A Work in Progress
Are you like me, a work in progress? Have you ever attended an evening class or done a Open University Course? Perhaps you’ve done some online tutorials.
Five years ago, back in 2012, e-Learning began to take off big time. The acronym M.O.O.C entered the lexicon. It stands for a massive open online course and these MOOCS began to offer easy and open access to a whole array of professional courses via the internet. At the heart of their offering is the usual set of traditional course materials – including filmed lectures and reading lists – but they also quickly gained a reputation for building online communities through forums and social media. So, distant learning MK II?
The closest that I have come to experiencing a MOOC is my current participation in the recently launched “Inside the Edit” – a professional online course aimed at producing elite video editors. I don’t think the course is particularly massive and its certainly not free, but it is having a massive impact on my videography skills, and worth every penny of the £40 direct debit that I pay out every month.
I am just over a third of a way through the course and already I would have to say, that it has been a humbling, revelational and transformational experience for me. I used to kid myself that I was one of the best documentary film makers in the West Country and would market myself as a truly professional videographer. Today I realise that I am actually a “work in progress,” with still some way to go.
Don’t get me wrong, I am no rookie. I have been on short courses on camera skills, video editing, professional lighting and the like. I have also acquired Master Membership of the Institute of Videographers a number of years ago. I have also read numerous books, subscribed to video magazines and sat in many lectures at BVE Expo. I have been filming since I was 16 and owned a cine camera and edited mechanically with a viewer and splicer. So the grass has not completely grown under my feet; I’ve just rested on my laurels a bit, which is not a good thing to have done, and neither is the mixing of metaphors.
It was this year at BVE 2017 at the Excel Centre, London that I sat in on a free lecture given by a professional video editor and the creator of “Inside the Edit,” Paddy Bird. I was transfixed as he walked us through a typical tutorial live, as it were. The scales were instantly removed from my eyes as it dawned on me that I had learned to be an editor like most other editors – intuitively!
I am largely self-taught. In truth I possessed little knowledge of the theory and grammar of video editing. I had been fumbling in the dark, oblivious to all the trade secrets that professional editors worth their salt use every day in reality TV, music videos, drama features and advertising. I may have impressed some who have watched my video montages down the years, but in truth, I want to go back to the editing suite and re-cut or take them offline altogether.
No one ever told me that I was just a mediocre videographer apart, that is from AGB, the last headteacher I worked for. Andrew said that he was under-whelmed with some work I had done for the school and advised me to brush up my video skill set. Although I came up with a good repost to save face, I knew in my heart that he was right. I was hurting and I probably began to question his parentage in my mind. But all credit to the man! Real leadership. He also happens to have a media background in the City.
To be fair, Andrew went on to put his (the school’s) money where his mouth was and paid for me to have some 1:1 Lighting tuition from “Lighting Matters,” as part of my post teaching support package.
“So five months into the MOOC and what have I learned?” Well, for the first few weeks I waded through 35 hours of rushes that Paddy Bird filmed for a documentary, that comprises the basis for the editing course. The footage follows professional photographer (and Paddy’s brother in law) Anthony Epes, as he rises early and captures the dawn in London, Paris and Venice. We also see the behind the scenes: creating a Crowdfunding campaign, preparing for photographic exhibitions and a whole host of humdrum daily routines derived from running a business.
I have learned so much from Anthony about how he uses light in his photography. Put differently, he photographs the light as it presents itself on objects, people, buildings, and cityscapes. Timing is all, he reminds us, and the window of opportunity may be limited to between 5 and 20 seconds. I have witnessed the need for patience to wait for the deep reds and purples that make for amazing colours before sunrise. I have appreciated Anthony’s eve for a picture and the importance of shot composition – lamp post left; building on the right and sunrise in the background. Light on the water can also be amazing. “When the sun shines through” Anthony says “watch where and what the rays hit.”
Likewise from analysing the rushes I could see the value of using the zoom lens on manual rather than servo zoom. Whereas I would rush around at a wedding trying to get separate, distinct, short, shots from different angles; Paddy just let the camera run and roll all the time. Quick whip pans and zooms help with ref-raming the shot quickly and will give the editor so much more choice and variety of frame-size shots and audion to play with at the editing bench. I also hadn’t appreciated that in reality tv, just how much repetition of interview questions there are or how many takes of walking into a shot and out again or meeting a quests. There is so much stage management.
