My Take on Editing

30 Aug

By: Beau McCombs

Video Editing - Beau McCombs

Beau Editing

Editing is sort of like looking through your boss’ entire music library and making a playlist for a very specific person. It’s like decorating a house, knocking out a wall, and adding another room you didn’t think was in the budget. It’s like making a photo album….actually, it’s probably more like that than the other two, but those are still pretty valid.

So it’s like a photo album in that you took a thousand photos at prom and can fit only one hundred into the album. That photo doesn’t work because you had something stuck in your teeth, this group shot of everyone jumping in midair needs to go on the last page, the candid, hilarious snapshot of the principal shooting a dirty look to the camera needs to be somewhere in the middle, this one’s good, this one’s better, this one never needs to be seen by anyone, anywhere, ever. It’s like that, but more grown up and professional. You show a stranger the album, and they know what happened, the sequence of events that took place. But YOU know everything that happened in between, and that is one of many reasons I love my job.

Sometimes editing is very straightforward, like a 30 second commercial with someone speaking directly to the camera. The script is written to last 30 seconds on the nose, we shoot with a stopwatch in hand, I take it to the edit suite, look over every take the director approved, and cut it together. Simple, straightforward, to the point. These are fun, because they are exercises in efficiency. There are 30 frames, or images, per one second of video (film is 24 frames per second). Those commercials cannot go one frame over thirty seconds, so if an approved take runs 20 frames long, I have to find 20 frames that we don’t need in the spot. It’ll usually be at either the very beginning, or a breath at the beginning of a take, or somewhere. If it’s there, I’ll find it.

Other times, it’s a lot more free-flowing, like in online promotional videos where there’s interviews as well as voice-over. These are equally fun and challenging for me. After the shoot, I’ll sit with the director with a pen and pad, and we’ll talk about what we feel is the theme of the piece, what major points we need to hit in under three minutes. There’s a lot of sketching, nodding, and laughing, because we have to come to a point of agreement on where it’s going and where it could go. This is also one of the fun parts of my job, because I have all of these influences that the director is unfamiliar with and vice versa, i.e. I get an idea for a text transition from a late nineties British sci-fi comedy sitcom (of which he’s never heard), or he would like to emulate a style from a black and white TV show that aired before I was born…But we earnestly listen to and trust each other to create something that is going to hold true to our clients needs, as well as captivate their target audience.

So the director will leave and I will watch the footage, pen and pad in hand. I’ll start grouping different sections of interviews into categories that match up to themes and points I’ve written down. I usually figure out the beginning and the end rather quickly, and I’ll have them sitting there on a time-line with a full two and a half minutes of black screen in between. I’ll ask myself, what is the most efficient, informative, and entertaining way to get from the beginning to the end? I start to put the pieces together, but there’s no real science to it. It’s all feeling, really. This person says something about trusting co-workers in this interview, and this other person mentions the reliability of their boss. I put the two shots next to each other, and it feels right. I suppose one might call to question the checklist a cut must hit on before it “feels right”, and for me, it’s based on every movie/tv show/commercial I’ve ever seen… starting with the first film I recall seeing in theaters (the re-release of Fantasia) and ending with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, which I saw a couple days ago… I don’t have them all at the forefront of my consciousness, but they’re all there, all challenging me to do something better and different, to pave new ground. If I’m not moved by the cut I’ve made, then I’ll try something else. If it’s my very best and it works, then I move on, digging for any key set of words that will really drive the message home.

This is what I get to do, every day. Think outside the box, make art, surprise and inspire people by telling stories and showing them great sights. Whether it’s a 30 second hair spot shot in our studio, or a 3 minute promotional video for a medical company, the goal will always be the same: that the viewer enjoys watching the finished product as much as I enjoyed cutting it together.


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