2 Ways to Hurt Your Final Edit

Video Editing on iMac

There, on the screen, is a single shot of a person talking. Then there’s a cut and we suddenly see another person on the screen, replying to the first person. It’s the all-too-familiar back and forth known as Shot/Reverse Shot. I wrote about it in an earlier post and included some video essays on the subject I found informative. The goal of that post was to illustrate how a filmmaker can convey relevant information about the story’s emotion, the characters, and the tone all in the way he/she chooses to shoot Shot/Reverse Shot.

But did you realize that Shot/Reverse Shot can actually hurt your film? Here are two ways…

Shot/Reverse Shot can ruin the pacing of your edit. I’ve seen dialogue scenes cut so that the person speaking is always on screen. Character #1 says something. CUT. Character #2 responds. CUT. Character #1 speaks. CUT. Character #2 speaks… And back and forth it goes, the cinematic equivalent of a tennis match. Don’t edit your scene like this. We don’t need to see the person who’s speaking. Sometimes there’s more emotional impact from seeing a character react to what’s being said, rather than seeing the character who’s speaking. In fact, in comedy, it’s often funnier to see the reaction of the person who hears the punchline, rather than seeing the person who delivers it (Just watch any episode of 30 Rock).

Shot/Reverse Shot can limit your creativity. Locking two actors down on marks and then simply cutting between two over-the-shoulder shots is ubiquitous and often unavoidable when making films. But relying solely on this approach can really limit your creativity when it comes to blocking a scene. It might be liberating to know that you don’t actually have to shoot dialogue scenes this way, You can move the actors around in the space. You can move the camera. You can lock the camera down in a two-shot and simply let the actors play out the scene. You can do all of the above. The point is, be creative when blocking your scenes. Go back and watch classic films from the 1940s-1950s…

  • Notice how the camera will often follow characters throughout the space.

  • Notice how the camera lingers on a two-shot, or three-shot and simply let the actors work.

  • Notice how a close-up two-shot will slowly widen out and inconspicuously pan left slightly to reveal a third character entering the room.

If you have the time, you need to watch this video essay that breaks down specific scenes in Jaws and how Spielberg blocked the camera and the actors. If you don’t have time to watch the full 34-minute piece, I suggest watching the scene starting around 8 min. 20 sec. that shows Chief Brody entering his office.

Don’t let Shot/Reverse Shot limit you and ultimately weaken your final film.

Have any other thoughts? Leave them in the Comments.

3 Things to Remember When Scheduling On-Camera Interviews

In an earlier post, I wrote about the mistakes people make when trying to schedule on-camera interviews for their video project. One reader sent this question in response,

Great advice, Clint! Do you find it difficult to secure subjects for a sit-down interview in the midst of their busy schedules? Allotting for the appropriate amount of time and getting colleagues to allocate that time are two totally different challenges.

My answer? Absolutely. You can plan all the time in the world to conduct your interviews, but more often than not, you’re at the mercy of the employee’s actual day-to-day schedule. To help with this, here are three things everyone should think about:

Schedule Interviews In Advance

So many times I've seen company reps pull people for an interview at the absolute last minute and the employees just don't have enough time. Giving the subjects fair warning is not only considerate, but it will give them enough time to plan his or her schedule accordingly.

Try Scheduling the Interview Outside of Peak Hours

This might require coming in earlier or staying later, but if you can schedule your subjects for an interview when their schedules are more accommodating, then it will be better for everyone involved. You will have more time to conduct the interview and the subjects will be more focused on the interview and less worried about all of the things they may be missing back at their offices.

Build Excitement for the Project

The key is to get employees excited about the video, and to help them understand why their role in the piece is important. If employees don't feel integral to the process, it will be easy for them to brush you off. That's why I encourage the video team to get in front of all participants during pre-production; to lay out the vision, get their input, and get them motivated.

What other methods have worked for you when producing promotional videos? Leave them in the Comments.

On-Set Nightmares and Why Honesty is Important

When I was first starting out in film production, I got a job as a set PA for The Rosa Parks Story, a biopic starring Angela Bassett. One of my jobs was wrangling extras while shooting street scenes; placing them on sidewalks and street corners, showing them where to cross, etc.

Now, since this was a period piece, set during the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott of 1955, there were several vintage picture cars on set, most of which had to be driven up and down the streets in the background. The Picture Car Coordinator placed extras in each of the vehicles, instructing them on where to drive. Apparently there was a woman so eager to be in the film that she overstated how knowledgeable she was when it came to driving these vintage cars. You can probably guess what happened.

