Cinematic is In – Editing Wedding Videos

The art of editing wedding videos begins and ends with the skills of cinematic storytelling. Consider this hypothetical statement from a modern-day wedding videographer: “My current project marries the cinematic look and feel of Sense and Sensibility with the tone and pacing of Sex and the City.- Sound like a stretch? It shouldn’t – considering the fact that all of the cinematic tools once reserved for Hollywood film studios are now available to videographers in the era of digital cinema.

DSLR cameras, large sensor prosumer video cameras, interchangeable lenses, and pro post-production editing software, have all bridged the gap between the historically stodgy look of video and the cinematic wonder of film. In the ever-competitive business of wedding videography, stodgy is out and cinematic is in.

Here we’ll focus on the post-production side of cinematic wedding videography – the final telling of a wedding story – the editing. After employing your full arsenal of camera tools we’ll assume that cinematic footage of the bride and groom’s storybook day are “in the can.” This is where the art of the cinematic wedding editing begins.

Editing Theory – Cinematic Formula

Before we get into practical editing techniques for wedding video, let’s briefly discuss editing theory. An understanding of editing theory can and should improve any editor’s practical editing skills. Formulas are used to render consistent results. Considering the trend of wedding videos becoming more cinematic, a simple formula can help consistently create cinematic wedding video, especially through techniques exercised in editing.

In any film or video, and certainly wedding video, there are two basic elements of production: image and audio. There are hundreds of moving parts within good images and good audio, but these are the basic practical elements of a video. Just as important as the practical, there are two somewhat abstract elements of production: tone and pacing. These four elements together, are the main components of cinematic storytelling and are essential for any editor to understand. This special occasion is just one instance where families are built around the all-important story that you are being asked to convey. Wedding videos- the keepsake of a lifetime – benefit from this formula immensely if considered and applied by a skilled editor in post.

Four Part Editing

1 Raw Footage Review & Catalog:

There is a temptation with digital footage to start editing everything at once. However, any editing prior to a full review and cataloging of all footage can potentially produce unusable sequences and loss of valuable time. Shots that felt important at the beginning of the big day may not have the same impact as something shot during the rehearsal or reception.

Catalog footage by using preprinted sheets that list each shot by sequential file name with reference notes for each. Also consider cataloging virtually on your computer by indexing shots within file folders and labeling with file metadata. While there is no set way to index shots, some labeling examples might be one or more of the following: establishing, master, wide, closeup, cutaway, insert, POV, reaction, tracking and so on. Make references to the important wedding characters as well: bride, groom, in-laws etc.

The more complete the indexing of the raw footage, the better you’ll be able to lay out the necessary sequences and quickly assemble them into an initial working rough cut. Better yet, the editing tricks of matching, stealing and fixing footage are all made easier by proper cataloging. Even if you are left with a group of goofs caught on camera for a handful of shots, these may be a supplement that the couple asks for weeks after the honeymoon, it’ll be this little bit of media management that makes your job easy. Arguably the most tedious part of post-production, cataloging is the essential first step in editing cinematic wedding video.

2 Rough Cut & Sequence Building:

While laying footage into the timeline your choices should be basic at this early stage. This step is also broken-down further into two subset elements: rough video and rough audio.

Video first – do you have all the necessary story elements from the wedding day events like bride’s grand entrance and aisle walk, nuptials, first dance and cake cutting? Are these story elements placed as linear or non-linear sequences? Here you determine the basic structure of the wedding story. Some of this will be straight documentary of which events happened, the order of those events is up to you. Consider having the walk down the aisle as your rising action and the kiss as the climax. Audio second – and while audio should be considered equal in importance to video, audio at this stage may actually be front and center, dictating the length of a sequence, the timing of the cuts or the sequential tone. Is the audio scored (original), source or diagetic (from within the video content), or is it from a music library or “needle dropped” soundtrack? Along with rough video, here is where rough audio as a narrative element is determined. One simple approach to creating the narrative is following both the vows and the ministering official (or the emcee at the reception.)

Whether four to six, or 15-20 minutes, the rough length of your wedding video should now have emerged. This rough cut should now contain all the essential elements of both video and audio. In laying out the rough version there is no worrying about timing, trimming or adding effects – not yet.

3 Principal Editing, Cuts, Transitions, Tone & Pacing:

Here is where the majority of your time will be spent editing your cinematic wedding masterpiece. While no step is less important than another, cuts, transitions, tone and timing quickly differentiate the novice from the most cinematically capable editor.

Edits, whether for a wedding video or a Hollywood film, should follow a few basic rules. Edits should be motivated, create continuity of action and story, and in general have a seamless flow. Cutting on the action is the most common type of motivated edit. However, motivated edits can also be created by elements such as sound, reaction and time. The continuous flow of motivated edits, avoiding jump-cuts and mismatched shots, is the goal of a cinematic editor.

Beyond motivated edits, here are the definitions you already know as an editor: A cut is two shots one played after the other, while a transition overlaps a cut by having elements of both shots combine to become a smoother visual, one leading to the other. Tones are emotional shades of light or dark, comedy or drama. Pacing is timing, length and placement of clips. In edited sequences, tone and pacing create and build emotions such as suspense, tension or excitement. Again, you know these definitions – your editing program, however, while engineering eye-candy, does not. It’s up to you to understand and employ them effectively in your timeline.

Each type of cut or transition is meant to tell story in a unique way. Cross dissolves may denote passing time. Cross-cutting can build suspense. While there are many types of cuts and transitions, here is the short list of must-know cuts and transitions:

Types of cuts: Straight cut, L cut, cross-cut/parallel edit and match cut.
Types of transitions: Fade-in, fade-out, dissolve, wipe, page peel, slide, stretch and zoom.

