Cut It Short: An Editing Primer

[by Pascal Depuhl] Shakespeare must have been thinking about video editing when he penned the words “Brevity is the soul of wit“. There’s a reason it’s called the “cutting room floor”. When you’re editing, you’re trimming individual clips, cutting out whole scenes, shortening; and although it seems counterintuitive, the shorter the piece, the longer it’s going to take to edit it.

Short takes time. Long goes quick. Blaise Pascal wrote it in 1657 “I have made this (letter) longer than usual, because I have not had time to make it shorter.” If you’re new to editing, you’ll quickly find that cutting together a video will take more time than shooting the footage. Our experience in still photography is often quite the opposite. I just finished a 6-day catalog photo shoot, and finished picking the final images by the next morning. A week later I was shooting 3 days of a multi-month motion project, and editing that footage will take me significantly longer than 3 days.

Two suggestions when you start editing.  Even though editing has a pretty steep learning curve, I strongly recommend that you edit your own work, especially when you’re just getting into creating video projects. It’s going to make you a better cinematographer. On the other hand, I strongly recommend that you work with an experienced video editor, especially when you’re just getting into creating video projects. It’s going to make you a better editor.

Edit your own footage – it’ll make you a better cinematographer.

Documentary Film

© Pascal Depuhl A documentary film about Pactec, a non-profit organization operating in Afghanistan, taught lessons about filming and editing.

I remember coming back from filming my first corporate documentary film in Afghanistan in 2012. I shot for 2 ½ weeks and had planned on spending a week to edit the movie. Just for the record, it ended up taking me much, much longer. Editing the footage myself really helped me understand which shots I had missed or screwed up, and where I had to abandon ideas because of non-existent camera angles or bad takes I had not retaken in the field. Those realizations are painful, but I won’t make those same mistakes again.

Collaborate with professional editors – it’ll make you a better editor. I also send pieces of the short film to friends, who are experienced film industry pros, and the feedback I get from them is sometimes painful, but I learn a lot in a very short time. One email was especially painful. It came from a seasoned Hollywood director friend of mine and begins with the words: “For both expediency and brevity’s sake I’m not going to perfume my words…”. Then it goes into several pages of non-perfumed words, ripping apart every scene I’d cut together.  He told me in no uncertain terms where there was significant room for improvement. Honestly, I did not feel happy when I read that email for the first or second time. But when I finally re-edited the film following his suggestions, they dramatically improved the final product. A printout of his email sits on my desk and I reread it from time to time.

In case you’re still not clear about this: Editing is cutting. Here’s a good rule of thumb: First edit your video. Then cut out half of the footage. Once you’ve done that, congratulate yourself and cut it in half again. Now you’re starting to be in the ballpark of how long your motion piece should be. Brevity is the soul of wit, especially when it comes to editing. If you’re looking for a great book on editing, check out In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing by Walter Murch. It’s basically the film editor’s bible.

Miami based photographer Pascal Depuhl has created award winning motion projects since 2012. His cinematography is seen in documentaries for National Geographic, the BBC, Netflix, PBS, and his corporate clients. Brand new to video? Check out Pascal’s talk at WordCamp Miami “How to step up your video” and learn about story, sound, visuals, and edit.

By Pascal Depuhl | Posted: February 18th, 2016 | No comments


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