is an artistic profession equivalent to that of painters, playwrights and poets. From their unconscious, creative depths, the editor synthesizes images into meaningful patterns that profoundly moves the audience. The cuts are never arbitrary, but are, in fact, motivated by the editor’s creativity and judgment of what the story is about.

Images: Creative Commons

There is a joke that illustrates what is considered the novice approach to editing, where an image is cut to every single significant word in the script or dialogue. This form of literalism was spoofed in an edition of the BBC's The Frost Report when host David Frost called this form of literalism the 'Lord Privy Seal.' Images of a Lord, a privy and finally a seal (subject to some interpretation) are edited respectively to the mention of the words "lord, privy, seal." Some might call the result an artless, uninspired and second-rate piece of work.

What motivates the cut?

The motivation behind the cut is to advance the story, providing new information as it moves forward. When the shot no longer adds any crucial information or slows down the story, the editor cuts to the next shot to show the audience something different.  The expression ‘cut from the gut’ is a fitting way to describe how editors decide when to cut. Sometimes it becomes important simply to trust your instincts. Often the editor will find a way to withhold information until the most effective dramatic moment, not to frustrate the audience, but to keep them interested or riveted. As the editing progresses, new and unexpected bits of information get revealed until there is resolution.

Despite its technical challenges, editing can be learned in a short time. But editing is a skill that is often acquired over a period of years. The advantage of digital editing technology is such that anyone with basic skills can easily experiment on new ways to link shots together, coming up with ingenious alternative patterns for sequences. Nevertheless, whether it’s feature films, news and documentaries, or corporate videos, the objective is the same – to maintain the audience’s interest. There are certain rules to follow, but rules are meant to be broken, although not in a haphazard way. An innovative editor who ‘cuts from the gut’ can find ways to intrigue audiences with something that throws them by surprise. But an editor who sets up the audience’s expectations unintentionally, using a shot that has no good reason to be there, or assembles a sequence that is incoherent, will ultimately disappoint.

The challenge in editing is to assemble a number of images that create continuity, or a sense of logical progression from one image to the next. However, the goal of editing is to create a final product that not only maintains continuity, but one that is dramatically effective. Master of suspense filmmaker, Alfred Hitchcock, once said that, ‘drama is life with the dull bits cut out’. Indeed, editors are seemingly capable of manipulating time and space, transforming what is Real Time into Dramatic Time. However, editors need to be clear about the purpose of the scene.

Editing relies on the juxtaposition of images, but ultimately the editor decides how to assemble the images in a way that is dramatically effective. Their decisions are helped if they are given a variety of angles from which to choose, providing more options for cutting. Sometimes editors are not given many choices, or they are given too many. But the meaning of the story as a whole helps the editor make decisions on how to reconstitute a scene from the raw materials that are generated during the production process. That is, the footage and sound that exist after the shooting is complete.