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Shakespeare must have been thinking about video editing when he penned the words “Brevity is the soul of wit“. There’s a reason it’s called the “cutting room floor” and not the “‘let’s cram some more content into this video’ room floor”. When you’re editing, you’re trimming individual clips, cutting out whole scenes, shortening, condensing and although it seems counterintuitive, the shorter the piece is that you are working on, the longer it’s going to take to edit it.
Blaise Pascal wrote it in 1657 “I have made this (letter) longer than usual, because I have not had time to make it shorter.” If you’re new to editing, you’ll quickly find that cutting together a video will take much more time, than shooting the footage. Our experience in still photography is often quite the opposite. I just finished a 6 day catalog photo shoot and finished editing, i.E. picking the final images by the next morning. A week later I was shooting 3 days of a multi-month motion project and editing that footage will take me much longer than 3 days.
Even though editing has a pretty steep learning curve, I strongly recommend that you edit your own work, especially when you’re just getting into creating video projects. It’s going to make you a better cinematographer. Fast.
On the other hand I strongly recommend that you work with an experienced video editor, especially when you’re just getting into creating video projects. It’s going to make you a better editor. Fast.
I remember coming back from filming my first corporate documentary film in Afghanistan in 2012. I shoot for 2 and a half weeks and had planned on spending a week to edit the movie. Just for the record, it ended up taking me a longer. Much longer. However editing the footage myself, really helped me understand which shots I had missed or screwed up, where I had to abandon ideas, because of a non-existent camera angles or bad takes I had not retaken in the field. Those realizations are painful, but I won’t be making the same mistakes again.
Collaborate with professional editors – it’ll make you a better editor
I also send pieces of the short film to friends of mine–experienced film industry pros–and the feedback I got from them was sometimes painful, but I learned a lot in a very short time.
One email was especially painful. It came from a seasoned Hollywood director friend of mine and begins with the words: “Ok. If you’ll notice the time you may give some thought to how much you’re loved and appreciated. For both expediency and brevity’s sake I’m not going to perfume my words…“
Then it goes into 3 pages of non-perfumed words, ripping apart every scene I’d lovingly cut together. Telling me (in no uncertain terms) where there was significant room for improvement. Honestly I did not feel happy when I read that email for the first time. Or the second time. But when I finally re-edited the film following his suggestions, they made the movie a million times better. A printout of his email sits on my desk and I reread it from time to time.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: Edit your video. Then cut out half of the footage. Once you’ve done that, congratulate yourself and cut it again by half. Now you’re in the ballpark of how long your motion piece should be. Brevity is the soul of wit, especially when it comes to editing.
If you’re looking for a great book on editing, check out “In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing, by Walter Murch” it’s basically the Film Editors bible. Brand new to video? Check out Pascal’s talk at WordCamp Miami “How to step up your video” and learn about story, sound, visuals and edit.
[This post was originally published on the American Society of Media Photographers ‘Strictly Business’ blog.]
Story is the most important part of any video. Great story trumps great visuals, amazing audio or an intricate edit every time. As a photographer you’ve been a visual storyteller for as long as you’ve captured still images, so I’m not gonna waste your time on how to craft visual content that tells a compelling story designed to change the viewers mind.
(If you want to learn more about that kind of story telling check out Alex Buono’s Visual Story Telling Tour that’s running through September 20th – don’t forget yourASMP member discount – or check out the How to Step Up Your Video talk I gave at WordCamp Miami this past May.)
I believe the philosophy behind creating a powerful visual story is simple. It consists of three basic steps that, when followed, make your story irresistible. These three ingredients are simple to learn, yet difficult to execute. I discovered them when creating my first documentary in Afghanistan, shared them in my TEDx talk called The Art of Changing Minds and try to incorporate them into all of my video productions:
Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others – Jonathan Swift
Without vision you have no story. Without vision you are literally flying blind. How are you going to tell a story, if you don’t know how it ends, where it begins and what twists and turns there will be along the way? By the way, it was Aristotle who wrote that every story has a beginning, a middle and an end.
Your vision is imperative to transform your viewer. Without vision it’s the blind leading the blind. True vision can not be manufactured, it has to transform you first.
(As an aside, if all you have is vision – you’re a just dreamer. Someone with a great idea, who’s afraid of going out on a limb with his or her idea. You need the next step to get the driving force to help you get your dream off the ground.)
