Archive for the ‘ Editing Tips and Tricks ’ Category

Importance of Media Management

Although he doesn’t update often, I do always enjoy a post on Norman Hollyn’s blog, The Editor.  I was going over his archives a little while ago while my boyfriend rode – and I’m not kidding – a dragon skeleton roller coaster through hidden world 8-7 in Super Mario Bros. Wii, when I found a post that really should be shared with you all.  It concerns a skill that Hollyn is quite right in saying most independent editors don’t have: media management.  (I’ve seen some interesting systems working with some of my clients.)

What is media management?  I’ll let Hollyn describe it:

What is media management, you may ask? It’s the ability to organize all of the footage (whether it’s picture or sound, camera-shot or visual effects created, and more) in a way that makes it easy for anyone else to find and use it. That means that original material is sorted and saved in bins and folders in a very specific way for an assistant editor who is working on a show with a lot of visual effects, but entirely differently for the editor on that show. It means creating and executing a workable system that is appropriate to the personnel and the project that you are working on. A music video should be organized differently than a commercial, which is set up differently than an action film or a television show.

I highly recommend that anyone who isn’t familiar with media management to have a look at the article.  It’s a huge skill to have, and it makes any project you take on – for yourself or another – much easier to deal with.  I know I’ve talked about how I’ve organized Issues before.  Raw footage went into folders organized by episode.  Clips were labeled with Episode number, Scene number, Angle number, and Take number.  So the first Clip was labeled Ep1Sc1A1T1 (or something to that effect), and so on.  Because the scripts were labeled in the same fashion, anyone who picked up a script and looked for a clip could find it.  And they didn’t have to troll through hundreds of clips, because each episode has a folder.  If there had been an excessive number of takes, I would have made subfolders for each scene.

That is media management.  And let me tell you, when I migrate my files to a bigger hard drive, it makes it a hell of a lot easier to reconnect all that media next time I fire up a project.  Just a further incentive, beyond the ability to get an assistant editor’s job.  😉

Creating an Editing Environment, Part 2

In this installment of Creating an Editing Environment, I’m going to focus on the area immediately surrounding the monitor you spend your working time staring at.  In particular, we’re going to talk about the colors in that environment.

Next time you’re in front of your editing machine (assuming it’s separate form the one you’re reading this on), look at the screen, but take note of what you see around it in your peripheral vision.  Is it nice and clean or is it full of stuff?  What color do you predominantly see?  To give you an idea, while I sit here typing these words, I see a lot of white (walls, paper, speakers), brown (desk surface), and some bright red of the mug that is sitting to my right holding pens & pencils.  This is a good example of what you shouldn’t see when you sit down to edit.

Just like you want to be sure you can hear your sound, you want to be sure you’re really seeing your picture.  To that end, you want a pretty uniform surface behind your monitor, and for it to be a neutral (like a medium grey).  Why?  If there are any bright colors within your field of vision while you sit at the monitor, it will affect, however slightly, the way your eye views that color.  If you’re editing, and especially if you’re color correcting, you don’t want anything to potentially skew your perception of that color.

In order to get a nice, neutral environment, you’re going to need a few things:

  1. A nice, clean desk, much unlike the one I described above.
  2. A wall painted a nice neutral shade of grey (or white or black, but grey is a personal preference of mine since it’s not on either extreme)
  3. Nice true white lights, such as LEDs.  As most of you are no doubt aware, typical household lights have a yellow cast to them, and fluorescents have a bluish cast.
  4. If you’re editing interface does not take up the entire monitor, make sure you have a nice neutral wallpaper selected as well.

And there you have it, a reasonably monotone environment which should allow you to focus on the color and content of the footage you’re working on.  Now, if you can’t paint your walls or install LEDs, just try to make the space as neutral as you can.  I’ll be back with more of Creating an Editing Environment soon!

