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The Buddy System

December 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Any editor will tell you that the actual act of editing is a solitary experience. You get in to your suite, lock the door, black out any windows and don’t come out until your masterpiece is complete. The problem is reaching the endgame with a sense of objectivity. By being so secluded and glued to every edit, you don’t have the ability to properly judge what you have done. Think I’m kidding? Go back and take a look at some of your earlier works. Go on, find that box of unlabeled DVD’s, old VHS tapes with nothing on it but your name or whatever medium that they live on and watch it. I’ll wait.

 

Done yet?

 

Good. Now, what did you see? The answer in all cases should be “something I didn’t see back then”. Some of that, you can attribute to “if I knew then what I know now”, but that’s not always the case. Whenever we purposefully do something in the edit suite, we do it because it seems like a good idea at the time. We have some kind of brainstorm/post production moment of illumination and set the thought process in motion, assured that it is the absolute best thing you could possibly do for your project. The problem is, most of the time, you’re the only one judging the piece, and unless you have the ability to come back and look at it days later before submitting, you’ll still think that it’s the best piece you’ve ever done.

 

The problem is the isolation factor. Editors get into a zone, and when they’re in that zone, nothing can get them out of it. Think about every step you take in putting a piece together. You load the material, most times watching it while it’s loading and making mental edits while you’re doing it, going through the clips meticulously and placing them in order, fretting over every shot and audio edit, then fine tuning and sometimes colour correcting for hours or even days. After so much edit time on one project, you have a perfect picture in your head of what you want it to look like, how it should look and sound and the end result isn’t necessarily what you envision. But because you have such a clear picture, you can’t see the true edit from your mental projection.

 

Now, the last thing anybody wants is someone in that small broom closet of an edit suite with you for every single minute of the edit session questioning your every splice and split edit. Most times, it not only results in lost time, but countless screaming matches and multiple levels of frustration. This is where I like to rely on the Buddy System as a form of instant criticism. Now, before you go and get your best friend and volun-tell him/her that they have to watch everything you edit, make sure you pick your Buddy well. Here are some criteria to look for…

 

1)      Find someone with an idea of what it is you are trying to do. You want to recruit someone who watches a lot of TV, and may even be in the industry themselves. One thing you want to avoid, though, is another editor. While they’ll be able to see things that you may have missed in your tunnel-vision state, like frame flashes, they’ll also be watching it as an editor, and making their own editorial decisions. You’ll most likely get responses like “oh, I wouldn’t do that”, or “are you sure that’s what you want to do”, not necessarily based on what they feel the piece needs, but based on how they would have edited it. No two editors will cut a piece the same way, so be wary of someone who wants to inject their own editorial thought process into it. Camera operators are good opinions, as are audio operators. That way, you’ll get both the video and audio perspective.

2)      Find someone who isn’t afraid to say your stuff stinks. How many times have you shown someone a piece of work that you have done, only to have them say “Oh, that’s nice”, as the answer to any question you ask them about it? They could be saying it’s nice because they don’t want to hurt your feelings, because they don’t know what else to say…or maybe because it’s genuinely nice. Either way, it’s not CONSTRUCTIVE criticism. Finding someone who isn’t afraid to make you see something or isn’t shy in saying that something really doesn’t feel right is rare. If you find that person, have them on speed dial. That opinion is valuable. Just don’t piss them off by returning the favour by saying that something they’ve done is “nice”.

3)      Find someone outside the project. If someone has spent the same amount of time shot listing the material and knows it as well as you do, then they too are too close to the project. Remember…the people watching your stuff in the end have never seen a second of the raw footage shot, so they go in with a clean slate and will take everything in that state of mind. So for your proof watch, get someone who has an equally clean slate as your first-time viewers. You’ll get a true sense of the affect and impact your work will have on its intended audience.

