The listing that follows, although certainly not exhaustive, should provide plenty of criteria upon which you might base an analysis of the footage you will be editing. Again, the type of show you have to cut will often come with its own style, traditions, and sense of what is acceptable and what is not, but you should always be aware of these potential “ gotchas.”
One of the chief issues that you may encounter as an editor is incorrect to focus during a shot. Nothing can ruin a good performance like bad focus. It is the camera department’s job to ensure good focus on shots, and, for the most part, they do excellent work. It only takes one false move or late start with the focus pull to turn a potentially good take into a bad one. With scripted fictional narrative filmmaking, the production team will often shoot multiple takes of a line reading or an action to ensure that they have the focus correct, so you should not have to worry too much about that material. Unscripted projects, like documentaries, corporate interview videos, or live news often only have one chance at good focus while the action happens in front of the camera. A soft focus talking head interview could render that entire interview unusable. Why is soft focus or blurry imagery so bad? It is the one technical factor in film or video
that cannot be corrected during post-production. Unlike exposure, colour correctness, or even framing, there is no fix for soft-focus footage.
It becomes a problem because the viewing audience is intolerant of blurry images. As humans, our visual system is set to always see things in sharp focus (unless, of course, you require glasses or other corrective lenses to properly focus the light in your eyes). When we watch a moving image that has soft focus, we become distracted and uncomfortable as our eyes try to focus on the screen image that cannot resolve. It is unnatural for us to see things blurry, so when a filmmaker purposefully causes things to go blurry in a shot, it must be quickly followed by placing some object within the frame in good focus as soon as possible. So unless you are experimenting with radical focus shifts while shooting footage for a music video, you should not be using blurry takes when you edit.
2. Audio Quality
Another big technical issue with footage for a project will be poor audio quality. The synchronized sound, whether from a two-system film shoot or a single-system video shoot, must be of good quality to use in the final audio mix. Unlike bad focus, there are some tricks that can be done to improve the sound quality of the audio, mostly achieved with computer software these days. If the audio is really bad and cannot be salvaged by tweaking with an audio software package, then you still have the option of replacing it altogether with new, cleanly recorded audio to match the picture exactly. Some refer to this as looping or automatic dialogue replacement (ADR). So if the pictures are good, but the audio is bad, depending on the project, time, and money, the footage may still be usable.
3. Screen Direction
This is mostly an issue with scripted fictional narrative footage, but it comes up in other genres as well. Talent or subject movement out of the frame of one shot and into the frame of another shot must maintain consistent screen direction. To clarify, frame left is screen left and frame right is screen right when watching the images. The film space itself, the world in which the characters live and move, must be considered as real space; therefore it is subject to the same rules of left, right, up, down, etc. If shot A shows a character exiting the frame left of a simple shot, then when you cut to shot B, the same character must be entering from frame right. The character’s direction of movement within the film space must be consistent — right to left and right to left again. If you show a character exiting frame left in shot A, then show the same character entering from frame left in shot B, it will appear as though the character has simply
turned around but is magically re-entering a different location. This will confuse your viewing audience and cause them to mentally recoil against the edit.
4. Exposure and Color Temperature
With the advent of more powerful video editing software, issues with the exposure and colour temperature of the footage are no longer that difficult to fix. Of course, you would prefer that all shots were well-exposed and had the proper look for the colour palette from the very beginning, so you really should start by selecting that first. But, if good material is present on shots that have exposure issues (overall image is too bright or too dark) or colour temperature shifts (image looking overly blue or overly orange, etc.), then keep those shots for use and have yourself or a video technician attend to their corrections with the software tools available.
If you have no tools for such a purpose, then look for other properly exposed and colour-balanced footage to use. Audiences struggle with imagery that is either too bright or too dark, and they do not like it if someone has green skin when there is no reason in the story for them to have green skin. Additionally, consider your own editing needs. How would it look to cut back and forth from a dark shot to a very bright shot? Our eyes would be missing valuable screen imagery and possible audio information as our brains adjust our eyes between the extremes of dark and light. Without getting too technical, these types of sudden exposure extremes can also cause image quality issues with video playback on computer and television screens. For everyone’s sake, either correct the exposure or colour issues or do not use the footage in the final project if at all possible.
5. 180 Degree Rule
Continuing the logic of our screen direction discussion, you must also analyze the footage to make sure that the production team respected the axis of action or the imaginary line while they were shooting coverage for the various scenes. As a quick review, the 180-degree rule is established from the first camera set up covering the action of a scene, which is usually a wide shot showing the players and the environment. An imaginary line, following the direction of the talent’s sightline, cuts across the set or location and it defines what is frame left and what is frame right. Each successive medium or close-up shot of the talent within the scene must all be set up on the same side of this line of action or else, to the viewing audience, the spatial relationships of the talent will be flipped left to right or right to left. Screen direction is maintained by shooting all the coverage from one side of this line.
If you consider one of the alternate names for this practice, the 180-degree rule, it might help clarify what is going on. When the camera crew photographs a two-person dialogue scene for the wide long shot, they have established the side of the room from which they will continue to shoot for the other, closer shots they will need for coverage. If you imagine a circle running around the central talent, then the camera can only operate within one-half of that full circle, or within a 180-degree arc. The imaginary line has bisected the full circle and made a semi-circle within which the camera can move for more shooting. Should the camera have been moved across the line to shoot an individual’s close-up, that character, once edited into the scene, will appear to be turning and facing the opposite direction. This will look incorrect to the audience because the anomalous shot will break from the established screen directions for this scene. As a result, you really cannot edit in a shot that has crossed the line
6: Framing / Composition
Living at the cusp between a technical issue and an aesthetic issue is the framing of a shot. It can be considered technical in the sense that sometimes the format of the recording device film or video camera) maybe larger than the frame size for the final deliverable product. This is especially true these days when people shooting widescreen 16:9 high definition ( HD ) may be looking to finish the show at a traditional aspect ratio of 4:3 for standard definition ( SD ) television. As an editor, you may be called upon to reformat the video frame (cut it down to a smaller size for TV or the Web), or perform what is called a pan and scan, where you take a widescreen camera original format and extract a smaller frame size from it while simultaneously panning left and right to maintain some semblance of good composition in the new, smaller image.
