Home Video Hints: Shooting to Edit - 5 Tips for Success

Just as with any art form, mastery of the basics propels the artist to move forward. The artist is driven to advance to the next level of the craft. A watercolor painter looks to oils and canvas. Web designers start noodling with flash pages. Short-story authors think of novels. Heck, even Karaoke singers begin the search for back-up bands. You may start by editing the bad shots out of your home videos, but soon you’ll begin to shoot with the edit in mind. Learn to shoot video with the mind of an editor and editing will be faster, easier and more fun.
What does shooting have to do with editing, you ask? Let me explain. Sure, you can continue to shoot in exactly the same manner in which you are accustomed. That is, if you don’t mind taking up residence in the nearest loony bin. Suffering endless hours of hair-pulling frustration in the editing room can get to anyone. You see, editable raw footage possesses different demands than random raw footage. And, to make life simpler, you’ll want to shoot to prepare for the process. It’s not like you’ll have to alter your methods drastically. Just some minor readjusting (as the following tips point out) will get you shooting edit-friendly video in no time.

1) If you are only going to glean one tip from this article, please, make it this one. You may think you are doing yourself a favor by keeping shots tight and quick. Your argument: there will be less footage to wade through when it comes time to cut the whole thing together. That makes sense. The problem with this logic, however, is that you’ll need some room to make edits. At the least, run an extra five seconds at the beginning and end of every shot. Ten seconds is even better. Why?

Suppose a sequence in your video starts with a man in his apartment, cuts to him leaving the building, then shows him entering a parking garage with a final shot of his car driving away. When the camera moves from inside the apartment in the first shot to outside the apartment in the second shot, you’ll want some time to make the edit "feel" right. This careful matching or overlapping of action means the editor needs some extra tape to play with the edit points. It is amazing what a second added or removed from the beginning or end of an edit can do to the look of a cut. With shots containing conversation or synched audio, this becomes even more important. Cutting immediately after the words fall out of a person’s mouth is very awkward. By recording only the action of the shot, you eliminate options. Not a good thing when it comes to editing.

2) Give yourself a safety net in the editing room by having more than one choice. Whether you’re working on an instructional, corporate, educational or other long-form, structured production, or making a fake commercial for fun, you’ll want to shoot several takes of the same shot while you can. Nothing is worse than discovering during the edit process that a much-needed shot is ruined by a glitch in the tape, an unnoticed noise in the background, lighting problem or other, non-correctable gaffe. In that situation you have two options. Use the bad shot or set everything back up (which is an embarrassing, and sometimes expensive, task) to record the shot a second time. One-take wonders are just that – a wonder.

Obviously, shooting multiple takes isn’t always possible. Try talking a bride into walking down the aisle a second time. Or getting birthday partiers to yell "surprise" again. Even in controlled shooting situations, such as during the production of a training tape, time and patience often run short. The suggestion of a second go-round may not fly. Which leads us to the next shoot-to-edit tip.


3) Also known as "cover" shots, cutaways are shots of people, inanimate objects and atmospheric details surrounding a video outing. For example, if taping a wedding, it’s a good idea to get some stray shots of people in the aisles, flowers, exteriors of the church, stained glass windows, a gift table and other images associated with the marriage. These become invaluable in editing when you need to cover up a mistake or awkward transition between scenes. Watching the entire wedding party make their way to the altar can quickly bore an audience. Cutaways allow you to maintain viewer interest by breaking up this interminably long sequence with interesting details of the big day. Vary the angle and framing of cover shots for even more latitude in the editing room. A series of straight medium shots is tedious. Why not throw in a tight close-up, low-angle, swish-pan or rapid zoom? All of these cover-shots are ideal solutions to continuity and screen direction errors.

4) Continuity with regard to video means the appearance of atmosphere, wardrobe, talent and style remains continuous throughout the program. If your actor has a sombrero on in the first shot of a sequence, he must be wearing the hat when the camera returns to him later. This becomes especially challenging in dramatic shoots that extend over a long period of time. Try taking Polaroid photos of non-permanent sets. The visual record allows you to replicate the scene with exacting precision at a later date. Do the same with talent. Hair length, make-up and clothing are all troublesome to continuity. Button popping is a very common continuity error in major Hollywood films. Another idea – log shot detail while you record. In addition to helping with continuity, a shot list assists when it comes time to cut the tape.

5) As you shoot any moving object (human or otherwise), make sure it is always moving in the same direction with regard to the viewer. A speeding train crossing the screen from right to left must be moving from right to left in successive shots. Otherwise it will appear as if the train is returning from where it came, or that two trains are on a collision course.

Crossing sight lines within conversation scenes also jars the viewer by disrupting flow. A "reverse" sequence features the first subject on the right-hand side of the screen, speaking and looking toward the left. When you cut, or reverse, to the second person, they must be on the left, addressing the right-hand side of the screen. If not, it will look like both people are speaking to some unknown third person.
When shooting an over-the-shoulder conversation, keep the listener’s body slightly within each shot. This establishes a point of reference toward which the speaker can direct his dialogue. It’s a popular technique because the method keeps both actors within the whole scene, even though you only really see one at a time.

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