Once I started the MOOC in earnest, I felt that I had got to know Paddy and Anthony quite well. When it came to the jargon that was part of the Introductory chapter, I felt that I was on firmer ground – though there were one or two new ones on me. How many are you familiar with my following notes?
1. Rushes / footage / media – shots from camera.
2. Shooting ratio – how much was shot versus duration of the film. 60 seconds of commercial and 20 minutes of rushes results in a shooting ration of 20:1. Reality TV has a ratio generally of 100:1. You don’t shoot in the order of the final sequence, but when people, locations and logistics are available and right. An edit is a re-ordering of these used shots.
3. Interviews – participants are filmed; sometimes the footage is referred to as a sync.
4. Pieces to Camera (PTCs) – presenters’ pre-written or rehearsed monologues.
5. B – roll – shots showing the subject of our scene, be it a person, place or object. Often they are referred to as wallpaper shots as they are used to illustrate a scene and cover a variety of errors.
6. Cutaways – B roll shots that are used to hid cuts in the sync. Cutting a sink and taking bits out will result in jump cuts. The cutaways hide the jump and are usually descriptive of what the subject is talking about.
7. Voiceover – describes what going on or to reinforces a series of concepts that can be linked.
8. Transitions – visual effects to move from one scene to another; most common ones are cross dissolve or fade up or down to black.
9. Stings – rapid graphical shot transitions; used to get a scene or location. These are used a lot on entertainment shows and in documentaries.
10. Actuality – footage of people talking but not being interviewed. They are often bblivious to the camera.
11. Pick up shot – an essential shot filmed after the main action of the scene – the are often a close-up and this B roll is used at the end of the footage.
12. Shot names – WS, CU, ECU, profile, pan, tilt, track, slo-mo, freeze frame and time lapse.
After that we are launched into some of the initial concepts re. the editing process. Bird makes it clear that editing involves 4 key aspects:
1. Creating a narrative – where we take everything that’s been given us, then take out the bad, keep all the good and finish off by moulding the footage into the best possible version of itself.
2. Creative subtraction – here we’re creating art by taking the non essential elements away.
3. Multiple versions of right – editing is a mixture of subjective and objective decisions. There are multiple versions of the right edit as there is no perfect scene.
“Editing is a state of mind not a bit of software, button or short key cuts (these are mere tools). Editing is created in the mind and in our heads and transferred to the timeline via the tools.”
Paddy then offers some really helpful organisational advice with regard to setting up a project and the first layer of organisation: folders or bins. These are the notes I made as I watched the tutorial depicting the use of the bins for:
1. Rushes / footage bin – all of the material that has been shot and ingested goes here. It could 1 or 100 cards’ worth.
2. Sequences bin – different rough cuts, many versions of scenes e.g. cut 1, cut 2 etc. We will have sub bins with the main bins
3. Music bin – new folders or sub bins to categorise the different genre. Clearly labelled with name of track and artist (copyright may need to be cleared).
4. Voice-over bin – VO1, VO2 etc.
5. Effects bin – will include freeze frames, imported JPEGS, animations and include sub categorisation later.
6. Archive bin
7. Duplicates bin – duplicate the sequence you’re working on; always save at every stage.
8. Sound effects bin – imported clips will need to be located inside sub bins.
9. Junk bin – for those files that you don’t need to keep but something inside you says that you might just need to keep it. Never delete anything. Be a hoarder.
Close on the heels of this was a debate between using sub clips or sequence clips. I largely come down on the latter. Then there was some really good housekeeping rules for setting up the timeline. Track laying is so important and something that many editors (including pro editors) ignore and, until now, I include myself also.
V1/A1and 2: Reserved for our synch or A roll tracks (people talking) interviews / actuality – master speech and picture tracks
V2/A3 and 4: B roll – shots that illustrate the sync
A5 and 6: Music
A7 and 8: Voiceover/commentary
A9 and 10: Sound effects
After all this preliminary stuff, we get down to business in the 3rd chapter of tutorials – “Breaking down the B roll and sync. footage.” I used to think that B roll was just cutaway shots that you used to add variety to the timeline. I had never heard of Sequential B roll that is descriptive and Illustrative B roll that is reflective.
