How to Edit Films
Editing – Turning key elements on video into a flowing story that makes sense
This lesson is not intended to teach you the mechanics of how to use various video editing software. There are lots of thick books out there for that purpose. Instead, it’s a roadmap of how the arrange the various parts of your story on the video “timeline” to create and interesting or compelling story.
Develop an editing plan
Now that you’ve videotaped your production, let’s begin clicking this baby together into a production on your editing system that tells your story with your production flair. So let’s first develop a plan. There are several ways of planning your story on the timeline although you probably know much of the story by heart.
First, you already had either a script or some kind of storyline developed before you began videotaping. From that, you maybe also made some notes on what and who you videotaped, and on which tapes they are located. If you’re not sure, you can take the extra time now to put some order to all your tapes by making a “tape log” which are columns of notes that list:
Using this tape log, you can begin selecting the clips that you’ll use to edit your production. However, if you want to skip making a tape log or even forget making a rough edit on paper by listing the clips, you can jump right in and begin capturing (digitizing) your desired clips to your hard drive in preparation for editing. Keeping them sorted in folders that make sense relative to your story will help later in organizing production workflow.
So let’s say that you just want to start capturing video on your hard drive by using your script or storyline. That’s fine, get on with it. But as you go, take notes about what clips you’re capturing and where they will fit into your production. Also take notes about what support footage may be needed to help “support” that portion of the production. That way, you’re already thinking ahead to other footage to keep your eye open for during capture.
Whew, you’re finally done capturing. Yes, although capturing can be tedious work at times, capturing and identifying what footage will eventually be used is a crucial part of the editing process. It’s kind of like collecting bricks to build a house. Now let’s dive into the fun part of actually building the house – editing on the timeline.
Common sense rules – give the viewer a smooth ride that makes sense
Though some film editors would like you to think that what they do is all magic by telling a story with edits, it’s really about paying attention to four main things that make perfect sense in telling any story:
Now let’s take a more detailed look at the possible footage and edits that you might use to follow these four main principals of editing a story. Again, let’s use our standby example of the chemical plant near the river and let’s use the documentary style.
During all these various edits of scenes that help tell the story, we herd the chemist telling his part of the story. At this point, rather than let the chemist talk anymore about his role and risk letting the story become boring, it might be good to switch to either someone from town or an official from the chemical company to further develop the story. It could even be a worker in the plant who helps make the chemicals who also lives in town and his family drinks the water.
Whew, let’s take a break. No not you, but your viewer. Trying to tell your entire story in a documentary with one interview after another can be both tiring and perhaps boring to the viewer. So give them a mental and visual break with creative transitional pieces. They don’t have to be long. Even 15 to 20 seconds of various edits will give them time to digest what you’ve already shown them and possibly set the stage for your next section or interview subject. Let’s say you wanted to follow the chemist’s interview with someone that worked at the plant and lived in town. Here is a possible sequence of edits to make that “transition”.
Show with video footage that supports your story that doesn’t require a host or narrator telling you what you’re seeing and why. That’s the essence of editing – being able to show a story without words telling it.
Orient the audience with sequences that universally go left to right, down to up, close to far, and far to close. Watch out for connecting video clips that pan or have action moving in opposite directions. It will feel like a whiplash to the audience.
Avoid jump-cuts which is editing together two very similar scenes without a change in camera angle, subject or focal length. For example, two different portions of the same interview edited together would make the person appear to “jump”. Instead, break up the two clips in between with cover footage of the chemical plant or river.
Reveal details of the story with cut-in shots (if you have them). Cut in shots cut into the detail of the main action. These are ECU’s (extreme close-ups) of hands in action, chemicals, fish, discharge pipe, faces. Cut-ins follow a medium shot showing a person or scene where the detail is taking place.
Cut-aways on the other hand, cut away to something else related subject or separate simultaneous action, such as a duck swimming in the river looking, or another person looking at something. They serve as great editing bridges to “bridge” two similar clips.
People entering or leaving the scene can also be used as introductions to a new scene or as a final clip when leaving a series of scenes. If they are transitioned with a slow dissolve or “dip to black”, they can also suggest the passage of time. They also serve as a smooth transition between different scene locations or create bridges between segments.
So, that’s a jump start on some of the editing techniques that will help your viewers navigate through your storyline on a gentle ride without speed bumps.
A short sample: Biodiversity of Mexico