If you don’t have a passion for what you do, any rational person is going to give up – Steve Jobs
Without passion your story is dull, boring, uninteresting and lame. Without passion your story is a carbon copy of someone else’s at best–a counterfeit clone at worst. How are you going to excite your audience, if you’re not sharing something that you deeply believe in? More importantly, where are you gonna get the strength to deal with the people who will discourage you from telling your story without having that fire in your belly? It’s easy to give up if all you hear is “No!” – unless you have passion driving your vision.
Your passion is vital to inspire your audience. Without passion you’re producing a story that’s gonna put everyone to sleep. True passion can not be faked. Passion has to inspire you first, before it inspires your audience.
(As an aside, if you have passion, without vision – you’re like a bull in a china shop. There’s a lot of noise, but nothing good is gonna come out of it. Shoot first and ask questions later does not work.)
Your aspirations are in heaven, but your brains are in your feet – Afghan proverb
Without action your story is going to die. I don’t care how transforming your vision is and how inspirational your passion is; without taking action, you will fail. It’s as simple as that. Without action your story never gets told and an untold story is worth as much as an unprocessed piece of film.
Your action inspires, or breathes life into, your story. Without action your story remains lifeless and dead. It stays buried inside your head or entombed in some dusty screenplay or faded storyboard, that’s never gonna get shared. Great stories need you to get your head out of the clouds and get going.
“There is a God and He loves me.” That’s what I’m thinking when I hang up the phone. I’m so excited, I can hardly contain myself. I had just finished editing my first documentary film, that had been produced as a pro bono piece for a humanitarian organization. I made the movie to tell their story. A distant second reason was to learn how to shot a documentary film and even further down the list, I’m thinking it’s a great piece to launch the video portion of my photography business, if I could put the story about my client front and center. The organization had covered the costs of the production and I was happy to not charge my for my filming and editing, but we had never even considered to include any money to promote their story.
However, in my mind, their story deserves to be premiered in a bigger way, than just setting up a screen in my backyard with some friends – I’m thinking a lot bigger than that–in german we have a word for that Größenwahn (loosely translated it means megalomania = the delusion about one’s importance) or in my case the delusion about how important the story is that the film is telling–but it looks like in reality it is gonna be the garden party with a couple of friends, after all it’s my first documentary film and I’ve only been doing video for 6 months when I filmed it. Before that day, I had almost given up the hope for something big and almost accepted the fact of an intimate launch party with some friends. Almost. Until I get off the phone.
“I’m gonna be in Florida, can I come visit?” Daniel had asked me. We’ve know each other for decades and love hanging out together, although we usually live on opposite sides of the globe–we actually were in Cape Town at the same time once, but didn’t find out until weeks later – c’est la vie. Anyway, I was excited to get a chance to spend some time with my college buddy. At the same time I was curious, since he’s usually not in Florida when he comes to the States. When I inquired about the reason for the unexpected, but very welcome visit, his answer stopped me dead in my tracks: “I’m gonna be picking up the plane.”
Turns out the plane he’s talking about, is the very one that I had flown in and filmed, while I was in Afghanistan. It’s now sitting at an airport 20 minutes from my house, waiting for a new set of engines and an avionics upgrade. “Can we do something with the plane and the movie?” was my first question to him. I’m envisioning something grandiose, like the plane parked next to a big screen that’s playing their story, like my friend Mary always says “Go big, or go home.” I like dreaming big. Remember Größenwahn? But since there’s no budget, the chances of anything happening are remote to say the least. I mean I have to find a place that’s big enough to actually pull this off and I need to be able to get the airplane to that place, if I find one. What are the chances of that happening? Slim to none.
I call the company that’s working on the plane. They should to have the hangar, right? So I call them up and get a very nice secretary on the phone, who does a great job of not letting me even speak to her boss. Don’t get me wrong. She’s doing exactly what she is hired to do–get rid of all the crazy people. So how do you handle a polite “No“? Do (a) give up, (b) look for another location, (c) curl up in a corner and cry or (d) none of the above.
I send a nice email thanking her for her time and include a trailer for the movie. 20 minutes later my phone rings.
Visuals are what we all think about when we think about video. As photographers we already know how to create them–I’ve been in the visual content creation business since high school. We need to learn to work some new tools and understand that visuals in video are not a split second in time, but we now need to create the whole moment. Learn how to step up your video from the talk I gave at WordCamp Miami a few weeks ago.
Next week we’ll dive into the last step of “How to step up your video: Edit“. Editing is were the story, the sound and the visuals all come together. This is the final piece in creating your video.
I spoke at #WCMIA as part of a MarketingHack#6: Speak to influencers that your target market trusts.