Secrets of the Aural Edit

Many video viewers wouldn’t recognize jump cut or bad edit if it bit them on the bottom. Everybody, however, notices bad audio. They might not know that it is, but they know that something is definitely wrong.

For this reason, videomakers should always edit with their ears before editing with their eyes. Human ears are a lot more sensitive to mistakes than eyes are. And it’s a great deal easier to fool the eye than the ear.

Television is an audio-driven medium. Many people listen to commercial television without watching it. Try it sometime. Turn the picture down during Roseanne and “see” if you miss any of the jokes. Turn the picture off during Days of Our Lives and I’ll bet you won’t miss one sexy dalliance or angry crazed diatribe.

Many TV professionals refer to television as “radio with pictures,” a perfectly accurate description. The audio carries most of the information, plot, emotional tone, and character; the picture just backs it up.

Amateurishly edited tapes are marked by ragged jumps in audio quality and audio continuity. Lines repeat or glaring gaps exist where there’s no audio at all.

Listen Up

The fact that audio is at least as important as the video should be kept in mind throughout the editing process.

No matter what type or complexity of editing setup you use, you’ll discover that by editing with your ears first to maintain a high-quality soundtrack, you’ll greatly increase the professionalism of your finished tapes.

Many of the newer VCRs targeted for the so-called “prosumer” market possess audio and video dubbing capabilities. Some of the more high-end machines even offer two-channel audio dubbing allowing you to dub in and independently control each channel of audio separately.

This is very different from stereo dubbing, which dubs in a single stereo audio signal but doesn’t let you control it independently.

Don’t let your equipment get in the way of correctly editing your soundtracks. Even if you have only a simple VCR without advanced editing capabilities, you can improve the quality of your edits by following some simple suggestions.

Hear’s What to Do

Say you have a typical scene, with two people walking and talking. You’re shooting with one camcorder, and you want to cut back and forth between them as they speak.

If you shot everything with editing ease in mind, you left a 10-second gap between the end of one line of dialogue and the start of the next. But if you’re like me and most, the lines follow each other with annoying rapidity.

Fortunately, you didn’t forget to record each actor listening, invaluable for cutaways.
When editing, it might seem obvious to cutwhen the lips begin to move. But by using your ears, you’ll cut instead where there’s a clean and clear gap between words. The visuals may not work perfectly but the audio will sound good. You can always insert a shot of the listener to smooth over visual problems.

When you’re reviewing your edit, close your eyes and listen carefully. Does it sound good? Does it make sense?

If it doesn’t sound perfect, do it again until you get it right. You need an appropriate pause between statements, one that sounds natural. In a love scene, you might have long pregnant pauses between each line. In an argument, the lines might crash hard on the heels of one another.

Voice Jump

Sometimes we accidently record different voices at different sound levels, one voice having more power than the other.

You can remedy that problem by either amplifying the quieter voice or reducing the loud one. Once again, listen to the final edit to ensure that all voices come across appropriately. Big jumps in voice level are yet another indication of amateur videomaking, something you want to avoid.

If you followed the rules of good videomaking, you recorded several minutes of background sound. With the right audio equipment and mixers, you can blend in this ambient sound at the same level throughout your tape. This will provide a sense of audio continuity that will help fool the ears.

If you have a VCR that allows simple insert editing, you can patch in video cutaways over the awkward visual moments-providing you remembered to shoot cutaways while on location.

For example, after editing for sound quality and continuity, you discovered an ugly jump cut while the actors are walking, or that one of the actors “accidently” made an obscene gesture towards the director.

Audio Salvage

A long shot of the two actors walking inserted over the existing audio can cover up the bad video. Of course, you’ll want to make sure the audience can’t see their lips moving.

I’ve found that even if the lips are moving, if you use a short enough cut-away the audience will never notice. You can use an extreme closeup of hands or feet to cover the error.

If they’re discussing the beautiful mountains in the distance, insert a shot of the mountains. If you shot some video of them listening to each other, use these closeups to cover video jumps.

If you own a super-duper, semi-professional editing setup capable of video dubs and separate two-channel audio dubs you’re really equipped for quality audio/videomaking. After you finish editing for audio, inserting video cutaways to cover any gaps or jumps, use the second audio channel to mix in music or ambience.

No matter what types or models of decks you use, you can greatly increase the professionalism and presentation quality of your finished tapes by remembering to edit with your ears.

Mark Shapiro is a southern california videomaker and creator of a popular cable TV comedy program.

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

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