Advanced Video Camera and Editing


The Editing Process

The goal of editing is to create a final product that is not only continuous, but is also dramatically effective. In the end, the editor's creativity is based on their knowledge of the story, which then helps them choose the right shots.

The Shot - the fundamental unit of editing

How you assemble different shots to tell the story depends on your vision. Editors begin with the 'bread-and-butter shots' - wide shots or establishing shots, mediums and close-ups. The length of shots varies from story to story. In a dialogue sequence, shots could last as long as the conversation itself, 10 minutes perhaps. However, a chase scene could use shots that last just under one second. 

The challenge of editing is to assemble a number of shots that create a continuity, which doesn’t draw unnecessary attention to itself. That is, the edit goes largely unnoticed by the viewer. 

The Editing Process can be summed up in two stages:

  • Rough Cut - building the audio first and then filling the gaps with video b-roll before making modifications to the clips.
  • Final Cut - fine-tuning and polishing the rough cut, transforming it into the final edit

The second stage emphasises Rhythm and Pace. Rhythm is determined by the overall 'seamlessness' of the edits, and Pace depends on the temporal length of each shot. 

Choosing the Right Shots: Once they're handed an assignment, the editor must first know the story and then study the shots. They note the variety of shots and their composition, including possible transition shots that also include matching action to help create seamless edits. The editor also notes the sound (natural or wild sound), which can add rich textures and atmosphere to any visual story, and can even be used to help transition between shots or scenes.

If the camera work is done right, and the reporter or producer scripts to the visuals, then it's sometimes easy for the editor to make the right edit decisions. Always, the first challenge is coming up with the opening shot. This shot needs to grab, or hook the audience's attention, which is why the editor chooses an opening shot that is as compelling as possible. While pictures are worth a thousand words, you may have only four seconds to grab your target audience. The truth is - people are busy and they want to get their information in the most efficient, and time-saving way possible. Therefore, the video must be appealing, it must be captivating and it must spark the curiosity of your target audience and define the story.

Once that shot is selected, the second shot must then have some relationship with the first to maintain continuity. Each time the editor cuts, the shots should continue to advance new information or insight to the viewer. Choosing shots depends on how much information they convey, and that determines how long they are seen by the audience. Typically, a wide shot conveys more information than a close-up and is held longer on screen the first time it is seen. But choosing the right shot also depends on how well it serves the dramatic purpose of the story. If a shot fails to move the story forward, provides little information or serves no other purpose, then it must be discarded, left on the proverbial 'cutting room floor,' even if it was beautifully photographed.

An editor should never feel obligated to use shots that were difficult to acquire if they don't serve the story's purpose.

Compressing Time: Sometimes it seems that editors can do what no physicist can - violate the laws of time! Editors can turn real-time events into dramatic time, which is a way of compressing the time it takes for an event to complete in real time (such as making a cup of coffee). To do so, the editor chooses the least number of shots. using only the key shots to show the genesis of a cup of coffee, from grinding the beans to pouring the finished coffee into the cup. However, the editing should never confuse viewers, instead keeping them informed and involved in the story. Viewers stay involved when the shots are edited seamlessly; when the editing doesn't remind viewers of the editing itself. 

Seamless Edits: Effective editing requires the edits to be seamless, where they don't draw unnecessary attention to the edits themselves. To viewers, the transition doesn't appear obvious. As long as the cut is made at a logical point in the shot, when the edit is smooth and the action between shots match, then the audience won't be thinking about the editing; they will remain immersed in the story.

Matching Action: Editors are always looking for ways to exploit motion in the shots. Edits appear more dynamic and engaging when action is cut on the motion itself. The more motion, the greater the opportunity for dynamic editing. In matching action edits, the shots of the same action, taken from multiple angles, are assembled to create the illusion of one continuous motion. For example, when a character raises their hand, we see their hand in approximately the same position from one angle to the next. Matching the action between shots moves the story forward.

Matching Action edits can happen in one of two ways.

  • Cutting after the motion
  • Cutting on the motion

Additionally, matching action must take into account the similarity of angles. Subjects in one shot should be facing the same screen direction in the next shot, and so forth. 

Screen Direction: The sense of direction must be maintained from shot to shot. Otherwise, viewers will get confused over the change of angles. Is the character coming or going? Left-to-right patterns must be maintained and if a character changes direction, the change must be shown.

Matching Tone: In addition to exploiting movement, the editor looks for variations in light and colour between shots that could break the continuity. Therefore, photographers should take great care in getting shots that are exposed properly and framed appropriately. Otherwise, variations between can cause confusion not just for the editor, but for the audience.

To learn more about matching tone, click Tone and Colour

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