How Digital Editing Makes Us Lazy
As some of you may know from reading my recent Tweets, I’ve been busy editing our television series, The House Healers (web site is close to being done). Season 2 is set to start airing on the local cable station in a couple of weeks.
We’re really excited about this season of the show – it’s not only a massive transformation of a couple of severely outdated homes, we’re also going green – doing our part to minimize waste and make the houses environmentally friendly.
I’ve been producing television shows and working in video for the better part of about 20 years now. Back in the old days when I worked at said cable station, I had at any given time 5 to 7 series I was responsible for. All of them required a certain amount of editing.
The Golden Days of Tape
When I started in this business, and for about the first 10 years, I was editing tape to tape, using an edit controller console like this. This type of linear editing had its limitations, to be sure, but I could control up to four Video Tape Recorder (VTR) machines, and run it through an effects switcher so I could do transitions, titles, etc. Audio was also controlled through a separate console. Linear editing was all about timing. There were no timelines, so everything had to be laid on the tape in sequence. Sure, you could go back and insert a shot or overlay some music, but it was no easy feat to remove or add entire sections of the show without costing yourself literally hours and hours of time.
As a result, the way I approached putting together a show was critical to a successful outcome. If I just walked into the edit suite with armfuls of tapes and sat down and started scanning through footage, not only would I be there for days, I’d probably end up with a final piece that was not exactly what I’d intended. Not having a plan going in was a sure fire way to end up with a crappy show.
Lazy is as Lazy Does
Times have changed a LOT since those days of linear editing. In the years I’ve been working in video, editing, from a technology standpoint, is the one thing that has changed the most. Now, assembling a video piece of any kind is simply a matter of dragging and dropping stuff into a timeline, moving things around at will and tweaking until you’re satisfied.
It’s a remarkable change and one that I’ve embraced wholeheartedly. My actual editing time has been reduced probably by half, and the ability for me to apply complex animations, effects, and transitions in an instant still astounds me every day.
There is a downside, however….digital, non-linear editing has made people lazy.
Did I just call you lazy? Well, I mean no disrespect. Let me clarify. Now that the time it takes to edit a piece is so much less, and the ability to slide things around in a project is so much simpler, it’s really easy to run out, capture everything in sight with your camera, then just sit down with hours and hours of footage and then proceed to hunt and peck out a story, right?
If it Ain’t Clear, it Just Ain’t Clear
Sure, anyone can grab a bunch of shots and throw them in a timeline, slap a voice over and some music on and call it a day. Unfortunately, this happens all too often, and ultimately all too often we see shoddy production, poor writing and unwatchable video. I see many examples of this kind of “hunt and peck” editing every day on the Web. The thing is, it’s an easy fix, and you don’t need to be a professional video producer to fix it.
Approaching a video project is like most things. Before you even consider shooting a second of tape, or editing a minute of footage, you need to have the end in mind. Remember that 80/20 rule? Well it applies to video production as much as anything else. 80 percent of your work on a production needs to happen before you even open Final Cut.
To be successful, really successful in what you are trying to accomplish, you must first know what you are trying to accomplish. Whether it’s a simple sit down interview at the local Starbucks, or a feature length documentary, it’s essential that you know the focus of your piece first.
If you don’t do anything else, you need to do two things. Think hard about your audience. Think hard about the story you want to tell. Then write it all down. Pen and paper works for me. You’ll have plenty of questions, that’s normal. You won’t be able to answer them all right away, but that’s okay. Write them down.
It’s going to take you some time. It’s going to be kind of frustrating because you don’t have all the answers. But the end result of all this thinking and writing is that you will know what you are trying to do. You’ll have an idea of the story, and how you want to approach it. Of course, you want people to be able to tell their own story. Of course there are things that you don’t want to control, that you want to just let flow naturally when you get to your shoot. But having a plan is not about having control, it’s about having focus. It’s about making sure that you capture all of the moments you need to capture and leave the irrelevant stuff behind.
Focus. Know your story. Keep these things in mind as you go through the process of shooting, logging, scripting, then editing. I guarantee that once you get to the cutting room, you will have shot just what you need, and you’ll spend a lot less time figuring out what you’re trying to do.
Technology of all kinds has a tendency to make us want to take shortcuts. But there are some shortcuts you just shouldn’t take. Being a lazy editor is one of them.