Archive for September, 2011

Effective Effects

September 28, 2011 Leave a comment


One night, I sat down to watch what could possibly go down as one of the greatest modern B-movies today…Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus.

Admittedly, it’s not Oscar-calibre filmmaking, but I do enjoy a good “bad” movie. But as I was watching this monstrosity of Mega-badness, I noticed something about the editing. It seemed to me that the editor had one trick up their sleeve for this film. It was a speed burst with a chroma drop and luminance flare at the peak speed, which also acted as the “change shot” spot. It’s a great effect…subtle, simple and makes for a great transition (and as anyone who has had the “pleasure” of seeing this movie will attest to, it needed all the help it could get). The one problem was that the editor in question started to use it in places that didn’t need it. There was one shot where the editor actually did the speed burst but just used it speed up a slow move in. After seeing the effect used to change shots/scenes, it threw me off, and was a perfect example of when an effect can go from effective to distracting.


Now I don’t mean to pick on this editor in particular. There’s a charm to this film that fans of the genre no doubt appreciate. However, if watching TV provides lesson material for future editors, then that one scene makes a great object lesson. It shows the need to draw the line between when something is served better with an effect, and when it’s just overkill. Another perfect example is Jersey Shore. I forced myself to watch this one day, and had I suffered from epilepsy, I might possibly have had a seizure. This show is so effects heavy, that at times it’s hard to make out what’s going on. There was one scene where the shots were taken from an overhead camera. They tossed in a film shutter effect and scratch effect that was so quick, that I had to squint to see who was on-screen. Now, I understand that, being on MTV, the show’s audience demands that “music video” style of edit. Maybe it’s to divide those who watch the show and those who probably shouldn’t. However, I remember the early days of Real World and Road Rules, and while those shows did have their occasional effects, they were way more restrained than their Jersey channel-mates.


Now that I’m done being a TV grouch, I can get to the point of it all…determining when an effect is needed and when it’s too much. Some of the things that might make an effect necessary could be…


1) Different-looking viz: If you have a bunch of shots filmed in different locations/lighting conditions, an effect is a good way of visually tying things together. Photo colour filters, texture blends and the like are great ways of unifying your look.


2) Style: JJ Abrams’ Star Trek had one of the most subtle effects tossed in, but it added to the filming style. The little light flare that you saw in many of the interior shots. It was just something simple, but added just enough to keep our attention firmly on the screen.


3) Theme: You see in this a lot of event broadcasts…a graphical theme that is carried throughout the show. Much as the first point creates visual uniformity on a smaller scale, this creates it for the entire broadcast.


4) Audience: This is where I come to the defense of Jersey Shore. I completely understand that the producers of the show are catering to a certain market. If you watch MTV, you want flashiness, quick cuts and heavy effects. If you’re watching PBS, don’t expect to see too much splash. You can turn a viewer away if your effects aren’t designed for your audience. Imagine watching one of today’s music videos in the middle of The Lawrence Welk Show.


To the new editor, though, effects can be just too much to resist. It’s like a new toy…the minute you know how to play with it, you can’t stop. It’s the visual Lays potato chip. So how can you avoid this trap? Well, there’s always the tried and true “trial and error” approach, but this could lead to multiple revisions and if you’re on a deadline, this isn’t timely idea. One thing you can do is to go on an effects bender. If you have the time and opportunity, take a simple montage or scene and layer as many effects as you can on it. Do about 5 effects per run through. Make it the most visually hideous thing you could think of. Make it completely unwatchable! It’s the same theory as when kids would get locked in the closet and told to smoke an entire pack because they got busted by their parents. It’s designed to get it out of your system. Oddly enough, along the way, you’ll also get to see what effects work and which ones are better left in the filing cabinet labelled “Star Wipes”. Call it “effect aversion therapy”, but in a fun way. Go ahead…make it look horrible. Along the way, you’ll discover that if you can make it look really bad, you can also make it look really good.


Overediting – the trap and what it can take away

September 20, 2011 Leave a comment

There’s no question that our television is served to us as if we all have the attention span of a 2-year old. Tickers upon tickers with slide-ins and full-screen graphics, there’s more on-screen than the beginning of Star Wars. Even the editing has become quickened in order to keep the attention. It can be overwhelming at times…so much so that the viewer could miss what you’re trying to present. There is something to be said for letting your edits breathe…let the viewer digest the shot before switching it up.

If you want a perfect example of how letting something breathe works, watch a hockey game. While this is more a comment on directing, just remember that a director is, in essence, an editor who just happens to do their cutting live. People who watch hockey (and the same goes for football and basketball) spend the majority of the game watching one camera shot. One. That single, solitary camera position right at centre ice/court/field. Why? Because from that angle, you can take in the whole play, and it allows the viewer to more easily follow the action. Imagine if a director had a camera on each person, and had to cut every time a pass was made? Not only would the director lose their mind, but the viewer would have trouble following the action.

The same can be said of editing. It is possible to overedit something. Before you put in that extra shot, ask yourself if it really needs it. Does this extra look or angle further accent what you’re showing. I find that a new editor can question themselves if they have a long stretch of footage without an edit. So, when you ask yourself “do I need this shot”, look carefully at the shot chosen. Does the second shot add something that couldn’t be seen? Does it add impact? Furthermore, does it maintain the pace of the piece? Does it create a faster pace of editing in a medium-paced story? Does it, in fact, throw off your tempo?

If you’re looking for a great example of where restrained editing made a scene better, watch Saturday Night Fever.

