Advanced Video Camera and Editing

Pacing & Rhythm

Editors should clarify rather than confuse. Determining the right shots, the pacing and the transitions must all make the point of the scene clear. During the rough cut stage, the editor juxtaposes shots that are related to one another, suggesting a level of continuity. However, in the final editing stage, the editor's goal is to fine-tune this juxtaposition, introducing dramatic emphasis in the scene. This dramatic emphasis is achieved through pacing. 

Pacing occurs when the editor varies the length of the shots and, thus, guides the viewers in their emotional response to the scene.
  • Rapid pacing suggests intensity and excitement
  • Slower pacing is more relaxed and thoughtful.  

The editor has to make several decisions based on their understanding of the sequence as a whole. Where in the sequence would a particular shot have the most impact? Should a close-up or a wide-shot be used? Which shots contain the better visuals to provide exposition or characterisation? What is the most effective use of timing in the juxtapositions within shots? 

Let's not forget that audio is just as important. How can the natural sounds in a scene be used to move the story forward, or to transition from one shot to the other? Additionally, the editor decides what type of transitions are best -- the straight-cut approach, dissolves, or some alternative strategy. For instance, in either a horror film or a comedy, the editing strategy would be based on the element of surprise. 

Visual Information
The visual information in the shot determines how long it should be held on screen. For instance, wide shots contain more information than close-ups, so a wide shot, seen on screen for the first time, is generally held up longer. Thus, the more information in the shot, the longer it should be held on screen, giving viewers the chance to explore and find the meaning of the visual. 

Moving shots are also held up longer because it takes time for viewers to absorb the new information as it shifts across the screen. 

The fast-paced nature of broadcast news is such that shots are not held on screen longer than it takes to get the information across. Therefore, the information must be obvious to viewers almost immediately. Editors choose shots that direct viewers to the most important part of the scenery, leaving little time for their eyes to roam before cutting to the next shot. 

In contrast, the close-up contains less information than the wide shot and will be held on screen far shorter. The same is true for static shots and shots that are repeated. Once viewers have seen the shot it's not necessary to show it for as long on the second or even third viewing. 

With time and experience, editors develop a sense for how long shots should be held on screen. Although there isn't an absolute guideline to the length of shots, some rules can be followed when making this edit decision:
  • The more information in the shot, the longer it should be held on screen;
  • Moving shots are held up longer than static shots
  • The shot is held longer the first time it is used than when it gets repeated;
  • Shots in a sequence should never be the same length;


Sequences where shots are the same length have no rhythm. In a sequence, rhythm requires that the length of shots should vary. But rhythm is also perceived intuitively. Viewers know when a film lacks rhythm because they can sense the abrupt transitions or when the audio pops, even when the composition lacks balance or even when the image was shot without proper white balance. Since editing should appear seamless (going largely unnoticed by the audience) such bad edits or bad shots will draw unnecessary attention to the production efforts. Viewers should be immersed in the story, caught up in the characters, not be reminded at every turn of the camera's presence or the lack of polish in the editing. Intuition may be the only way to judge rhythm, but some practical considerations need to be made such as choosing the best shots and the smoothing out the edits.

  • Straight Cuts - Straight cuts are abrupt transitions from one shot to another that convey the feeling of immediacy. We also perceive the world in straight cut because that is the way our brains process information coming in from our eyes. However, these cuts can be jarring and sometimes even confusing when there's no other cue to suggest a change has taken place.
  • Jump Cuts - these cuts occur when the visual information between shots hasn't really changed much. At the transition the shots appear to shift. Jump cuts can be distracting and they draw attention to the edit.
  • Dissolves - on the other hand, dissolves smooth out the transition by fading up one shot while simultaneously fading down the other. During the transition the two shots appear to overlap. Dissolves are often associated with the passage of time or change of location (or both). But these transitions may be inappropriate for use during a dialogue scene or an interview show, which requires straight cuts to maintain the sense of immediacy.

Understand the Story

The editor's goal is to make the sequence seamless. To do so effectively, they must understand the story. A pause in dialogue may not be a lapse in thought, but a dramatic pause put in by the actor. Such a pause might convey a moment of reflection and even provide subtext (unspoken dialogue), which is gauged by the character's expression whilst they're listening. But an editor, unfamiliar with the story, might leave out this reaction thinking the pause was a mistake. Leaving out the pause might actually break the rhythm of the performance. Therefore, it's essential for editors to distinguish a performance from an error and this requires that they have an understanding of the story and its subtext.

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