How to Use A-Roll Effectively

The concept of editing, whether it’s a news piece, documentary, or corporate video, is fairly straightforward. First you assemble your A-Roll, which consists of all the sound bites you want to use in your video. Second, you add B-Roll on top of all the interviews, in order to illustrate what the subjects are talking about. Third, you cut between the two.

That’s the concept. The reality is that editing is an art, full of nuance. Each cut has a purpose and the way in which cuts are assembled can have a dramatic impact on viewer emotions.

The question then is, “How does an editor know when to cut?” Or “Why does an editor make a cut at a certain point?” 

Cutting away from a b-roll shot to a talking head shouldn’t be an afterthought. You shouldn’t place your interview subject on the screen just because you ran out of b-roll. Like every other edit in your piece, there should be a reason behind that edit. Why are we looking at your interview subject at this particular moment?

Here are a few of my own guidelines for when you need to show your interview subject: 

Introductions and Re-Introductions 

When introducing an interview subject for the first time, you definitely want to show who’s speaking.

Sometimes an interview subject is heard first, then seen. An editor may choose to insert the subject’s voice underneath a sequence of b-roll shots. Then the editor will cut to the talking head, so viewers can put a face with a voice. If this is the way you choose to introduce your subject to the viewer, be sure not to wait too long before showing the viewer who it is who’s speaking.

In situations where a variety of interview subjects appear throughout the piece (like in the case of a feature-length documentary), you will want to re-introduce your audience to your subject so viewers don’t get confused as to who’s speaking (“Who’s this guy again? I know I saw him earlier.”) This is especially true of you’re editing for television and you know when commercial breaks will occur. It may be necessary to reintroduce viewers to your interview subjects after the commercial breaks.

Emotional Beats 

I usually cut to a talking head when the subject is particularly emotional when discussing a certain topic. Real human emotion resonates with viewers, so if your subject is distraught, upset, teary-eyed, etc. it’s a good idea to show that on screen, but be strategic about it. Show it too often and the weight of that emotion dissipates greatly.

Personal Quirks 

Sometimes you can learn a lot about an individual based on certain facial expressions. A subject may tell you one thing, but his or her face may tell you something completely different. If this inner conflict can be seen on the subject’s face, let’s see it.

You might have an interview subject who smiles after finishing a thought, or scowls, or seems conflicted, or pensive. If so, let’s see it.

It’s great when you can glean information from an interview subject about a certain topic, but it’s better if you can both learn the information and also get a sense of how the person feels about what was just said.

Emphasis

When viewers watch a video, they’re taking in a lot of stimulus at once. They’re listening to an interview. They’re watching b-roll images. They’re reading subtitles, signage, or graphic elements. It could be easy to miss certain details, like an important point your interview subject is trying to make. So, if you really want to make sure your audience doesn’t miss a particular detail, strip everything else away and simply show your subject. Just as a writer will use bold or italic words to focus a reader’s attention, so too can an editor emphasize a point by showing the interview subject on screen.

Bridging Two Story Beats

Editors might choose to show their interview subject as a bridge between two story beats. One chapter is concluding, another one is beginning. So, audiences might see a talking head on screen making one final point before the story moves in a new direction.

Remember, when you’re editing, think strategically about when to show your interview subject. Make sure there’s a good reason for it. In fact, you might not need to show your interview subject at all. In the HBO documentary Come Inside My Mind, which details the life and career of Robin Williams, viewers never seen Robin Williams actually sitting in an interview telling his story, even though it’s his voice narrating the film. I’ve edited short docs before where I never show the interview subject. There just wasn’t a good reason to.

Have any other editing tips? Leave them in the Comments section below.

The Benefits of Vertical Video

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Vertical video. Among video professionals, the term may provoke feelings of frustration, anger, or disgust. Often it's been mocked and ridiculed as an invalid format choice (see below).

But vertical video is a preferred format for platforms like Snapchat and Instagram Stories. Already, vertical video has been added to my list of deliverables. Whenever I finish editing a project, I'm asked to create different versions, including one oriented vertically for social media. 

