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Good Editing Is Really Just Good Thinking

If you ask me which I prefer, shooting or editing, I wouldn't think twice before giving my answer: editing.

The reason, I suppose, is that I'm a writer at heart, and editing is pretty much the same process, except that you're delivering your message through images and sounds instead of just words. That adds exciting new dimensions to your creativity and the way you express it.

Now, I'm not going to go into the technical aspects of editing (like which software is best), because frankly, that's not my forte. As I said, I'm more of a writer than a technician.

I've always said that good writing is really good thinking, and the same applies to editing. No matter what the project is, you're creating and delivering a message to an audience that has to, first, comprehend it and, second, react to it in the way you intended. The first is really an intellectual enterprise; the second is more emotional.

The newspaper business developed an excellent method for organizing articles with its inverted pyramid concept. Again, the same applies to editing: you start with the major point of the story, and then follow it with the next most "major" point, then the next and so on. Diagram this, and it looks like an upside-down pyramid.

Starting your piece by simply jumping into the first point can be dry, so you need a hook. In the news biz, that hook is called a "lead" (they also spell it "lede"). It's basically a short summation of the story that goes at the top and attracts the reader's interest. In video, that hook can be a particularly compelling soundbite or even simply an image. The idea is to hook the viewer's interest and pull him into the video from the first frame.

And that leads us to the emotional aspect of editing. Getting the audience to respond to the piece the way you want them to. This takes a little more practice to perfect. You use the basic tools of videography like soundbites and B Roll, but think of the way you're combining them. Think of the way one image, one sound, passes to the next. This is known as "shot flow," and it can have a powerful, almost subliminal effect on the viewer. The way the compositions juxtapose between shots, for example, or the way the camera movement in one shot is picked up in the next. It creates a rhythm, a flow, and a true artist pays attention to this.

Also, don't neglect the emotional power of music. Nothing creates a response as instantaneous and visceral as music. Not every project will have music (depends on the assignment), but when you use it well, you can create and communicate mood with an effectiveness nothing else comes close to. Of course, using the latest hit pop song raises serious copyright issues, but there are royalty-free music libraries available online that have a wide choice of pretty decent bed music. Audioblocks is one such service that comes to mind. There are also stock-footage libraries like Videoblocks that you can turn to when you need B Roll that you don't have.

When it comes to editing "strategies," so to speak, whole books have been written on the subject. For most cases, the simple, pragmatic approach developed by Hollywood works best. If you're covering some kind of action, get a wide "Master" shot, then a medium shot, and then close-ups of details. Get several angles to give yourself options in the editing room. And don't skimp on the B Roll if you're shooting as well as editing. One of its main reasons for existence is to hide edits you make: when you're shortening a soundbite that runs on too long, for example, or that contains information you consider irrelevant.

And that's a short primer on editing. Remember the basics: create a logical progression of ideas, pay attention to aesthetic issues like music and shot flow, and don't skimp on the B Roll.

See you next time!