This past week I’ve talked a bit about editing. Specifically some tricks an editor can use to cut down on the length of the video tape while maintaining continuity in Six Video Editing Tips used by Professionals and what the videographer can do to get the right shots in Six Tips on how to Shoot for the Video Edit. From these discussions it is clear that there are a number of practical reasons for editing. These techniques are especially useful for educational, interview or how-to videos. They would include:
- Covering mistakes
- Covering jump cuts
- Cutting length
- Breaking up the monotony of a long talk
- Advancing the story
Editing is useful for all of these things but the main thing is advancing the story. Jump cuts, mistakes, long segments all take away from the story so correcting them does advance the story. Historically editing, and the way most people watch videos and film, whether in a theater, on television or on the internet, comes down to two major ways of editing. There are many variations of these ideas and even the complete rejection of these ideas but all editing, and storytelling with moving images comes down to two early film makers: Griffith and Eisenstein.
Griffith: The Birth of the Close Up
If you ever heard anyone say, “Get a wide shot, a medium shot and a close up,” they are pretty much following the dictates of D.W. Griffith, the great American silent film director. In trying to solve a practical problem Griffith resorted to the close-up. Frustrated with the resolution of early film he realized that in order for the audience to understand, for example, what the actor was holding in his hand or who were the important subjects in a battle scene Griffith needed to cut to a close up. The close-up was usually always an object in the bigger scene and shown only to clearly tell the story. As most movies before Griffith were usually shot with a single camera in one location shooting the entire scene like a play, Griffith’s technique added to the drama and excitement of the film. Watch the battle scene from Birth of A Nation (1914) (I do not endorse the message of the film, I only use it as an example of Griffith’s cinematic breakthrough) for how he used the close-up to tell his story and how you can use it in your video.
Eisenstein: Marxist Editing
The other approach came from Sergei Eisenstein, the innovative Soviet director. Eisenstein’s approach to editing was taken from the Marxist dialectic: the conflict of two shots, the thesis and the antithesis, produced a new idea, or the synthesis. The amazing Odessa Steps sequence from Battleship Potemkin (1925) is an excellent example. Never in this sequence do you see the Czar’s soldiers and the little boy in the same shot. You see the soldiers shoot their guns (thesis), in the next shot you see the boy fall (antithesis) and the viewer’s synthesis of these two shots is that the Czar’s soldiers shot the boy, although you never actually see this in the same frame. When you shoot, show a lecturer talking on stage, then show a shot of an audience member watching. The viewer then puts the two shots together to arrive at the synthesis that the audience member is watching the lecturer, although you never actually see this in the same frame. Now admittedly the Odessa Steps sequence is way more exciting than a video tapped lecture but the editing technique is the same.
Now there is much more to editing then this and many more techniques, styles and innovations have occurred over the past 90 to 100 years since Griffith and Eisenstein pioneered cinematic editing. But in the end most editing techniques come from these two styles and the basic editing you do for your online video is rooted in these techniques.
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