Video Editing Tutorial

After months of film-to-video transfers, junior high school play recording and dog show documentation, you finally have a chance to do your own thing.
Monsters Among Us--that's the title of your planned epic, and you're confident that your knowledge of scriptwriting, camerawork, directing and editing will get you that Hollywood contract you've long dreamed about.

When you've finished your masterpiece, you shop it around to all the various buyers of unsolicited material, but nobody wants it.
This is a mystery to you, because your technical knowledge of videomaking is without parallel--you know how to use every TBC, DVE, CG and DTV PC out there. What's more, your onscreen talent is without compare, all the camerawork is technically perfect and the audio is crystal clear. Yet still nobody wants it. What could be missing?

You knew shots weren't fitting together like some precise, oversized jigsaw puzzle. Transitions were a little jumpy. Shot order didn't always flow. But hey, it's your first original effort. The finished product may be flawed, but at least it's finished, right? You stayed within budget, paid the cast and crew, and even managed to stay married throughout the whole thing. So who has time for "art," anyhow?

It's easy to forget about the artistic side of a production, especially in the editing stage, when it comes time to put the whole thing together. Most video production literature concentrates on getting things done, while ignoring the art, or aesthetics, of cutting a video.

This is perhaps because editing aesthetics are hard to describe. In textbook terms, you can define aesthetics as the manipulation of various shots to affect the audience's response to the program. Some people like to say that aesthetics are what makes a show easier to watch. But even that is misleading because many artists use aesthetics to shock or disorient the audience. My own humble definition goes like this: aesthetics are what gives your video a cohesive feel, and the way you cut your production will often influence the audience's sense of visual and aural "correctness."

Though people often talk about aesthetics in airy, ambiguous terms, there are several hard-and-fast techniques you can use during the editing process to increase the aesthetic appeal of your productions. Let's examine some of them.

Screen Direction
In Monsters, some nasty aliens are in hot pursuit of our hero. It's a somewhat involved sequence, with the chase carrying the action through several different settings. As the hero runs out of his house, he heads screen left. In the next cut, our hero must appear to be traveling in the same direction--screen right to screen left. If he's not, it'll look like he's running in circles.

The same goes for the monsters. If you cross cut from a shot of the actor running right to left to a shot of the pursuing uglies, they too must be following in the same direction. If the next shot contains your villainous monster running left to right, it appears as if the monster and actor are running away from each other!

A major faux pas of novice videomakers is to cross screen direction in editing. This practice will steal the viewer's attention from the story to the editing, which causes them to lose interest.

Let's take a worst-case scenario. While checking out your chase footage back in the editing room, you come to the horrible realization that every time you shot the hero and the villain, you mistakenly recorded them moving in opposite screen directions. What do you do? Give up and use the footage tapes to record some daytime soap operas as you lay on the couch in misery?

Nope. There is a way out of this diabolical editing dilemma. But don't think it's gonna be easy! Searching through your footage, look for a close-up, front shot, rear shot, still shot or atmosphere cutaway. You're going to insert this footage between the mismatched runners to try and keep some visual coherence within your production.

These "found" shots most definitely don't have to be part of the original plan. In fact, if you're looking for them, they probably weren't, or you'd find them on some log sheets. I can't tell you how many times I've saved a production with some stray shot of an actor. Usually the person is standing around looking dumb, waiting for the action of the scene to begin.

Here's how it works. You show the hero running screen left to right. Cut to a close-up of his face as he looks around. In the next shot, the monsters are running right to left and it's still aesthetically pleasing. The audience accepts the fact that the hero has stopped to gather his wits and "sees" the monsters coming. The direction they go from there is less important, because the first runner's action has stopped.

Coming and Going

Entrances and exits provide the same problems. If a character exits the set or a door on the right side of the frame, be sure he reenters on the left in the adjoining shot. This is easy to goof, since often the two adjoining sets may be miles and days apart.

Let's consider an example from your B-grade schlock epic. The monsters have just finished off the local grade school's gym class. Tired, with full bellies, the motley crew decides to hightail it back to their waiting spaceship, which is conveniently waiting right outside. The principal of the school was happy enough to let you shoot inside of the gym, but building a spaceship in the parking lot was out of the question. So the ship has now landed in your backyard, which is doubling as the school's front lot.

In the scene, the monsters exit the building, with a pan shot following them out of the door, screen right. In your backyard, the monsters should enter the shot from the left. If you're going to try a mock-up of the school's gym door, make sure it's opening action matches as well. A door hinged on the right in one shot should be hinged on the right in subsequent matching shots. Again, stray shots can save the visual aesthetics of the project if continuity blunders arise.
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