Before you begin to edit your film ask yourself a series of questions; What is the story? Why will it be interesting to a viewer? What is the point?
Source material can be cut in many ways to tell many different stories.
Placing two shots together can create a new meaning. For example, cutting to a CU (close up) of an apple core and then to someone eating or chewing could suggest the person has eaten the apple. This may not be the case at all and the two shots may have been shot on different days and in different locations, but you have suggested that they are connected.
Involve the audience and keep them on the edge of their seats with a compelling story.
I was once cutting a film about green turtles where the hatchlings were breaking through the sand and making their way to the sea. There is a journey here - you can show the nest and the sea - but it could get pretty boring, pretty quickly. So we introduced the sally lightfoot crabs, which race across the shoreline and stop the turtles in their tracks. Even if the hatchlings survive the crab claws they then have to escape air attacks from diving frigate birds.
Now we have a story! Will the turtle hatchling make it safely into the sea? Involve the audience and keep them on the edge of their seats with a compelling story.
When To Cut
Editors can often feel when a cut should happen, but if you are just starting out, there are many different ways to edit:
- Establishing shot - Some people will start with a mid or wide shot to inform the viewer of the location or situation and to help them get their bearings. You may decide to start on a CU and gradually reveal the subject.
- Cutting on action - Someone going from sitting to standing may provide a good cut point (cut part way through the action).
- Eye trace - Follow the eyes. What are the eyes looking at, and does the audience need to see it?
- Vary the shots - Cut from a mid to CU or CU to a wide.
- Transitions - Try not to use cross dissolves over two hand held shots. It looks a mess. Avoid dodgy transitions (except if you are George Lucas).
- Split editing - This is where the audio starts before picture. For example, if you are interviewing someone the viewer hears the interviewee over the previous shot before we see them. This can make the film hold together and build continuity and structure.
- First draft - Make your first cut longer than it needs to be, and then cut it down. If one shot says the same as the next, remove one of them.
Don’t underestimate the importance of sound.
The camera has composed a shot, but this is just a small area of an environment. Sound can help us to visualise what is outside of the frame, the area behind us, an area we cannot see.
For example, we can see a wide shot above the tree canopy, and even though we can’t see monkeys, we can hear them screaming. Let the viewer’s imagination tell a story.
Sound can help us to visualise what is outside of the frame, the area behind us, an area we cannot see.
Make sure you don’t put the wrong sound effects in the wrong environment - some people will notice! A number of years ago I remember working on a documentary where the sound mixer had put British bird sounds onto images of a different season. A few keen bird watchers wrote in to complain!
It’s always wise to record a “buzz track” on location (atmospheric, background sound). This can be very useful in the edit to put down behind a sequence of shots so that you don’t get that nasty jump in sound between cuts.
Music can also be a helpful addition to your film, by helping to smooth transitions between shots and making the piece more appealing. Don't forget to only use our approved tracks in your Eden Shorts, though!
Show People Your Work
You know the story, but you are not going to be there every time someone watches to explain it to them.
Show your friends and ask them what the film is about, and ask them what the text said and whether they had time to read it.
You can learn a lot from watching (discreetly) the people watching your film. When do they laugh, cry, get bored or lose focus? Did they react differently to your expectations?
Don’t Be Too Precious
Don’t be too precious about a shot (unless it’s the money shot). It may have taken you two days to climb a hill or trek to a location but the audience don’t care. If the shot does not work in the sequence you may have to lose it.
Remember, you are always telling a story. Your Eden Shorts film is only one minute long so give the film time to breath, and make every shot count.