All the time we are being encouraged to evaluate the footage in front of us and ask question about it:
– Is it essential to the scene?
– Does it have any interesting action?
– Does the shot have any interesting movement?
– Do I like the aesthetics of the shot?
– What is the duration of the shot?
– Is there more than one version?
– Is it OK technically?
We are then moved on and invited to consider breaking down the sync (pieces to camera). Our aim is to cut out as much as possible – especially the mistakes and repetitions – as we distill the sync down to the core in the most dramatic way and in the shortest time possible. Time is money.
Next stage is sync. pull and cutting down, which is the early stage of our rough cut. Hopefully we’ll be able to reduce the length of the sync. and pull down to 30 seconds for a three minute film. Only then can we start to give it form with a start, a middle and an end. Editing is essentially all about story telling and it involves us constructing the path from start to to the end, and building both sync. and B roll arcs.
For me the best part of each tutorial is when, after all of the theory and grammar, we come to the section entitled “Watch Me Edit.” Paddy shares his thought processes and theories with us first, gives us some questions to think about and then carries out manoeuvres on the timeline. This is what he shared with the online viewers about subtracting sync and B roll (i.e. how to cut out the junk):
Analyse each clip and decide whether it might be used or discarded
Does the tone of the clip fit in with the emotion of the scene?
Is the content great?
Does it blow us away and illustrate the scene?
Think about possible cinematic B roll that you’ll be able to use
Does one sync move well into another? Does it stand on its own two feet?
Maybe the second half of a sync can be used and the first half discarded
Find clips that move things on or round things off
Get rid of repetitive clips – listen to them and pick the best one
Think about whether the clip is good as a first clip (asking a question) middle or end piece?
Avoid incomplete sentences or look for links with other sync
Look for clips that act as a springboard for future syncs
Get rid of clips or partial bits with poor sound, coughing, clearing of throat, pauses etc. Chop bad bits out and leave nice sync elements.
I particularly like the way Paddy uses animated notes to visually illustrate the theory he is going through.
He continually invites us to review our sequences to ensure that the changes and additions that we make really work for a first pass of the timeline enroute to our first staging post – the creation of the initial rough-cut.
“Editing is a state of mind. The scene is cut in our heads as we view the the footage. Cutting without thought is wasting time. Every cut must be done thoughtfully.”
The most fascinating chapter of tutorials for me so far is the fifth. It is entitled Painting Pictures, the Concepts. I have learned and started to apply many lessons I have learned here. Chapter 5.5 explains the three purposes of B roll:
1) To illustrate and emphasise what characters say in as beautiful way as possible
2) To hide visual errors and distractions in the sync e.g. jump cuts, bad eye lines, bad foreground / background
elements and unwanted facial expressions or members of the public messing around behind interviewer.
3) To create visual and dramatic space between the islands of sync; allowing the scene to breathe.
Pace and timing are crucial and I am looking forward to later chapters that are devoted to this. However, before this one has to ensure a good shot flow and get the clips in the right order or arc. So, “What makes a good shot flow?” Paddy asks, before identifying the following 6 key factors:
Pace and timing,
Action within the shots,
Fluidity of movement when cut together,
Logic in shot size changes
Rather like learning to drive, the editor has to adhere to all of these factors simultaneously as well as observe the structure and narrative of the scene.
A WORK IN PROGRESS: HOOPS ON PIRAN FILMS (Version 2)
The above video is a testimonial, that I am continually updating as I advance my way through this course. Recently, I have learnt about the importance of creating space(s) within a scene, so that the audience has a chance to digest what is being said and what is being seen.
So, I am not afraid or ashamed to say that at this stage in my videography career, I am still a work in progress, but I am getting better exponentially all the time. I still have another five chapters of tutorials ahead of me and I have been told that this is where the creative magic is really going to kick in as I learn to finesse the timeline even more.
On reflection I have one major gripe and it is this …….. Why wasn’t the course devised and available 15 years ago?