 

Now this may seem like a lot to ask of someone, so get a few people. That way, if you have to make changes after the first run through, you’ll still have a fresh set of eyes after you’ve made changes. If you can get a review group together, then you’re laughing. Just be good to them. Otherwise, everything you do will be “nice”. And always remember that constructive criticism is meant to be constructive. Don’t be deconstructed by it. In the end, it’s what’s better for the project, and your work will undoubtedly be better in the end for it.

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To Jump Or Not To Jump

December 29, 2011 2 comments

There’s an old saying in television – “you have to know the rules before you can break the rules”. I don’t think there’s a single traditional edit rule that this applies to more than the Jump Cut. Considered to be a serious no-no in some video venues, it can be an effective effect if done right, and in the right context. But where is it right and where is it wrong, and is there a level of right and wrong in those contexts?

For newer editors currently scratching their heads and aren’t familiar with the concept, a jump cut is a cut from one shot to another in which the location, framing and positioning of the shot is very similar bordering on identical, but the subject in the shot has moved, causing it to appear as if the subject has instantly jumped from one position to the next. Now that I’ve described, you’re probably saying top yourself, “Oh, like in…”. That’s where the dilemna/debate comes in. How can something considered to be a “do not” have so many obvious examples where it works?

First, let’s take a look at where it is a no-no, and for that, you need look no further than your TV at 6pm every night. News editing is one of the last bastions of a genre of editing that strictly abides by all of the fundamental rules of editing. Never crossing the axis, b-rolling over jump cuts, low BG sound under broll to fill out the audio spectrum, letting action in the shot begin and end…all of these rules are adhered to religiously by news editors. The reason is because, while I consider editing to be 10% technical and 90% artistic, the end goal of editing in news is to inform and tell a story, and as with most stories, being too artistic detracts from the end message. The viewer shouldn’t have to deduce intent from artistic style. That’s why you can hear clear audio edits in interview clips under broll…because we don’t want you to see edit, as it results in a jump cut.

Now, before we go any further, let’s take a look at examples of things that aren’t jump cuts, and why…

1) Dissolves – this is probably the easiest way of getting around the jump cut, as it smoothes the transition between the two shots, takes away the instantaneousness of the cut and creates the illusion of time change. You see this sometimes in sports highlight cutting. If Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees were to strike out the side in the 9th, you wouldn’t want to just cut between the three strike outs because, more often than not, you only have one camera shot to edit from…the main game camera. Putting a dissolve between each strikeout helps us see the transition of time while smoothing the harshness. For a non-sports analogy, think about how many times you see a shot of a clock, and then time passes. How do they do it…by dissolving t0 a later time. Technically speaking, if they were to just cut between the two shots, it would be a jump cut, as the framing and composition would be the same.

2) Stop-motion animation – If you’re really stingy on the definition and follow it to the letter, then all stop-motion animation is a jump cut. The framing stays the same, the compostion is usually the same, only the subject changes position. However, since the frequency of the usage of jump cuts is what creates this animation style, it can’t be considered the breaking of an edit rule. The same goes for…

3) Time Lapse – While this example really doesn’t carry into the world of non-linear editing, simply based on the fact that our ability to pull off a time lapse now is done through a couple of keystrokes, let’s go back to the days of tape. Back then, time lapse meant shooting sometimes as little as one frame per second. Then, you would take all those frames and put them together at normal speed, creating a clip that ran at 30 times normal speed. The key here is that to perform time lapse photography, you must in essence commit a jump cut. However, as the old saying goes…once is a mistake, twice is an oversight, three times is an effect. Time lapse photography requires a lot of jump cuts, therefore it’s an effect.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s deflate the elephant in the edit suite and admit that jump cuts are also considered an artistic style. Some of the earliest examples of jump cut as style can be seen in the works of Jean-Luc Godard. But you don’t have to go back that far for an example. Any show that has a handheld, documentary-style look to it uses jump cuts to add to the “grittiness” of the mood. Fans of Homicide: Life In The Street will now start to recognize what I’m talking about.

