How To Edit Better Videos Series – Part 3. Putting the 7 Rules of Video Editing into Practice.
The most important part of any film, video, advert, or other visual medium (including experimental and art videos), is what it makes you FEEL. Like any form of art, in fact. If it doesn’t make you feel anything at all, well the artist is either rubbish or a total genius.

How to Edit Better Videos – Part 3

Putting the 7 Rules of Video Editing into Practice
Rule One – Emotion

This post is continuing on from the 7 Rules of Video Editing, with some ideas on putting those rules into practice in the real world. I’ll be referring to Walter Murch’s ‘Rule of Six’ again and breaking down some ideas on how you can use these guidelines in a practical way, so if you don’t know what this means (or who the heck Walter Murch is) please refer back to the previous blog for a rundown.

Starting with Walter’s ‘Rule of Six’, the first three will take time to cover. I’m going to devote the whole of this blog to the first, most important rule of any video or film.

Creating Emotion in Film

The most important part of any film, video, advert, or other visual medium (including experimental and art videos), is what it makes you FEEL. Like any form of art, in fact. If it doesn’t make you feel anything at all, well the artist is either rubbish or a total genius (for some reason, Yves Klein springs to mind here).

Arguably that is the purpose of any art. To make you think, sure, but to make you feel above all else – even if what you feel is confusion, ambivalence or disgust. I once saw a sculpture at the Art Gallery that did this to my companion; it evoked such a strong feeling of disgust and disquiet that she had to move away from it – an impressive reaction to a static object!

The most important part of any film…is what it makes you FEEL

So, Emotion. It sounds simple right? It’s not. That’s why I’ll be devoting this blog to it, given I’ve already said that I agree with Walter Murch in considering this the MOST important consideration of your video editing.

Here’s the thing: the emotion of your video is going to depend almost entirely on what you’ve shot. You’re going to use that like the ingredients in a cake. Whether the cake rises or not, is down to the ingredients you add. Whether it tastes and looks amazing as well is down to your skill.

Sure, if we were talking about creating a video or a film from scratch, you’d have got here a long time ago. In fact, right at the start when you were writing a script, thinking of ideas and setting up a shooting schedule you would be thinking of what emotions you wanted to evoke, and what story to tell. You (let’s assume that you’re the Director), the crew, the actors, extras, and editor and post-production team – everyone would have had a very good idea of the emotions you planned to convey in your finished film, because your job as Director is to tell them.

You would have a carefully crafted script for all involved, telling everyone exactly how you wanted the film shot, so that once it got to the editor it would be more of a case of putting a jigsaw together by choosing the best shots, timing and score to enhance that emotion and tell the story in the best possible way. I’m not disparaging film editors here in any way, incidentally. This can be done superbly, but equally a great film can be completely destroyed in the edit and post – the closest analogy I can think of is a sound engineer who can make a fantastic band sound like utter rubbish, or amazing depending on their skill (and on how nice the band is being, and if they shared the drinks ‘rider’ with the crew).

Back in the real world, if you’re working on footage that was shot on your holidays, it’s a bit of a different situation. You need to look at what you HAVE first, and then decide how to approach it. You may have a heap of footage of your first snowboarding trip, but you’re still learning how to snowboard and you’ve got about 3 hours of yourself falling over it’s unlikely you’re going to be able to pull off something like the ski scene from a James Bond film.

So you have a hard-drive filled up with ‘stuff’; where to begin?

Start by considering the intention of your video; what is its purpose. I am often surprised by how many of our clients don’t know the purpose of their video. Even businesses who want a promotional video don’t know, which makes it pretty hard to edit their footage! It is one of the first questions I’ll ask if the client hasn’t thought about it.

Every video should have a purpose – otherwise you would be wasting your time making it

In the case of business videos it may seem straight forward, but the video could be a client testimonial, it could be an information video to tell you about the company, or it might be an ad to encourage people to buy, or any number of other intentions. All these will require a totally different approach to filming and editing, and preferably right from the start.

