5.30.2016

Every "big picture" person needs a "fine-tuner" to make stuff really work. At least I do...


Oh goodness. You learn so much about a craft when you drop yourself into a big project and get close to the end. I've been shooting video for the last two weeks and I'm learning more than I want to by having to edit my own work. God, I can get sloppy! A couple of times in the last few days I wanted to either put myself in "time out" or "dock my allowance" for some of the goof-ups I made in the video capture part of the job. Some of my missteps were clearly a result of hubris while others were caused by making the decision to go ahead and shoot in less than optimum environmental conditions. My biggest errors were in trusting the gear too much and not monitoring it enough.

None of the kinds of mistakes I've been making are really obvious in the field but they become very obvious once you sit down at a monitor and start going through footage over and over again. On the flip side, I think I partially redeemed myself by overshooting. My videographer friend, James, always says, "You can never have too much B-roll." And he's right.

But one thing I am learning is that when you are shooting corporate stories you can make incredibly good use of still imaging inside your moving program. My one lesson for next time is to force the client, at light stand point, if necessary, to give me every shred of historical photography then have hoarded away as a starting point for any project. Then I will remind myself to take stills all day long as I shoot video. Being able to start with a good video interview shot and then cut to a still shot that's been enhanced by some Ken Burn's "pan and scan" can make all the difference in the world.

So, by the end of the day yesterday I had edited down to a seven minute timeline. That's right inside our target zone. In the seven minutes I'm using something like 358 discreet clips and, in places, five or six audio tracks deep. But here's the issue I've always been aware of: I am a big picture editor. By that I mean I see the grand arc of the project and I understand where I want to go. But I am not detail oriented or methodical. It's just not part of my nature. I know I want to go from interview "A" to interview "B" and I know I need good transitional material but the intricacies of cobbling it all together are more or less lost on me. I have an intellectual understanding of the process but I'm like a guy who has read a lot about dancing but rarely tried it to actual music; with a partner.

When I review what I've edited it gets the message across but feels a little .... kludgy. Truthfully, it's rife with almost invisible or inaudible glitches that stem from (metaphoric) fat fingers and not enough discernment. Agile fingers (metaphorically) and sophisticated discernment come at the end of the 10,000 hours of editing, not near the beginning.

But self-knowledge can be grand power. I know all these things about myself and I have work-arounds that help to offset my weaknesses. My son, Ben, is the Mozart of Final Cut Pro X performers. I watched him last Summer as he cobbled together a clean and very watchable corporate branding video with nothing but a supply of so-so stock images, some logos and a deft hand at using keyframes; as well as an uncanny ability to quickly illustrate icons. His real power in video comes from his attention to video and audio detail; spacing, pacing and structure.

So, after I'd done the best I could, I hired him for eight hours to sit in the ersatz editing bay and "sweeten" my project for me. We're in the rough cut stage but I've found (from my tenure as an advertising agency creative director) that the more polished the rough cut is, the better it looks, the less the end clients complain and the less they mess with the final product. In the first hour he made the project 50% better overall than it had been. At two hours it was a different presentation altogether. We are heading into hour five and the cumulative power of lots of little changes and fixes has become enormous.

I am now looking forward to sending my client a rough cut instead of having the typical anxiety that comes from approval stages. After all, it's hard to remove every trace of one's own ego when you've concepted, written the script, directed, shot and also done the audio on a project. We'll get this up on a private Vimeo channel later today and see what the client has to say.

Once we have final edit changes I'll hand the project over to Ben or James to finish and polish. Keeping me "out of the kitchen" from this point on seems like a smart thing to do. I may use my "big picture" skills to get the work and shoot the big arcs but, if I want the projects to sing  I'm a lot better off calling in people who have different talents and strengths from mine. I guess this video stuff really does work better with a team...

6 comments:

stephen connor said...

Video editing. All I can say is, I'm glad it's you, not me. O.K., I can say one more thing. Have you seen this excellent blog: http://everyframeapainting.tumblr.com/ ? All about the art of editing. And film history.

Raymond Charette said...

I have been a writer/director of sponsored video for over thirty years. In that time I've learned to surround myself with the best in every field. It's the only way to do it right!

Michael Matthews said...

Fresh eyes and sure hands -- attached to someone who hasn't driven himself nuts working and reworking the same material -- always a blessing. Even the simpler task of editing long-form audio (say half-hour and hour length productions) greatly benefits from collaboration. With the combination of video and audio, each with multiple sources, doing it all alone is an almost sure path to frustration with the final product. Glad to see you've reached that conclusion relatively early in the game.

Richard Sandor said...

A great strength is to be able to recognize your weaknesses.

Mike C. said...

After 30 years of involvement in (non-photographic) project management I learned that any organization needs two crucial players: someone who makes things happen, and someone who makes things work. The former must learn to respect the latter, and the latter must never be in charge...

Mike

Peter E. said...

After nearly 50 years as a still photographer, I began shooting video and have made two documentaries. Shooting stills is mostly a solitary process (studio work aside probably, but I don't do that) but video, done right is mostly a collaboration. It's difficult to be a shooter and the interviewer and the sound person and the lighting person. I've done that but a small team or even one assistant makes the work easier and probably better. And don't get me started on editing! A good editor can make your better, as happened on my two films, and as Kirk has just outlined.