Last night I came across a thread on Twitter from Anthony Monteleone, a video editor I follow. He made some very good, rational arguments regarding vertical video I felt they were worth sharing and discussing. 

One immediate ramification I've seen in my own work with vertical video is that footage needs to be acquired in 4K. If you need to deliver vertically, it's nice to have that extra resolution to play around with when you have to scale up and crop in. Otherwise, the video can start to pixelate rather quickly.

What are your thoughts about the validity of vertical video? Continue the discussion in the Comments section below.

Can You Say 'No' to a Client?

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There you are, sitting in a meeting with your client, listening as she reads a list of revisions she wants for the video you are currently producing. With each item, you can't help but cringe a little on the inside, because you're really proud of where the edit stands. When she finally finishes the list she looks up at you, asking for your input. What do you say? Can you tell your client "No?"

The short answer is, "No."

Never come right out and tell your client you refuse to do something. That looks bad on you and you can really damage the relationship you have with your client by doing so. No one wants to work with a difficult person. However there are a few things you can try the next time you're faced with a challenging approval process:

  • Let the client say "No" for you. It's incredibly important that you have a written contract with your client before work starts. And that contract should always include a clause about how many rounds of revisions you're willing to do before the price of the video goes up (usually three). After all, you've budgeted a certain amount of your own time in the original price of the video. If no revision limit has been set, you might find out that you're spending a lot more time on the video that you originally thought. When your client knows ahead of time that she only has three rounds of revisions, she will be more strategic about edits she wants you to make. Then, after those rounds are used up, she might be the one telling you "no," when you politely remind her that any more revisions will cost more money.
  • No, but... There's a central idea in the world of improv acting. It's called "Yes, and..." It means that you should always take what your improv partners give you and run with it, adding to it, building from it. Never close yourself off to your fellow actors, or the scene will have nowhere to go. I would say that when it comes to client revisions, turn this concept into "No, but..." If a client asks you to make an edit to a video that you know for certain won't work, don't just say "No," but instead offer up an alternative. Find out what the central problem is and come up with a solution that the client will like. "I can't do that, but I can do THIS..." For example, you might not be able to crop in on a shot like the client is asking you to do, but you may have another camera angle with the right composition that will work to the client's satisfaction. Always offer up an alternative. After all, you and the client both want the video to be its best.
  • Show, don't tell. Sometimes it's difficult for clients to understand why a certain edit choice won't work, until they see it on the screen. So, if a client is insistent that you make the changes she wants (and you know that it won't work), make the edit anyway. Then when the client sees it on the screen, she'll understand why it was best to leave it alone.

These are three ideas that might help you the next time you're facing a challenging approval process. But, here's one last thing to remember:

You are working for the client.

Ultimately, they are the ones paying you and they are the ones you need to please. Don't take their notes as an attack on your personally, or on the caliber of your work. Revisions come with the territory. Take it all in stride and always maintain a professional, courteous attitude. It will help you a lot in your career.

Do you have any post-production stories to share? What challenges have you faced when working with a client? How did you resolve them? Leave your thoughts in the Comments section.

Avid Tutorial - How to Set Default Font Sizes

By default, the font size in Avid Media Composer for both your Project window and for all of your bins is 11. If you're like me, you need a slightly larger font size so your eyes aren't strained. However, you don't want to go through the trouble of adjusting the font size for all of your bins one at a time. Fortunately, there is a way to set the default font size for all of your bins and the project window. Watch the video to find out.

  1. At the top of your Project window, find the Settings button and click it.
  2. Scroll down until you find the settings for Interface (or just type "i" on your keyboard to jump all the way down to all settings options that start with "i").
  3. Double click Interface to pull up the Interface window
  4. Make sure the boxes next to "Override all Bin font sizes" and "Override Project font size" are checked.
  5. Type in your desired font size for each.
  6. Click "Apply" in the bottom right corner of the Interface window.

That's it. What other Avid Media Composer tips do you have? Leave them in the Comments section.