The other day I was reading Margelit Hoffman’s blog on “How To Edit Video: an 8-Point Style Guide.” Margelit makes some very good points that cover some of the basic concepts of editing video for the beginner. Since I am often working with my clients on how they can make videos themselves for the internet this is a very good guide, although the problem with editing is that there are so many details and so many ways to accomplish the same goals. I am going to expand a bit on Margelit’s blog and delve into some of the details.
One of the points made, and something that I have talked about in “What is the optimal online video length?” is to cut, cut, cut. But when you cut, especially if the subject is talking on camera, there are jump cuts (cutting between shots that are identical in subject yet slightly different in screen location so the subject seems to “jump.”) and gaps between the edits. How do you cover these edits? Professional editors use cover shots or cut-a-ways. Here are six tips used by the professionals.
Using the Cut-a-Way
1. Continuity: Remember that one of the goals of the video is to tell a story. So you need to cover an edit with a shot that makes sense to the story. This is often called continuity. The cover shot has to make sense in the context of the video. If it doesn’t you are being surrealistic and don’t go there unless you know what you are doing.
2. Close-up cut-a-way: This works when the subject is a speaker or someone being interviewed. Simply cut-a-way to a shot of the person that does not include the speaker’s lips. A common close-up cut-a-way is a shot of the speaker’s hands. The hands are often expressive and if shot from the same direction as the face the viewer will have no trouble accepting this shot.
3. Cut to something in the room: This is similar to cutting away to the hands. There are a couple caveats. The viewer needs to have seen the object in another shot. For example if you cut-a-way to the cat or the Grandfather Clock you will have to have established that they were in the room, possibley in a wide shot or the opening establishing shot. Don’t show anything that is so far off the subject that audience wonders why the shot was there.
4. Listening Shot: This is when you cut-a-way to someone else in the scene who is listening to the speaker. This could be the interviewer, the audience or a bystander. Again, the audience needs to know that there are other people in the scene before you use this cut-a-way.
5. Advancing the story shot: This type of shot directly advances the story. For example if someone is talking about their child cutting to a photograph of the child makes sense and advances the story. A news reporter at the scene of an accident may cut to a close up of the ambulance lights. This advances the story and gives them a cover shot.
6. Remember to CUT: I’ve mentioned this before in “Video editing the Single Camera Lecture,” when you are doing a cut-a-way use a cut. Do not fade, dissolve, wipe, or use any of the other three dozen transitions possible on your editing system. When you cut you are telling the audience that the shots are related and that they are happening in “real” time. Even though in reality you are editing the video and compressing time, the viewer has the impression that everything shown is how it happened. A dissolve tells the audience that time has passed. A fade to black says that this segment is over and we are starting something else. Just cut.
There are many more types of cut-a-way shots and many variations of the types described above. Some work better than others in different types of videos. Editing is a craft that takes practice and patience. When in doubt do as Margelit Hoffman pointed out in her blog: Get a Second Opinion.
If you would like to get some more tips download the free E-book on How To Videotape a Lecture with a Single Camera.
Photo Credit: Daryl Mitchell