The dance scene where John Travolta is by himself, for the most part, stays on the wide shot. The reason…the dance isn’t just the feet, nor is it just the hands. It’s the whole body, so why not show the whole body. Also notice where they do edit during that sequence. At that point in the dance, Travolta’s feet are planted squarely on the floor, not moving, and he’s doing the point to everyone thing (you know, the move we who can’t dance all cop when forced to dance at weddings during fast songs. We’re not trying to be cool…we’re crying for help).
That theory is also one of the few studio notes given to Kevin Smith after an initial cut of Clerks 2. Smith, in one of his An Evening With DVD’s, told how the studio even referenced Chicago…another film which believed that to edit would have taken away from the scene. To shoot and cut it otherwise would have taken away from the focus, which is the full body of the dance (check at about the 5 minute mark of the clip).

To simplify the process, consider that an edit should be your way of saying, “Hey, you need to look at this right now”. How-To videos are great for this. You know, those shows that sell blenders at 3am that you watch because you suffer from insomnia and there’s nothing else worth watching. When the presenter is taking about the product, the editor generally stays on the wide shot (a 2-shot if you consider the product as a subject). The minute they start doing something with the product, like putting something into the blender, the editor cuts to the close-up of the product. Then, while the blender is blending, they go back to the 2-shot. Now, imagine if the edit sequence went wide-CU of blender-CU of food-CU of presenter-CU follow of food going to blender-ECU of bits of food-wide-ECU of button being pushed-CU of food blending-wide. That’s a whole lot of edits designed to show someone making a shake. It’s not necessary, and creates a tempo that doesn’t match the subject of the video. As for the “look at this”, consider when you watch it in person and what you look at and when they begin to demonstrate the product. You’re drawn to the action, so when the primary action is someone talking, you look at them. When the action is blending, you look at the blender. At no point do you physically move towards the blender and watch as the finger depresses a button.

To sum up, an edit should feel natural. It should mimic what you would do if you were actually there. If your cut seems too much, it probably is. If it seems off-tempo, then you need to get back in . If you’re too close to the edit, have someone else watch it, and have them tell you what they think. It may seem like a trial-and-error process….but that’s editing.

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Death By Music?

September 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Ever since the advent of moving pictures, music has been an integral part of the process. It helps breathe life and emotion into a two-dimensional world, and helps us more easily connect with the story being told. However, it can also have the direct opposite effect. It’s finding that subtle balance between overbearing and undetectable that allows the music to do the job that it was meant to do. So, with that in mind, ask yourself these questions when picking music for your video…

1)      Does it stylistically fit the piece?  

Okay, this is an absolutely extreme case of wrong music for a scene (and ironic, when you consider that The Birds didn’t have a traditional film score…only music played or sung by people on screen), but you get the point. This frightening (for it’s time) scene is no longer what Hitchcock intended for the scene, and the only thing changed in it is the music. Had you added something a little more suspenseful, perhaps the scene could have been made better, but the point is simple…pick the right music or risk losing the entire intent of your scene.

2)      Can you have too much music?

In a word, yes. If you go to the 5:00 mark of this video, you’ll hear them go through 4 songs within a minute. Four! Let’s put aside the cost of licensing rights for a second (and the idea of selling a soundtrack), and think about the scene. Really, you can do this with two songs…one to show the emotion of Sandler as he goes to the girl, and the one when he picks the wrong window. When I first watched this film, this one scene screamed out at me. I couldn’t get past just how many songs they had put in to such a small amount of time, and how much that messed with my ability to attach myself to the scene. The last thing you want is to have something stick in the viewers head for the wrong reasons.

3)      Who/What is telling the story; the music or the narrative?

Sometimes, having a song with lyrics can help you tell the story better than any lines of dialogue or sound byte. But examine the scene and ask yourself what you want the viewer to be focusing on…the speaker or the music. Putting a song with lyrics underneath someone talking can create a battle for audible attention in the viewer. They begin by focusing on the speaker, but there’s that subliminal part of the brain that hears the music and identifies with it. If that music has lyrics, then the brain tends to start to divide its attention between the words of the person on screen and the words of the song. Imagine watching Titanic, and being forced to mentally sift between the dialogue and Celine Dion singing. It would have taken away from the impact of the dialogue. Instead, an instrumental track worked best (James Horner does do a very good score), and the dialogue was elevated.

4)      Does it even need music?

I find one thing that documentaries do well is choose when not to put music in to a scene. There’s something riveting and intimate about ambient noise when someone on camera is pouring their heart out and they have to pause to compose themselves. It’s what documentaries are all about…real life. No matter how much we would like it, life does not have a soundtrack. We can’t have theme music whenever we enter a room (unless you bring a stereo, but that’s not recommended…it may lead to noise violations). Adding music to a powerful narrative or interview can have the exact opposite effect that music is supposed to have…it can create a sense of unreality, thereby preventing the viewer from connecting to the subject.

The same thing can be true for horror movies…

Imagine if the makers of this film had added music to this iconic scene from The Blair Witch Project? It would have totally ruined the film, as it would have taken away from the entire premise/”found footage” style. It would have created a sense of unreality, and disconnected the viewer from the mystique this film created. Music would have ruined this scene and, in turn, made The Blair Witch Project just another movie.It’s my hope that the same, sparse style is used in Apollo 18, as that looks to have the same feel as BWP.

Of course, in the end, it never hurts to try something, but be critical in the edit suite. Try it, but be honest with yourself. If it doesn’t work, take the music out and try another track. If that doesn’t work, try watching it without music. It may take you hours either trying to find the right music, or debating with yourself if it even needs music. Just remember that while there is no right or wrong, per se, some things are more right than others.

Categories: Uncategorized