4 Advanced Editing and Effects:

While perfectly beautiful, tightly edited wedding videos are possible without the use of advanced editing and effects, trends in wedding videography are undoubtedly moving in the direction of the high-art. Next, let’s look at the effects and advanced editing tools that should be in your editing go-to toolbox right now, if they’re not already in use. Coincidentally, these are also some of the easiest to learn and use.

Vignettes, Masking and Mattes

Vignettes, masking and mattes in your software’s terms are built upon the same coding but are used for different effects. Vignettes provide softly darkened borders. They focus our attention, add a nostalgic tone, or look like classic vintage film. While they’re possibly the most overused and clich in wedding effects, we still recommend their use. Added to soften the images and provide a little serenity, vignettes and weddings are a match made in heaven. Like vignettes; masks and mattes can be applied to remove unwanted elements or to create the coveted shallow depth of field look.

Color Grading – Color Correction

Although different, color correction and color grading are sometimes used interchangeably. Both are absolute essentials in wedding video editing. Whether using plug-ins, standalone programs or the built-in color grading of your main editor, this simple yet powerful tool creates tonal emotion through color, contrast and saturation. Raw video may look fine, but the emotionally charged look of color graded footage can be nothing short of amazing. Black and white or sepia tones add a classic vintage look. Outdoor weddings with a warm red-yellow color pass become more relaxed and warm like a summery afternoon. Color grading can mimic film stock, create dreamlike images, or accentuate emotions. Coloring is the video editor’s paint on canvas.

Lighting Effects

Lighting effects like lens flares, spotlights and flashes can easily be added to mimic lighting conditions not present in the original wedding footage. Lighting, like coloring, creates mood, emotion and tone. The exciting flashes of camera bulbs, the always-cinematic lens flares of refracted light or the focus of a virtual spotlight are all lighting effects that can be added in post to great dramatic effect.

Time Remapping and Special Tools

Like the use of vignettes, time remapping is so common it can border on cliché. But great cinema uses time remapping as a storytelling device and so should you – cliché or not. Slow motion replay of special, emotional moments or the time-condensed replay of otherwise lengthy events and large groups are examples of the effective use of time remapping.

In addition to these mainstay effects and editing tools, there are many others deserving attention for their cinematic capabilities. Here are just a few. The multi-camera editing window feature simulates live camera switching. 3D image compositing turns two-dimensional layers into three-dimensional space creating dynamic 3D camera movement. Motion stabilization can mimic the sweeping, cinematic moves of a Steadicam, dolly, track or jib, without the use of heavy equipment.

Trends, Timeframes and Copyright

Two common challenges in wedding videography and editing, coincidentally, lead to solutions found in two current trends. Those challenges are completion timeframes and music copyright, which continue to be – the Achilles’ heel for many wedding video producers.

The trend of the “same day edit,” with extremely tight turnarounds, may actually be a kind of timing godsend for editors. These wedding videos are shorter in length, usually four to six minutes, and while edited during shooting, often have a slightly lower threshold of editing complexity. Same day edits are usually shown during the reception. The novelty of same day edit videos seems to trump the expectation for the effects-heavy complexity of longer wedding videos delivered at a later date.

Another trend in wedding video editing addresses the historically vexing issue of music copyright. Often wedding videographers gamble by deciding to use popular, copyrighted music, illegally. Royalty free or buyout soundtracks have been the legal, yet, artistically less satisfying solution for many years. A new addition to the method of licensing music comes from the Wedding and Event Videographers Association International (WEVA) and APM Music which has pricing for Hollywood-quality songs per event. This allows members licensing for a single event at $65 and discounts for a commitment of multiple events.

Spoiler Alert – it’s a Cinematic Happy Ending

Wedding stories are the exception to the spoiler-alert rule. We not only want to know the wedding story ends happily – we expect it to. The bride and groom as your primary audience, have paid for a no surprises, happy ending. A happy ending, every time, is good for business.

Speaking of good business, consider this: the wedding industry in the United States generates more than $60 billion per year. It is one of the few industries considered recession-proof. As the cost of cinematic video tools comes down, the wedding industry that supports it continues to expand.

Demand for a skilled wedding videographer and editor is now greater than ever. This singularly romantic event – the wedding – shot and edited on-time and cinematically, offers happy returns to not only the happy couple but the wedding videographer and editor as well.

Finally, Videomaker has outstanding resources for cinematic wedding videography. The Videomaker forums are rich with questions, comments and advice. The Videomaker Wedding Videography DVD, which recently won a Telly Award, is also available to elevate your art in wedding videography.

Sidebar: Editing – the Extra Steps

Two extra step evaluations can cinematically spring your wedding videos. Both are worthy of consideration as they require very little time and cost.

First: “editor’s inventory” for answers to the following questions. How long are most shots, cuts and transitions? Are they 15 seconds, 30 seconds, or a combination of two to three seconds, mixed with shots varying in length from 10-20 seconds? What is the mix of shot selection? What is the ratio of high angle, low angle, moving steadicam, handheld or static tripod mounted shots? Similarly, what is the ratio of wide, full, medium and closeup shots? Where are the emotional arcs and defining moments?

There are no right answers here. But, if you don’t literally know the answer to each of these editing questions, odds are that cinematic tone, pacing, and storybook ending are lost on the cutting room floor.

Second: ask a colleague to review your “finished” cut. You may be surprised to find that being too close for too long, caused you to overlook minor flaws in the editing.

Mark Jensen is the owner of a video production company specializing in commercial and industrial video. He is also a freelance technical writer.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.

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