Video editing is the act of rearranging and trimming source footage in order to tell your story most effectively. Time seems to disappear during the post production phase - especially if the editing process wasn't a consideration during the shoot. Therefore before we get to the technical side of editing we will first cover some key foundational ideas that need to be taken into consideration during the production phase.
Editing begins in the camera
The very act of choosing what to frame and when to hit record and pause is an active act of editing on the camera persons behalf. You will often hear students say "I wish we had filmed a close up of that" or "why did we film so much of that?" which is often a result of poor planning and pre-visualisation (In future Volumes we will cover the process of pre-visualisation in much more detail). To help avoid this frustration students need to 'shoot for the edit'.
Read on for some practical tips on how to do this.
The best way to avoid continuity problems (mainly the dreaded jump cut!) is to shoot plenty of cut-aways. A jump cut is a cut that visually breaks the continuity of a scene causing a disconnect in the viewers mind. Take a documentary interview for example - the subject might say something very interesting at the start of the interview and the something very interesting at the end of the interview. If the editor just cut out the section in between and pieced the two shots together there would be a disconcerting jump in the vision (the timing of the audio can usually be adjusted so there is no noticeable jump) that would look unprofessional and distract the viewer from the point being made (see example below). But if a simple cut-away of the subjects hands is used - continuity can be maintained and the scene will still look natural.
Shoot in sequences
As you are shooting you need to be thinking about the edit. For example if you are filming an artist painting think about how it might cut together as a sequence. You might firstly choose to shoot a medium shot of the artist and the canvas. You may then get an extreme close up shot of the artists brush dipping into the paint. You would also likely get a close up of the artists face concentrating on the work they are doing showing the emotion. You could also shoot a close up on the canvas being painted on as well. You can already start to visualise how these shots will give the editor the best chance of cutting a together a compelling sequence.
Shoot matched action for editing
Continuity is achieved when there is a coherent and natural flow of vision and audio. When this continuity is broken (i.e. with a jump cut or bad audio glitch), the viewer is 'jarred' from the story and much of the impact is lost. Continuity issues can be very problematic for editors, so shooting matched action should be the goal of every camera person. An example of this would be a scene where a girl picks up her pencil case and leaves a classroom. If it was to be shot in a medium shot that would cut to a long shot as she left the room, the action would need to match between the two shots. For example if she held the pencil case in her right hand in the medium shot she could not suddenly have it in her left hand in the long shot. Continuity would be broken and the effect could be comical in what might be a very serious scene. Watch the girls right hand below and note the subtle unmatched action between shots which breaks continuity:
The 30 degree rule
The 30 degree rule is a guideline that should be remembered when filming to help 'sell' the cut to the audience. The 30 degree rule basically states that when cutting from one shot to another of the same subject - you should aim to move the camera at least 30 degrees from it's original placement (and I would also recommend at least two shot sizes different if possible). This gives the cut some extra motivation and can obscure what otherwise might look like a jump cut. Hitchcock famously ignored this 'rule' at times to give dramatic effect (ie when a body is discovered in 'The Birds'). Like all rules this one can and is broken often - but it is good to know the rule before you attempt to break it!
Shoot head and tail
In order to give your editor maximum choice in the cutting room you should try to employ the following technique when filming any camera move. Hit record and hold your shot static on your first composition for 5-10 seconds, perform your move to the required destination and continue to hold your shot static for another 5-10 seconds. Now the editor has a choice of using either of the static shots as standalone shots, or the actual camera move thus increasing creative choice in the editing room. Also sometimes the move in itself may not 'work' (i.e. unwanted movement) so this technique also acts as a safety net as the static shots could then be used instead. See an example of this technique below:
If you have a multiple camera shoot make sure all the cameras have the same colour settings so the shots will match when it comes to editing.
Some cameras will have a colour profile in their menus and these must be set to the same profile with all of your cameras. Also the camera settings (such as white balance, shutter speed, gain, ISO etc) should also be set to the same settings on all cameras to ensure continuity in the edit. You will often hear people say - "we'll fix it in post-production" but it is always best practice to get things right in the camera to minimise wasted time during post-production.
The 180 degree rule
The 180 degree rule can cause quite a bit of confusion for students and professionals alike (I once listened to an interview with the director of The Bourne Supremacy who admitted he still couldn't quite understand it!). Very simply, a scene will not cut together coherently if you are always changing the position of your camera in relation to the action being shot. When you start filming a particular subject you should envisage an invisible vertical wall and decide which side of the wall you will film from. This line generally should not be crossed by the camera between shots as it can cause confusion for the viewer.
For example if you are filming a dialogue scene between two people you should ideally film your two shot and individual close ups (shot/reverse shot) from the same side of the invisible vertical plane. If you cross the line one thing that could happen is that it may appear as if person A has disappeared and person B has appeared where they were standing - the screen geography is interupted and it can be very confusing for the viewer.
In the second example below when the camera stays on one side of the line, the eyelines between the characters are clear & the framing establishes where the characters are standing in relation to one another (ie boy is screen right and girl is screen left). If you watch the first example again this spatial relationship is not clear as the girl character usually occupies screen left but jumps to right when the line is crossed.
As you view the video the screen will appear red when the camera 'crosses the line'
Some students will inevitably ask - what if I want to cross the line?
It can be done in a few ways:
(a) The line can be crossed In a longer single take and sweeping camera move (i.e. steadicam) as the viewer then has the visual reference points to make sense of the new camera position
and screen geography.
(b) In the above example if we had a neutral shot in between such as a shot directly down the line of action you could technically move to the other side of the line if needed on the following shot while maintaining coherence.
Like any rule this one can be broken from time to time for a specific effect and purpose (i.e. to create a sense of confusion and/or tension). It is however important that students understand this 'rule' before they try and break it!
The rhythm of editing
Generally speaking editors know they are doing their job well when the audience does not notice the editing.
This means the edits are seamless and the shots cut together well maintaining a sense of continuity. Depending on the emotion of the scene an editor will change the rhythm of their cuts. For example in a chase scene cuts will be quite frequent to create a sense of the speed and frantic on-screen action. In a dramatic scene an editor may choose to include long takes that draw out the drama and thus create a sense of tension through slower pacing. In music videos editors often times will edit 'on the beat' of the music to create a coherency between the song and the vision - this type of editing can draw attention to itself whilst still being effective (see video below). Overall an editor must have a good sense of pacing and timing to create the most effective mood for the finished product.