Know the Basics, Part 2

It’s been a while since I hit on the Know the Basics series that I started with my first rule of cutting.  Now seemed like a good time to revisit it.  This rule usually has to be followed while a piece is in production, but depending on your footage, you could also influence this in post.  What am I talking about?  Why, the rule of thirds, of course.

Editing Rule #2: Use the rule of thirds to compose shots that are visually interesting and engaging.

If any of you have ever taken a photography class, you know the rule of thirds.  For those of you that haven’t, let me sum it up for you.  Shots with the subject perfectly in the center of your frame are boring.  They also don’t guide the audience’s eye to what you want or need them to see.  Rather than leave a subject in the dead center of the frame, picture the frame as divided up into 9 boxes, 3×3, like this:

See the green dots were the points of the box intersect?  Those are good focal points.  One of them is the place you want your subject.  If you have a good director and DP on your team, chances are some of your footage has already been shot using the rule of thirds.  If not, and you’re working with film or HD video, you may be able move and scale the picture to create a rule of thirds effect.  If you’re using standard definition video, this trick will degrade the footage noticeably, so it isn’t recommended.

How does it work?  Well, let’s say you have a shot of a girl sitting on the bed, looking to the right.  Unfortunately, she’s centered in the shot.  However, our footage is HD, so we have some room to play.  If she’s looking to the right, I’m going to shift this picture to the left, to emphasize the direction she is looking in.  The audience will look at her and their eyes will follow her line of site.  (For this to be effective, in the next shot, we should see what she is looking at, this time on the right side of the frame.)  What do I do about the picture, which is now partially in the frame, partially out?  I will scale it up enough to fill the frame again in it’s new location.  HD footage can be scaled up to about 30% of it’s original size with no apparent loss in quality anywhere but on an HD television.  The web and SD TVs are nice and forgiving of this trick.

If you need to get the hang of the rule of thirds a bit, try going out and taking some still pictures with your digital camera.  If it has a grid function to it, so much the better.  Even if it doesn’t, try this, take 2 pictures of some nice, stationary objects.  In one, center the picture.  In the other, move it to one of the four intersections on the real or imagined grid.  Make sure it’s a logical choice.  I may take a picture of a cup on a table throwing a shadow.  I would shoot the cup head on, and move it so you could see the shadow spilling across the frame.  Now, just as an experiment, ask some friends or family which picture looks more interesting.  On average, the pictures using the rule of thirds should be more popular than ones without.  If you want to see some existing examples of rule of thirds, do a Google image search for the terms.  You get a ton of examples.

Also, in watching movies, keep an eye open for the rule of thirds in action.  For example, in the first desert shot of Lawrence of Arabia, director David Lean filled the shot with tall sand dunes, and had Lawrence and his guide emerge over one in the upper right corner of the frame.  The shot was very wide, and the two riders and their camels were mere specs.  Their positioning made them seem even more small and insignificant.  That’s a good use of rule of thirds.

Creating an Editing Enviroment, Pt. 1

Despite what you may hear, you can’t just edit anywhere.  You may be able to throw a rough cut together just about anywhere you can set up your computer, but if you’re going to make that near-perfect final edit, you’d better have a space that will facilitate that work, and not make it more difficult.  Let’s start with the obvious: sound.

Hopefully while you’re editing, you’re adjusting sound levels as they need to be to ensure an even sound level from clip to clip.  However, if you’re sitting in your living room editing (like I need to) with someone watching television or listening to music, this can be a problem.  So my first tip for creating an ideal editing environment is to invest in a worthy pair of noise canceling headphones.  My tip, be as cost effective with them as you can. has a video on how to make your own for about $20.  I’m seriously considering trying it myself.  A lot more affordable than the set of Shure headphones I’d been considering.

If rigging up your own isn’t your thing, there are two types of noise-cancelling headphones you can buy.