I think where you see a lot of it, though, is in comedy shows. Not scripted sitcoms, but in Guerilla-style comedy shows. For Canadian readers, think back to early Tom Green Show episodes. While perhaps not done intentionally, the use of jump cuts created a style for the show that was unlike anything on Canadian TV at the time. It was raw, fresh…and made rules by breaking them. It said “it’s okay to do this”, and people since have followed suit.

So, when deciding whether or not you want to use jump cuts or adhere to the “rules”, ask yourself this…does it suit what I’m cutting. In the end, that’s the only question that matters, and should be the only deciding factor in any edit that you do.

Can The Cans!

December 28, 2011 3 comments

When I first started editing, you had a lot of gear in a small room, and you took a lot on faith that you were getting a good audio mixes. The reason…the best speakers in the place were in the control room, as that’s where the meat of audio production took place. You were usually relegated to stereo speakers wired into the system, or worse, the tiny speakers that were built into the monitor that was in the rack. However, I would happily go back to those days of editing in a broom closet on speakers that crack at the slightest onset of a popped “p” then the trend I’m seeing today.

With laptop computers becoming more and more powerful, and able to handle editing in 720p and 1080p, people are editing bigger projects on smaller computers. That’s not the problem…it’s how they’re listening to it. Headphones are becoming the studio monitor of the Edit DIYer, and it’s affecting their products without them really knowing it until it’s too late.

Headphones…really good headphones…have a way of bringing out the best in music. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve listened to a song at home, then listened to it on my mp3 player with a good set of headphones. It was only on then did I fully get the layering of tracks that was done in the studio, and fully appreciated everything that the song had to offer. When you’re editing, the same things happen. You hear everything that’s on your timeline clearly, and so you therefore think that everyone else can too. The truth is you’re hearing it too good. To get a true sense of the audio mix on your piece…unplug the headphones and listen to it on speakers. There are a few reasons for this…

1)      Most people at home don’t have a sweet enough setup to replicate the mix you would be getting out of your headphones. It’s the same reason why we adhere to action safe and title safe guides when putting font into our pieces…because along the way, something is lost from our screen to the viewers. The same holds true for audio. To help remedy this, use “The Crap Test”. The behind it is quite simple…if you can make something sound great on crap speakers, then the people at home watching, no matter what their setup, will have a good audio mix. I used this theory when making an album years ago. We would set our levels on the audio board, do a quick dump to cassette, then run into the singer’s car and listen to it on the really bad speakers in his car. If something wasn’t coming through (background vocals, bass, etc), then we would go back in, adjust the levels on the board, then make another mix and test before we okayed the mix. Only after you are happy with your audio on crap speakers will everyone be happy at home.

2)      If you stick by the “one hour for one minute of finished product” edit ratio, then by the time you get to the point where you are ready to give something a full watch-through, you can probably recite your piece word-for-word like it’s your favourite song. It’s at this point that you are officially “too close” to the project. You’ve lost objectivity in listening to it because you KNOW what’s supposed to be there. This is where the Buddy System of editing really comes in handy. I’ll go more into the Buddy System in another post, but to briefly touch on it, you need a fresh set of ears to get a true feeling for if the viewer will hear everything. If at any point during the watch-through, your buddy says “wait, back that up…what did he say?”, then you should probably adjust the mix.

3)      What you do in the edit suite may not translate well to the home viewer. Have you ever listened to something and wondered “why the hell did they put that in there?” Some kind of audio effect that, while it seemed like a good idea at the time, really doesn’t translate well in the long run? It’s the same thing as video effects…some seem like a really good idea at the time, but by the time you’re done with it; you have trouble determining what you’re actually watching. Audio can be the same way. You can have BG sound, music, SFX and actual interview sound…but if one overpowers the other, or if everything resides in the same frequency, then things start to get muddy. Remember this…sparsness breeds clarity. If you’re trying to say something with your piece, let it be heard. Don’t let the medium obscure the message.

Simply put, you can avoid a bad audio mix by doing a few simple things…listen to it on speakers, watch your audio peak meters and don’t put too much when a little will do. In the end, you’ll have a more effective piece because it can be heard.

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