I was standing on a street corner, just out of frame as the cameras rolled. Then, from off to my left, I remember seeing one of these mid-1950s vehicles come speeding down the street, out of control. It screamed through the intersection right in front of me and sped off to my right where it veered off the road, plowing into a row of bushes. The Picture Car Coordinator and other crew members rushed over to check on the driver. The woman behind the wheel was shaken, but unhurt. However, the situation could have been far more serious.

That incident took place 18 years ago and it still pops into my mind from time to time as a lesson in the importance of being completely honest, not only while on set, but in whatever you do. Never be afraid to ask questions. Never be embarrassed to acknowledge your limitations. People always appreciate truthfulness and I’ve found that they are more than willing to help when you need further instruction. Even today, I’m never hesitant to seek out someone more knowledgeable than me when it comes to questions I have about any facet of film production. That’s how you grow. I’m reminded of a quote I heard recently from a writer and director. He said, “Always be the dumbest person on your team.”

What lessons have you learned while working on set? Leave them in the Comments.

The Biggest Mistakes In Scheduling On-Camera Interviews

There are things in life that are certain - death, taxes, and the fact that your video shoot will fall behind schedule. Despite that inevitability, however, there are things you as a video producer can do to help your production stay on track.

One of the problems I see from less experienced producers is that they consistently underestimate just how long it takes to conduct a sit-down interview. The balancing act between budgeting and scheduling a video production can be tricky. I certainly understand the need to keep costs down (and therefore the temptation to cram as many interviews into a single day as possible), but there is always a point of diminishing returns. If you pack more and more interviews into your day, that only means that you have less and less time to conduct each one. And if you only have 10 minutes with each interview subject, you will only capture superficial, generic sound bites. You just don’t have the time for in-depth, quality thoughts and reflections. I always prefer fewer interviews if it means better quality for my finished video.

So, that’s the first thing you need to think about when scheduling your interviews: more isn’t always better. Your 2-4 minute promotional video doesn’t need 10-20 different interviews subjects to get the point across. Sound bites will end up sounding redundant. Start off by trimming the list of interview subjects. Go for quality rather than quantity.

Second, remember that the interview will always take longer to conduct than you think. Sure, you may think that the actual interview will only take 15 minutes, but what happens when…

  • you find the interview subject is camera shy and isn’t as eloquent as you thought?

  • the subject wants to repeat or rephrase everything he/she says?

  • the subject brings a list of bullet points he/she wants to hit, but keeps forgetting what’s been prepared?

That 15-minute interview has now ballooned to 45 minutes, or perhaps an hour. Now you have three other interview subjects on location waiting around. If you think you only need 15 minutes to actually conduct the interview, give yourself a cushion of at least 30 minutes.

To help tighten the schedule, minimize company moves. Find one location in which you can shoot all of your interviews. That way your crew doesn’t have to break down, move, and set up for every single interview. Sure, it’s ideal to have a variety of locations for each interview, but sometimes it’s not practical. If I have to shoot interviews in one location, I like to try and find a spot where I can turn the camera in different directions and find an entirely different look. That way, I can still obtain the variety I’d like, without the time-consuming set-ups.

Speaking of set-ups, that’s the other variable that usually isn’t given enough time on the schedule. I’ve been on shoots where the client and the producer have lined up an interview at one location at 9am, only to have the second interview starting at 9:30 at the other side of the building. They’ve completely forgotten about the time it takes to wrap the gear, move the entire crew to a new location, and then set it all up again.

I know what you’re thinking, “This sounds great, but I don’t have the budget to spread all of this out over three days. I need to get everything done in one day.” Well, I think you can still capture what you need to capture in a day and adhere to a realistic interview schedule. Now, assuming that you are producing a simple, straightforward promotional video for your business, here’s what I would do:

  • Pick one location for all of your interviews

  • Schedule no more than four interviews.

  • Block off one hour per interview.

  • Now you still have five hours left in the day to capture doc-style b-roll of your business, assuming that all of the action needed to capture happens in one office space.

If your project is slightly more complicated, like your business is spread out over multiple locations, or if it’s important to the video to have more than four interview subjects, then you will probably have to adjust your budget and your expectations. You might need to hire two camera crews to capture everything you need, or you may need to expand the amount of shooting days, or both.

If you work with an experienced video producer, you can avoid a massive scheduling headache, but if you have to do it yourself (for whatever reason), take the above advice and it will really help alleviate problems on the day of your shoot.

Have any other thoughts? Leave them in the Comments.