Every time I start a new project in Final Cut Pro, I get an anxious feeling as I stare at that blank timeline. This is a critical time for all editors, because it means you have to finally commit to the story you want to tell. Unlike video editors working on long-term documentaries, newspaper videojournalists have to turn and burn pretty quickly. Most of the video projects I produce, I have less than one or two days to shoot and edit. That means I’d better have the story structure sketched out in my brain even before I put the tape in my camera. Here are some of the things I do to make my video edit easier later:
- When I am shooting a story, I’m always asking myself: “How am I going to get into my story (opener), and how am I going to get out (ender.)” The way you shoot your story will either lead to an efficient edit, or a nightmare, where time falls through the rabbit hole, as you try to create a story from a mishmash of clips.
- I’ve written about this ad nauseam, but will continue to preach it–Define your story before you start to shoot. Simplify your grand plans. If you’re not doing some definitive documentary, then you will only have one to three minutes to get in and out of your story. Beware of tangents that can lead you off on a different path.
- Identify your subjects early. I ask myself: “Who is going to help me tell this story?” The person that becomes the narrative thread needs to be compelling. I look for characters first–people who ooze personality. When I’m at an event, I start asking people, “Who has the biggest mouth?” Usually all fingers point to one person. That bigmouth is where I start first.
- How you interview a subject is critical. Being a one-man band, I don’t have the luxury of having a reporter to do the interview for me. That means I need to get the narrative I will need to construct my story later. Long, rambling interviews, will slow you down when you start to edit. Ask the right questions that elicit tight answers full of information and passion. It’s important to keep eye contact with your subjects. If they stare at the lens, they will have that deer in headlights look. I like to give exaggerated facial cues to my subjects to let them know what they are saying is right on. Getting a subject to open up quickly will only help you later when you do your edit.
- Shoot video of what your subject talked about. This is hugely important. When you can connect related video with the narrative, your video edit will crackle. Don’t forget to shoot b-roll of the people you interview. This will help you cover the talking head later.
- Shoot more b-roll than you think you will need. As I learn more and more about story pacing, I realize that 5 to 8 second video clips are just too long. Editing shorter sequences of wide, medium and tight will really help keep your viewer engaged in the story. Don’t give them a chance to be bored. I have to remind myself at this point to be creative. Your b-roll is where your vision comes into play. Get your knees dirty, think in layers, shoot lots of tight details. Put your camera on a tripod and shoot long telephoto shots that fill the frame. Doing so will help you craft an edit with lots of visual variety. Finally, make sure you have a couple of wide establishing shots. You will use them in your edit later.
- Shoot the action, but don’t forget to shoot the reaction. Let’s say I am shooting someone making a widget. I would shoot a wide shot of them in the room, then move in and shoot a medium shot of them working on the widget. Then I would capture a tight shot of the hands working on the widget. The next shot is what many inexperienced video shooters fail to get. Turn the camera up and shoot the face (reaction.) Later, when you’re assembling this sequence, you’ll have that face shot that will rock on your timeline.
- Shoot lots of nat sound pops. This TV term is something newspaper videojournalists need to master. A nat sound pop is a short video clip—maybe a second or two long–that has a compelling burst of sound. It can be someone’s reaction to a fire, a cheer at a football game or a quick blast of natural sound like a train whistle. Be on the lookout for these pops. Trust me, they will help your edit later.
- Finally, look for transitional pictures that will help you deal with changes in time. Going from day to night in your story? A sunset shot will help your viewers make that leap in time.