Thursday, August 02, 2007

Editing Notes on the Latest Frugal Traveler

When I was a kid, there was a craze for obstacle courses.

No, really, that's not totally made up -- there was. In 1973 ABC started broadcasting a show called "The Superstars," which had athletes from different fields compete in a series of athletic events, ending in an obstacle course. That show then spawned "Battle of the Network Stars" in 1976, also ending in an obstacle course.

I'm thinking of that now because Tuesday night's editing process for the Frugal Traveler was a bit of an obstacle course: no one element was insurmountable, but each element was a significant challenge -- and I was exhausted by the end. Usually the way these edits go is that the overall video has several sections that cut easily, but one or two that have some real challenge to them -- editing problems. These might be based on any number of issues, and you generally either delve into the logic of a particular section deep enough to understand how it can work well, or you make some compromise and get it to at least function and not derail the piece altogether.

The latest video, however, was nothing but editing problems. It's surprising, because the material was good, shot well, and there was a lot of coverage of angles and events. On the surface it seemed like it would be simple to put together. It's a fairly straightforward piece. There's some driving at the beginning, then some hiking, then some cooking and resting, then more hiking, and eventually a parody of a "showdown" sequence in the style of a Western. The surprise was that each section really required a lot of delving and some sort of a fix -- nothing cut easily.

So I spent a long night with a lot of editing questions. Here are a few issues for consideration....

1. One that was easily solved: you want to show hikers moving along through the wilds. You have a series of shots, all set up well with the camera on a tripod, and these include time before the hikers enter, then the hikers entrance, and the long progression through the space and eventually exiting the frame. How do cut these together? Well, if one was making a 6-hour video, you would start each shot before the hikers enter the frame, watch them go all the way through and exit the frame. That's way too long, of course, so the question becomes: how do you cut the short version? How can you compress the time but make it feel continuous? What I liked best: each shot starts before the hikers' entrance, they get into the frame (usually to the middle) and you cut to the next shot -- just before the hikers' entrance in that shot. Simple. Audio helps determine exactly what frame to cut on, as we realize it isn't realtime continuity but continuity of action. Audio that seems "live" from shot to shot also helps with the feel of that continuity.

2. Another, a bit harder to solve: compressing the time of a cooking segment with limited shots. If one had a long shot or shots of someone going through a cooking process, you could easily compress them if cutaways existed. That is, now I break the egg in the pan, cut to audience reaction, back to cooking egg in pan, reaction, etc. That way a process can be greatly accelerated without too much confusion. But, without much in the way of cutaways, the key for this piece was to look for shots that were significantly different from the previous shot -- that is, don't cut from boiling broth to stirring eggs, as the shots are somewhat similar, but do cut from adding an ingredient to a wide shot of the cooking location back to the next step in the cooking process...

3. A pretty typical strategy in videos with music is to bring in music at full volume, then ramp it down over 1 - 3 seconds, just as or just before someone is going to speak, then ramp it back up after they speak. Fade out at the end. But sometimes, for one reason or another, you have to get out of a musical segment quickly. You can't just cut music abruptly -- it sounds very unnatural to our ears, since we hear music in a physical space and even if you clicked a radio off there would still be some reverberation of the sound. So the trick in this piece was to emphasize that further. I needed to get from the Western-style music to a shot with live sound / sound FX and a fade out of the music would not have made sense. An abrupt cut of it couldn't work. So, the answer was to find where I would "click the radio off" and then take that clip -- cut on that frame -- into an audio editing program and add a ton of reverb to it. Then, export the clip that has the sound of the reverberation and add it to the edit. The effect is as if you turned the radio off abruptly but the live space you were in let it reverberate. It makes sense in the piece and lets us transition to the "drama" of the blowing wind as the two characters face off....

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 11: Wyoming & Montana) 5:05
August 1, 2007

1 comment:

Mark Schoneveld said...

It was a great episode, Ted. It's cool to read your thoughts on the edit after I had seen the vid. I'm going back in my mind and saying, "oh yeah! that makes sense."

I thought it was really fluid. Though this episode must have been harder because there was no character interaction other than his friend. It was more about the nature. And nature is nice, but it doesn't always captivate attention for a full 4 or 5 minutes. But it worked here. I credit Matt for getting the coverage you needed, for sure!