“The film is made in the editing room. The shooting of the film is about shopping, almost. It's like going to get all the ingredients together, and you've got to make sure before you leave the store that you got all the ingredients. And then you take those ingredients and you can make a good cake - or not.” (Philip Seymour Hoffman)
In my first year at university, I shot and edited my first non-fiction film, a short about a graphic designer.
I distinctly remember the moment where, several sequences into the edit where I was experimenting with creating different tones for the film that I realized that, with the limited material I had, I could present this artist in any light I wanted.
OK, maybe not any light, but somewhere close.
I set out and created two edits - one that I think captured his personality and profession the best and one that made him look very, very quirky. I knew at the time that the second edit wasn’t going anywhere. But I wanted to see how far I could push it.
It was that day that I learnt in crafting a nonfiction piece you craft a fiction.
All very film-theory. But what I want to point out is that this, I think, is the double-edged sword of editing and why some people, like me, absolutely love it, and why some people (even film-makers I know) hate it.
Because with all these possibilities, where do we start? How do we take a few hours worth of shot material and compress it into a few minutes?
Luckily, for testimonials, there’s a very easy workflow, that I’ll share with you in this blogpost. Of course, you’ll still have to make a lot of key decisions, but following this workflow will ease the pain and speed up the process considerably.
Before we get stuck in, let’s talk about editing software briefly, as without it, our film isn’t going to get very far.
If you just want to tip your toes into editing there’s a lot of free/budget versions on the market. To be honest, I haven’t used any of these packages in years, so my knowledge of them is outdated. The two obvious ones - Windows Movie Maker and iMovie, are still readily available and are a good place to start. Looking up best free editing software via Google for the current year is another option if you fancy shopping around.
For those of you feeling a bit more adventurous I would take Adobe Premiere or Apple’s Final Cut for a spin.
There will be more of a learning curve - a few nights sat in front of Youtube will be required. But they’ll give you plenty of room to grow and the basics really don’t take long to master. Both have free trials available too, so you can give them a spin before committing. And now that Adobe’s software is cloud-based, you can pay for Premiere monthly, which makes it very affordable.
Remember, before your testimonial, shoot some office videos to experiment with the post-production workflow and learn a few skills. Working alongside some tutorials and you’ll pick up a lot and be better prepared for this edit.
Ok, so you’ve got through some practise shoots, a few nights of Youtube tutorials and shot your testimonial. The memories now feel like a cheesy action training montage (complete with cheesy, over the top 80’s rock) and you’re ready to cut your film.
Now let’s talk about the workflow.
The key to editing really, is being organized. To start with, I spend a good bit of time importing my footage into my editing software of choice into organized folders (or bins as they are known inside a lot of editing packages).
So my footage goes into one folder, sound into another, sequences into another… you get the picture. Trust me, it’s not the most glamorous of jobs but setting up your editings in this way will save you loads of time later, as well as a few headaches.
Next I sit down and have a look through all the shots, to get familiar with what I’ve got. Sometimes I rename the files the camera has given the shots, to a little description of the shot. Giving your shots a star rating out of five can also be helpful, so you can locate your best images quickly later.
I also label my shots with type of shot (CS - close-up, WS - wide-shot, etc.), I find it helpful if I want something particular at any point in the edit
Now we’ve seen all the shots, forgot about them for a bit and let your subconscious mull them over.
Next we’re going to locate our interviews and drop these onto their own sequence. At this point if you’ve recorded audio on a separate device, sync this to these clips. Sequences, for those that don’t know, are the blank space we build our films onto.
Rather then try and build just one sequence I like to build a few (i.e. interviews, best shots, opening of the film, ending of the film) and then stick those into one big sequence later on. I find this makes an edit less intimidating and means you can work in an order that suits you, bouncing back and forth between sequences to keep things fresh.
It also means there’s less pressure on you to build something that looks great straight away, from scratch.
Once you’ve put your interviews onto their own sequence, watch through them. Don’t take notes on the first watch (you can do this later if you like), again just get familiar with your footage.
At this point I start going through the interview and copying what I think are the strongest parts onto a new sequence, to create a little talking head video of the best bits.
Now let’s take a quick break from editing. In order to make the video engaging we need a piece of music to cut to. I like to choose this before doing any editing of the main film, as once you’ve got your track it will dictate the pace of your film and help make a lot of the editing decisions for you.
There’s a loads of options online for free and paid tracks. I often use Youtube’s library for free stuff and PremiumBeat for paid stuff. Again shop around.
Never use copyrighted material. Ever. You’ll risk getting your video pulled online, or having adverts pasted over it. Plus you’ll never truly own the piece. Worse — you could get sued.
Once we’ve got our music, let’s create an opening to the film. Put your music in a new sequence (call this one Opening or First Cut) and lay-down your best opening shots to set the scene.
Now there comes a point in edit where you just have to get stuck in. You can create logs of all your footage, deliberating endlessly over which order it will work best in.
Don’t do this. Once you’ve got your music, interviews synced and opening created, dive right in. You will get more familiar with your film and footage by working on it. Find a soundbite that makes for an engaging opening and then run with it.
Build your choice interview clips into your first cut (building the backbone) then throw your cut-away shots (the fat) over the top.To use another cooking analogy, throw in your key ingredients and then sprinkle in your spices.
Listen to key points in your chosen music track and think how they may work with key bits of your interview.
Don’t worry about quality right now, or everything being perfect. When we write, we often go through a few drafts before we’re happy with something. Film is no different. View this first attempt as an exercise. Set yourself a few hours and just see what you can build.
Copy your sequence onto a new sequence and cut it up and try something different. You can always jump back to your old one later if you want.
Getting distance from an edit after cutting for awhile is a must. Sleep on it, forgot about it for a few days if you’re not in a rush, then get back to it. Review your sequences. Maybe one will stand-out as best, maybe a section of one and a different section of another will.
At this point you can really start to create something that will resemble your final piece. Pull your sequences together and start work on a solid first version, remembering to tighten everything as well as build more on top.
Once you’ve done this, export your video (mixing it down into a single video file), send to friends/colleagues for review and then forgot about it until the next day.
Once you’ve got some feedback (and a rest) take a look at the film and start a second cut. Rinse and repeat until you’re happy with your film. When you’re done, upload online and add to your website.
Phew! Now I understand for someone new to film-making these blog-posts may have feel like information overloads at points. Filmmaking is a comprehensive process. But in today’s online world, where a site like Youtube is the second most popular search engine and more and more people are consuming video online, it’s not something that can be ignored.
And remember, there’s a whole wealth of ways to use video for powerful marketing and increased brand awareness. With a few technical skills mastered your videos can give a whole new personality and lease of life to your brand.