The first, and by any measure, more cost-effective option is passive isolating headphones.  These are the kinds of headphones that have comfy little silicone tips that sit in your ear.  The silicone makes a tight seal in your ear, effectively cutting out sound from the world around you.  With the proper type of tip and proper fit, these headphones can be very effective.

The second option will cost you a bit more.  These are the active isolators.  BOSE is the most well-known of the active isolators, with their very popular QuietComfort headphones.  These headphones sit on or over your ear and are powered by a battery.  The headphones study the sounds coming towards them from the outside world and emit the exact opposite frequency into your ear.  Those frequencies cancel each other out, and you hear nothing.

Of course, if you’re lucky enough to have a space at home or work that can be made completely silent, you may want to forgo the headphones and instead rig up to a good speaker system.  You’ll want to do this anyway for test screenings, but in the right setting, difficult as it may be to find if you don’t have a studio space open to you, they can be your primary means of sound.  I’ll be continuing this series in the future with more tips.  Keep posted.

Know the Basics, Part 1

So, after settling into my new routine of school and work again, it’s time to get back to it.  I’m taking a double header of editing courses this semester, just to expose myself to different genres and media so I can develop a style for each – don’t do many music videos in a non-academic setting, for example.  One course is a technical course, one is an aesthetics course.  The best of both worlds.  I was struck by how many people in the aesthetics course described themselves as working editors, but who didn’t know some of the basics of editing.  So, with that, I figured I’d leave the professionalism theme alone for the time being and address some more fundamentals here.  Because it flat out scared me that my fellow students didn’t know some of this.

To keep these short, I’ll present 1 major convention of editing in each post.  Like all rules, there are times when these rules can be broken.  However, it’s important to know why you are breaking them, so that they can effectively fit into the overall rhythm and emotion of your project.  So, to start us off, here’s number 1.

First Basic Rule of Editing: When making a cut, there must be a change of camera angle and size of shot.

What does this mean?  It means that you shouldn’t join shots that originate from the same vantage point, and the type of shot (wide shot, medium, close up, etc.) should vary between takes.  For example: we see a wide shot of a actor as he starts walking out of the frame.  He is walking at a 45˚ angle away from the viewer.  In the next shot, if I seek to continue the action, I would probably look for a medium shot or close-up with the actor walking towards the viewer at a 45˚ angle.

Why?  For a cut to be effective, the audience has to see something completely different in the two shots that make up the cut.  If the size or angle is the same, or very close to the same, the cut looks more like a jump between to identical shots.  Audiences will notice cuts like that.  Walter Murch explains it through an interesting analogy to bees.  If you move a beehive overnight, let’s say 3 miles away, the bees won’t be disoriented at all.  They’ll get to work exploring this new environment and will continue to function just fine.  However, if you only move the hive, say 3 yards, the bees will be fatally confused.  Their surroundings are almost identical, but the hive is missing.  The bees will actually hover where the hive was rather than were it is now.  They don’t realize things have changed.

You want your audience to be like those bees who moved 3 miles.  You want them to just keep going with the flow.  A successful cut is one that isn’t noticed.  That means you need to force their brains to realize a change of context.  We do that by varying the angle and size of shots when we make cuts.  Although that sounds like more work, it’s something our brains do automatically.  We’re not even aware of it.  To see that in action, go watch the shower scene from Psycho twice.  Once, just watch, then watch again and try to count the number of cuts.  When you count the cuts, ask yourself how many you were aware of when first watching.

You can actually accomplish the same thing in a continuous shot if you have a very talented director and DP at your disposal.  To see what I’m talking about, watch the first shot of A Touch of Evil, by Orson Welles.  It’s a beautifully composed shot of at least 3 minutes.  There isn’t a single cut in that entire 3 minutes.  And yet there are changes of shot size and angle throughout, so your brain accepts it as if it were cut.  That wraps up the first big rule of editing.  As with any rule, you can break it, but make sure you’re breaking it for a reason related to the story you’re telling, and not breaking it out of ignorance.  An audience will be able to tell the difference.