With your holiday videos it’s a little different. The purpose for a holiday video is fairly simple to figure out: ‘I want a video memory of our holidays to the Bermuda Triangle’ for example, but still, I’d suggest you look a little deeper. It can be helpful to think about who your audience is here, as it is with all videos.

For instance, do you want to make a video about all the mischief you got up to with your mates in the Bermuda Triangle? Will the audience be you and your mates, and a couple of beers?

Is it a film about the ‘spooky’ nature of the Bermuda Triangle? Are you entering it into the local film festival?

Or is it just a video to show to your Mum to prove that you actually went there?

You can see how these different purposes would mean a completely different editing approach, even though the footage might be the same. You’re not going to include the swearing in the one for your Mum (well, depending on your Mum), but it may be perfectly appropriate in the video for your mates.

Start thinking about this as early as possible, as it will effect almost everything about your approach to the edit. Do this before you even start to think about titles, transitions, music or anything else for that matter; these are like the icing on that cake. If you start with a solid idea of what you want the finished film to be, the rest will fall into place.

Here’s an example from our most recent editing project: this is footage of the Gwe Chaung fortress and museum in Myanmar. The sound is taken entirely from the original footage and pieced together as a backdrop. Even though this is an incredibly simple little clip, we think it evokes the strangeness and magic of the landscape as well as giving a sense of space and place.

Music is massive in terms of creating emotion in film. I often cut (edit my video footage) to music to get the right kind of emotion in the editing. You’d be surprised how well this works, although you should vary the soundtrack until you’re sure of which songs you’re using otherwise easy to get wedded to a particular track, start cutting to it and then find that the producer/director/client wants to change it. The cool part of being the Director or the Editor is that you always get to make your own cut – assuming you have the time.

Ok so let’s say you’re going with the ‘spooky’ video, and entering it in your local film festival. In that case, you might use special effects to evoke a ‘spooky’ atmosphere, or use music for this intent. If you shoot it as a documentary, you may have a section arriving at the location and perhaps a voiceover. You might do a bit of research into strange happenings or include some news clips or other details of strange occurrences to back up your theme. You might focus on only using smooth, well shot footage and you may use slower, more considered cuts. You might be more fussy about the picture quality too; you may want to colour-correct the footage, use stabilization and supplement bad sections of the video with nicely shot still photographs.

If your video is holiday footage, think about it this way; what emotions did your trip conjure up for you? The footage from our last job, from Myanmar in Burma, stirred quite strong emotions for our client. The feeling she was trying to recapture was one of awe, the sense of a fairytale landscape, a magical place, something special and undiscovered.

We’ve tried to capture this in the footage, giving some of it a dreamy feel, and other sections like the next video of a Myanmar market a busy, crazy bustling vibe. Because there is little dialog in the footage aside form a bit of free-form voiceover from our client, we have created a lot of the mood using music, some of it from the original soundtrack.

In the client’s original, the music in the Market scene was ‘Run Boy Run’ by Woodkid, here we’ve used a production track called ‘Stomp Snap Clap’ by Bekibeats to get a similar vibe.

Although a million miles away in terms of its origins, we chose some music tracks from the atmospheric Icelandic group Sigur Rós (a fab new discovery for our client, she loves them!). They suit the emotions she’s looking for perfectly – epic, magical, strange. We’re also using some music from M83, UNKLE and Woodkid on the soundtrack – they’re all new bands to our client, or less-known songs as she preferred this to familiar songs because they emphasized the unique nature of the trip.

So there are some ideas to start with; creating emotion in film is incredibly deep and complex, as many different options exist as the emotions themselves, and it takes imagination, vision, and preferably some awesome footage to start with.

Thanks for reading, I’ll be back in the next blog with some ideas on putting the other 6 ‘Rules of Editing’ into practice in your videos.

In the next blog I’ll talk about some of the other rules put into practice, until then happy film making!

Thalia Kemp is the sound and video editor at Sonic Eye video in Sydney, Australia.

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