More on editing; and a little gear catch up
Last week’s entry about gear had a blaring omission which I thought I would briefly cover this week. The big thing that truly separates the pros from the day-job cowboys, other than the obvious gobs of money, is the access to lenses. A D.P. friend of mine once told me that the biggest factor determining how professional your project looks is the glass you’re shooting with. Professional productions have a ton of lenses to choose from depending on what they’re trying to achieve. If you really want to look pro, your biggest concern should be depth of field–or how fuzzy the background is compared to your subject. If you’re shooting with any number of consumer-grade HD cams, you’re going to need to get a D.O.F. adapter that lets you attach 35mm still-camera lenses to your camera. The main problem with that is that many of them experience a blurring at the edge of the frame at all times or even worse–black edges from where the adapter or lens blocks the borders of your camera lens. If you’re lucky enough to have a Canon 7D or 5 mark II, they’re built to accept a wide range of different Canon lenses. Otherwise, forget about it and just tell your story. For PoPS we just use the normal camera lens and one cheap-ass wide angle made specifically for the Canon HV series when we’re shooting in too confined a space to get our frame.
Since so much of editing is dependent on good rhythm and pacing, a lot of the success in editing relies on just feeling it. But here are a couple of hints for if a scene just doesn’t feel like it’s working.
1. Ditch it. Does the project even need it? If it doesn’t offer any new information or imperative character moments, ditch it. Maybe it’s the greatest piece of writing you ever did…something got lost somewhere in the process and it’s not working. Ditch it.
2. Shorten it. Maybe it’s just dragging because it’s too long. Try cutting it down several ways and see if it moves any better. Cut unnecessary dialogue and shorten it right to the bones of the scene. Hopefully, it’ll jump right back on track.
3. Re-pace it. This is the toughest and the director has to have shot enough coverage to pull it off. Sometimes a scene doesn’t have the energy it needs because the actors were low on energy. That’s an all too common occurrence, especially at the no-budget level. Actors are exhausted from their day jobs and real lives before they even get to the set of their reel lives. A tired actor has a tendency to pause too much between words and sentences. They draw the performance out. If an actor is in the zone, this is extremely compelling. If they’re tired or just searching for their lines, it’s extremely boring. Edit out the spaces between their words and sentences, blend the gaps in the audio track using a two frame audio dissolve, and slap a reaction shot from the other actor or a B-roll insert over the resulting jumpy visuals. This can only be done if the footage you’re dropping over the gaps is ACTUALLY motivated and you’re not just dropping it in there randomly. And it also can’t be done too often, or the editing just feels sloppy. Pick your moments and this can be a very effective way of amping up a scene’s momentum.
The only other thing I have to say about editing right now–take it easy on the video transitions. Shape wipes and sliding went out with black and white unless you’re making a throw-back show. Dissolves went out with the ‘80s unless you’re making a cheesy industrial. As much as you can, just use hard cuts. That’s what establishing shots are for, allowing the audience time to re-orient themselves. If your transitions need a hand, the “in thing” to do is to punch them with some kind of sound effect. And it usually ends up looking awesome. Hopefully though, the director worked in a bunch of in camera transitions. That’s the coolest possible transition you can hope for.