Directing to Edit

As long as you edit your own shows, you can shoot any kind of footage you like, but if another editor handles post production for you, you have to deliver the materials to let the cutter do the job right. And even if you always do your own post, you can make your own work a lot easier (and better) by shooting as if somebody else had to somehow make a great show out of your raw materials.

When you think about editing, think about individual shots, covering the action, capturing audio and about the video style that your editor (and probably client) expect.

Professional Shots

To help your editor, each shot should be laid down in a professional way. To start with, that means slating. Every shot should start with a board showing at least the sequence number, the shot letter and the take number. For example, "27-A-3," translates to "sequence 27, shot A, take 3." These numbers should come from the script, either marked by you or the script supervisor, to show the editor what’s covered in each shot.

Why bother when you have time code references? Two reasons: first, an on-screen ID is much easier to handle than a shot list full of long numbers; and secondly, you want to indicate circled takes. In the continuity script, a circle drawn around a take means it’s a good one. So if the editor sees five takes, with circles around 3 and 5, only those two will be imported for editing.

Every shot should have two different kinds of air around it. Always roll camera for about five seconds before the action you want to record and then keep rolling another five seconds after the action ends. This will let the videographer settle down to a stable frame at the start, and provide extra cutting room at the end.

When shooting individual shots (singles) of action or dialogue, give the editor a different kind of air around the essentials. With this extra footage, the editor can adjust the rhythm of dialogue, make actors look like they’re thinking, and perform other tricks. For instance:

He: "Will you marry me?"

She: "Sure."

This will send an entirely different message from:

He: "Will you marry me?"

(long pause while she looks at him, then…)

She: "Sure."

Your editor can create these two rhythmically different scenes from the same source material, if you’ve provided it.

Professional Coverage

We’ve talked before about the "three Cs" of directing at length: completeness, coverage and continuity. Your editor critically depends on all three.

For completeness, don’t leave essential stuff out. If our hero picks a gun up off the ground, be sure to show how it got there – or at least record the moment in which he looks down and sees it. If he suddenly grabs a gun out of nowhere, the audience won’t buy it.

For coverage, get enough angles to give your editor a choice of setups. Nowadays, it’s old-fashioned to shoot a wide master shot of an entire sequence, but you need some type of wide shot early on to orient viewers. You should consider over-the-shoulder two-shots to show the spatial relationships between characters. You need closeups for extra dramatic punch where appropriate.

Coverage also includes cutaways, insert and protection shots. The baddie’s reaction as he loses his gun is a cutaway. The gun sliding across the asphalt to our hero’s feet is an insert. Protection shots are usually improvised on the fly to cover a goof. For example, if the hero stumbles in stooping to pick up the gun, you could shoot a protection insert of his hand pulling the pistol out of frame. By replacing the stumble with the protection shot, the editor can save the day.

That gun insert is a good example of continuity. If the actor reaches out screen-left toward the gun, the insert should have his hand enter from screen right, to maintain screen direction. Continuity is a big and complicated subject in itself and it’s one of the director’s biggest jobs. Your editor can cut smoothly if the action maintains continuity from shot to shot, overlaps for easy matching, and is consistent in screen direction.

Professional Audio

Your editor will be grateful if you can deliver high-quality sound, which is never an easy job, especially outdoors. Of course you already know to avoid built-in mikes. First choices are either a mike on a boom or else lapel mikes, wired or not. A small production mixer is essential with multiple mikes.

The goal is to get sound that is not only of primo quality, but that is also consistent from shot to shot. Every time you change a microphone’s height, horizontal angle or distance, the acoustical characteristics of your location will change. The editor can equalize audio tracks in post production, but the more consistent the sound, the easier the job.

Next, be sure to record lots of ambient noise and room tone. Ambient noise is obvious background noise such as chattering diners, heavy traffic or aircraft landing. The editor will lay it under the dialogue tracks to iron out differences in their sound qualities. Try to get at least five minutes of background noise, and don’t worry if a distinctive CLUNK or horn toot stands out. The editor can edit out obviously identifiable sounds before laying the track.

Room tone is white noise: the very faint hiss of forced air heating or air conditioning or maybe the fans in desktop computers. All interiors have some room tone that is almost inaudible, until a piece of it is missing. If the editor has to cut out a section of dialog, the background noise behind it will clearly sound sort of like "ssssssss." To plug the hole, the editor lays in a piece of room tone under the cut.

A Matter of Style

Finally, there is the elusive factor of style. Since your editor may have to supply a snappy commercial, dignified company promo or a frenetic music video, your shooting style has to fit the program style.

In practical terms, this involves shot lengths, camera moves and camera angles, among other things. The editor doesn’t want to synthesize a wedding ceremony from fifty ditzy little shots, although the same fast cutting techniques might work great on a montage of the reception. The only way to coordinate styles is by obtaining a pre-production consensus between the editor, the client and you, the director.

Don’t forget the release format, especially if it involves Web streaming, where the goal is to keep file size and data to a minimum. Complex images full of patterns, objects and other details require more data than simple ones. Moving shots demand far more code than still ones. If you know your program’s distribution format, you can optimize your images to match.

No matter how scrupulously you work, the editor will run into problems: it comes with the territory. But if you follow these simple guidelines, you’ll deliver the best footage possible.

And your editor will heap blessings upon you.

Protecting Your Vision

If you’re not going to edit your own show, you may need to protect yourself from creative meddling by editors (and producers) who imagine they know more about your project than you do.

John Ford, John Huston and Alfred Hitchcock, among others, would frustrate studio know-it-alls by delivering just enough footage to cut a good movie together. They didn’t provide full-length master shots, no alternate angles and no protection shots. The editor’s task was simple splicing because there were so few editing choices available.

There’s a catch, of course: to pull off this trick, you have to pre-edit the entire program in your head as you shoot it, visualizing every shot in order and imagining how shots cut together. Since you may be shooting out of sequence, this can be very tricky to do.

So if you’re going to shoot ultra-tight, be sure to storyboard every single shot in your show and pre-select the edit points in your copy of the script. If you’re good, you can deliver footage that must be cut together your way, while still yielding an excellent program. But you’d better be make sure you really are that good.

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