Editing guidelines: Pacing

The above scene from Halloween (1978) goes on a lot longer than one would expect, to create suspense. Also why did she TURN HER BACK ON MICHAEL MEYERS??!!!

The above scene from Halloween (1978) goes on a lot longer than one would expect, to create suspense. Also why did she TURN HER BACK ON MICHAEL MEYERS??!!!



Many times students (and professionals) will have rough cuts (preliminary film edit) that are way too long. On many occasions I have seen student projects that could be cut down by half. While there are some types of films that use longer durations to communicate ideas and to experiment with the form of filmmaking, you do not necessarily want your audiences to come out of a film and say "it was kind of slow"

editing for commercials (montage)

Commercials tend to use a lot of rapid cuts where we see familiar images or those that create impressions like fun times, excitement, love of family, machismo, femininity, patriotism, or professionalism. If you look at commercials for a while, you can see that the majority of them aren't asking the viewer to think or be informed about a product, but fly by quickly creating a general idea. Because the clips in videos are either clear signifiers or familiar, they can be up for just a second or two. 

Cutting Tight for quick witted dialogue 

For scenes like this the best editing approach is to cut tight scenes without becoming too “cutty.” This means taking out unnecessary pauses between actors’ delivery of dialogue lines. Sometimes it means tightening the gaps within dialogue sentences through the use of carefully placed cutaways. It may also mean losing redundant lines of dialogue, after the director has reviewed your cut.

Please read this article and watch this tutorial

On the other hand, when you see something unexpected the shots will be longer

Check out below, when the group meets Eleven on Stranger Things

The cutting at the end of the scene gives the viewer and the characters enough time to take in "Eleven" and try to figure them out. 

Slower editing is appropriate for a quiet scene that relies on location and ambience. Check out the opening scene from "Paris Texas" below.

Many of my students have thought that suspense, the types of scenes that make you want to jump out of your seat, are created with fast cutting, but the opposite is true.

Check out this suspenseful scene from Twin Peaks Season 3

Varying Tempo Through Editing

It is unlikely that a production will have all slow or fast cutting, but there will be naturalistic shifts in tempo. An editor can use music, b-roll or even parallel stories (cutting back and forth between different storylines) to allow for changes in pace and content. 

The way you start your production is important

You want to make sure you grab the audience from the beginning and get them connected to a character, question, or conflict right away. 

When television shows are broadcast with commercials they are often structured as acts. A lot of tension will build up at the end of a 15 minute act in order to insure that viewers will come back after commercial break.

When telling a story you want to start off with strong content and build interest until the story peaks at the end

"Emphasize the B-Roll. Howard Hawks, an eminent American film maker, said: "A great movie is made with cutaways and inserts." We've previously noted that these commonly go under the heading of B-roll footage."  --http://www.cybercollege.com/tvp055.htm

b-roll in documentary

"In a dramatic production the B-roll might consist of relevant details (insert shots and cutaway shots) that add interest and information.

One critical type of cutaway, especially in dramatic productions, is the reaction shot -- a close-up showing how others are responding to what's gong on. Sometimes this is more telling than holding a shot of the person speaking.

For example, would you rather see a shot of the reporter or the person being interviewed when the reporter springs the question: "Is it true that you've just been caught embezzling a million dollars?"

The do's and don'ts of interviewing can be  found here.

Check out the effective use of b-roll in the film Thin Blue Line

By using strong supplementary footage the amount of information conveyed in a given interval increases. More information in a shorter time results in an apparent increase in production tempo.

The A-roll in interviews typically consists of a rather static looking "talking head." In this case the B-roll should consist of scenes that support, accentuate, or in some way visually elaborate on what's being said.

For example, in doing an interview with an inventor who has just perfected a perpetual-motion machine we would expect to see his creation in as much detail as possible, and maybe even the workshop where it was built.

This B-roll footage would be more important to see than the A-roll (talking head) interview footage.  

B-Roll is vital to documentary and news work for the following reasons

  • It illustrates what the interviewee is saying
  • It allows the possibility of cutting a talking head interview
  • It provides visual interest

LEts say you are interviewing a student athlete at their home...

If like most people they pause to collect their thoughts, or say "ummm" a lot you will need to edit those aspects of the interview out. If you do not, then there will be a jump cut in the interview and the edits will become noticeable and rough. 



What are some shots that you could use as B-roll for a segment on a student athlete?

•Footage from a game

•Shots from practice



•Any more?

Check out this promotional video for Soul Cycle and think about the way b-roll is used

B-roll shots in threes

  • ™When the scene calls for cutaway inserts, it feels right to use three on a row. Not a single shot, not two, but three.
  • These should be at least 1.5-2 seconds long (or longer). An example might be when a character enters the room and looks around.
  • ™It mimics our real-world experience of moving our head around and seeing different aspects of the same surroundings.

™B-Roll tutorial here

Guideline number 6: The final editing guideline is: If in doubt, leave It out.

If you don't think that a particular scene adds needed information, leave it out.

By including it, you will probably slow down story development, blur the focus of the production and sidetrack the central message.

For example, a TV evangelist paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy network time. He tried to make his message as engrossing, dramatic, and inspiring as possible.

But, during the message the director saw fit to cutaway to shots of cute, fidgety kids, couples holding hands, and other engaging things going on with the audience.

So, instead of being caught up in the message, members of the TV audience were commenting on, or at least thinking about, "that darling little girl on her father's shoulders," or whatever.

There may have been a time and place for this type of cutaway, but it was not in the middle of the evangelist's most dramatic and inspiring passages.

So, unless an insert shot, cutaway, or segment adds something significant to your central message, leave it out!"


Five Rules for Editing News Pieces

A recent study done at Columbia University and published in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronics analyzed the editing of news pieces.

It was found that if a set of postproduction rules is used, viewers would be able to remember more information. In addition, the rules make the stories more compelling to watch.

Although the rules centered on news pieces, many of the principles apply to other types of production. The rules are condensed and paraphrased below.

1. Select stories and content that will elicit an emotional reaction in viewers.

2. If the piece has complex subject matter, buck the rapid-fire trend and make sure that neither the audio nor the video is paced too quickly.

3. Try to make the audio and video of equal complexity. However, if the video is naturally complex, keep the audio simple to allow the video to be processed.

4. Don't introduce important facts just before strong negative visual elements. By putting them afterwards the audience will have a better chance of remembering them.

5. Edit the piece using a strong beginning, middle, and end structure.  Keep the elements as concrete as possible.

OK, I know it's horrible footage, but above is my favorite news segment. It's from 1988, and it showed crazy fans of Morrissey and started with a perfect hook from the newscasters to make them relatable to the demographic who watched the nightly news.