Editing is an Art

By Stephen Poff

Editing is an Art

Telling a story in a television/social media spot is really its own art form. Whether you’re writing and shooting or repurposing existing footage to create something new, here are a few tips to help you put the puzzle together. Read time: under 2 minutes

You have thirty seconds to tell us who, why, where, when, and how... and go!

This is the task required every time we put together a compelling television or social media spot.

Just like making a feature film... good storytelling is key. Establish the scene, and present the problem, climax, and resolution! Do you have spontaneous dental hydroplosion? (Where are The Office fans?) Does your girlfriend wince when you go to kiss her? Well, we have the toothpaste for you!

If you were making a film, you could use a long montage under the opening credits to set the scene... slowly build your characters over a dramatic party scene. Chase the villain through the streets of a major city and resolve your film after two-and-a-half hours of international intrigue!

But this is not a major motion picture.

So, you have a lot to pack into a tiny package.

What tools do we have at our disposal?

Well luckily for you, movies have taught people the language of film... shorthand if you will.

Do you need to show the passage of time? There’s a timelapse, a dissolve, a wipe.

Need to make the viewer a part of the action? Go with a handheld camera.

Want to elicit an emotional response? Shoot in slow motion, use some dramatic music.

When you’re working with such little time, every frame should be a painting. Everything counts—location, casting, wardrobe, props. Every inch should tell a story. Often there might not be any dialogue, meaning that you need to instantly recognize whether our characters are a mother, a doctor, a crossing guard, or a Jedi Knight. We need to feel their environment... know what it probably sounds like. Again... every frame a painting!

What is the mood? Is it calm, frantic, or cinematic? The pace of the cuts should reflect the energy you’re trying to establish. Often, if there is no voice-over to cut to, the music cues are the best way to set the pace.

Let’s examine a couple of spots that were a bit of a challenge. Both spots were put together using footage from a previous project.

The first one is for ForestryWorks. We were tasked with creating an exciting spot to get people enthused about driving a log truck. Considering our target audience, we picked a high-energy rock song. Next, we scoured the existing footage for dynamic clips where there was a unique angle or details of our driver shifting, using the radio, getting in the truck. This was not always easy, because the footage was not shot for this particular spot, but we ended up with what we needed. What we lacked in dynamics from the footage, we made up for in quick zoom transitions and animated type. The message was simple but effective against the pace of the cuts.

Our next example is from Visit Columbus GA. We made a series of spots for them, but my favorite was the Adventure spot.

Like the previous spot, it has no narration or voice-over, just a simple message and footage cut to the music. What I loved about the music were the subtle stabs that we used to punctuate scenes along the way. The storytelling is key on this one. It begins with people getting ready for their adventure and is punctuated by the trip on the rapids. The next adventurer is zipping across the river and is punctuated by his turn to camera. I love that shot! The next couple of scenes show a variety of activities, but the end is a final raise of the paddle in the air and a shot of the Columbus skyline. What better way to end the spot?

Telling a story in such a short amount of time is really its own art form. Whether you’re writing and shooting or repurposing existing footage to create something new... it’s like a puzzle that is satisfying to look at when you’re finally done!

What are you working on? Are you looking for storytelling assistance with your project? Shoot us an email and we’d be happy to discuss your needs!