Aesthetic criteria for framing and composition have fewer immediate fixes. You will have to watch complex and developing shots for good focus, but also for good framing and proper composition. If an elaborate camera move bumps, jumps, sways, or in some way misses its mark while covering talent or action, then you should not consider using that particular take, or at least not that particular portion of that take. Again, during production, there are normally quality controls for reviewing each shot, and if they do not get it right they usually perform the shot gain, so you should have at least one good choice for your edit, but not always. That is where creative cutting comes into play.
Of course, you will also wish to gauge the qualitative attributes of a shot. Is there appropriate headroom? Is there an appropriate look room or looking room? Is the horizon line parallel to the top and bottom edges of the frame (if it should be)? Is the vertical camera angle too high or too low? Is the horizontal camera angle too subjective or too objective? Does it work with the type of project you are editing? Very few of these other aesthetic shot, qualities can be fixed by the editor (short of using some software effects to resize or rotate an image) so it might be best to place them on the back burner and use any other better takes.
7. 30 Degree Rule
Based on the concept of the 180-degree rule, the 30-degree rule calls for the camera crew to move the camera around the 180-degree arc by at least 30 degrees before they set up for a new coverage shot of talent. The reason is simple. If two shots say a medium-long shot and a medium shot, of one person, are shot from two locations around the 180-degree arc and the physical distance between camera set-ups is less than 30 degrees, then the two shots, when cut together by the editor, will look too similar and cause a “ jump ” in the mind of the viewer.
This is where the expression jump cut comes from. Without sufficient movement around the shooting arc, the viewpoint that the camera offers is too similar. If you have to edit these two similar shots together, the imagery will appear to suffer an immediate jump in space and possibly in time. The angles of coverage and the shot type must be different enough to allow a believable alteration in viewpoints across the cut. As the editor, you cannot control where the camera was placed for the close-up coverage, but you do have control over what two shots you juxtapose together at a cut point, provided there are more than two angles of coverage. Make sure that the two shots are sufficiently different enough in angle on the action so they do not appear to “ jump ” while viewing them together.
8. Action Continuity
We will discuss this in greater detail later in the book, but it is a topic that frustrates many editors. The action performed by or around the talent in one shot must match, relatively exactly, the same action performed at a different angle within the same scene. Humans are very good at determining the fluidity of motion. When things do not flow — when supposedly continuous actions do not match across a cut point — it is easily noticed (see Figure 2.29). Your job will be to finesse these action cuts as best as possible. Unless there is an obvious glitch in one entire shot, you may not be able to tell that action is not matching until after the footage review stage. Save all the good takes and see which ones eventually cut best with one another.
9. Dialogue Continuity
Be aware of line delivery when reviewing the footage. Does the talent say different words from taking to take and shot to shot? Is there a different timbre in the voice or a modified rate of delivery? Some of these issues may be cut around by laying in different audio from alternate takes and so forth, but sometimes things just will not match. As with most audio issues, there may be a way around them for a fix, so keep the footage for later use, but try to separate out all the best and most usable takes first.
10. Actor Performance
Actor Performance is certainly an issue that the editor has absolutely no control over, except for deciding which performance works best in the edited story. You cannot fix bad acting or bad direction of good actors. You can only try to hide it or mask it as much as possible. Sometimes there just is nothing else to cut to and there are no “ better ” takes to use. Cut in what you think works best for the overall scene, grin and bear it, and move on. If the talent performance is actually very strong but their ability to match their business (holding a glass or cigar, brushing their hair, etc.) is what makes a certain take less appealing, be ready to cut in the best performance and let the discontinuity of the little business ride.
11. Match Angles
When shooting dialogue scenes, the production team will most often shoot what is called matching angles — coverage of each character in each shot type where the angle on the person, their size in the frame, and the focus on their face are all consistent with one another. One person’s close-up will look very similar to the other person’s close-up, but they will be on opposite sides of the frame. As an editor, you will often like to cut from one person’s shot (whatever shot type it may be) to the other person’s matching shot. The back and forth imagery will be easily accepted by the viewing audience because the images, although of two different people on opposite sides of the screen, look like they belong together. In other words, they match.
12. Match Eye-Line
Eye-line ( sightline ) is an imaginary line that connects a character’s eyes to whatever object holds his or her attention within the film world. If two people are speaking with one another, the other person’s face or eyes are often the objects of interest, so the eyeliner would trace from character A’s eyes to character B’s face/eyes. It could be a person looking at a wall clock, or a dog, or a pile of money. The tricky part arises when you are editing closer shots of people and the object of interest (the thing looked at) is not in the same frame. When you cut the shot of the person next to the shot of the object of interest, the eye-line must match.
An audience member must be able to Match the Eye-line The eye-line or imaginary lines of attention should match across the transition between two shots. to trace the imaginary line from the eyes to the object across the cut point and into the new shot. If this line does not flow correctly, then the audience will feel like something is just not right. As an editor, you cannot really fix eye-line mistakes; you will just have to find some other way to cut around the issue (see the use of cut-away shots later in the text).