Home > Uncategorized > Overediting – the trap and what it can take away

Overediting – the trap and what it can take away

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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