Better One-Camera Editing Techniques

Posted on by Larry

There are two single-camera editing techniques that drive me nuts:

EYE CONTACT MAKES THE DIFFERENCE

There are two ways for an audience to view any video: one is as voyeurs, looking at a scene but not participating in it. The other is where the audience is an active participate in what’s happening.

The difference is controlled by one thing: whether the actors on camera make eye contact with the camera. When they don’t, the audience is looking in on an event, but not involved. The instant an actor looks at the lens of the camera, the audience becomes an active participant.

You see this most commonly where an actor looks at the camera and makes a comment directly to the audience. But you also see this everyday in newscasts and other programs where the talent is talking directly to the audience.

The problem is that you can’t cut between these two options. Either the audience is directly involved or they are simply watching. As an editor, you can’t have it both ways.

This means that if you are shooting an interview with two cameras, you need to have the guest either look at both cameras (which isn’t possible) or have them not look at either one. Cutting between the talent looking at the camera, then not looking at it, then looking at it again is highly distracting! It makes the interview almost unwatchable because we, in the audience don’t understand our role.

Shooting a presentation with one camera is not necessarily bad. Just make sure that the guest is looking at the person asking questions, rather than at a camera. This provides the smoothest – and least distracting – editorial flow to switch between shots.

Remember, our goal, as editors, is to encourage audiences to watch our program – not get so distracted they turn it off.

JUMP CUTS

A jump cut is an unmotivated movement, or “jump,” in an actor caused by editing two similar shots together. For example, cutting between a close-up of an actor to a similar close-up of the same actor from a similar angle. You see this all the time in YouTube videos where the host can’t remember their lines, so they make an edit in their close-up, creating a jump cut.

Jump cuts are like a big, flashing red light saying: “I’m inept!” at every edit. In today’s world of video streaming, where everyone seems to be video blogging with one camera, these jump cuts do two things:

The ideal way to hide jump cuts is B-roll, which is other video that illustrates what the on-camera talent is talking about; or cutaways, which are shots of something different but related.

A SOFTWARE SOLUTION

Both Premiere and Final Cut provide two special transitions to help with jump cuts: Morph (Premiere) and Flow (Final Cut).

Both use Optical Flow technology to blend the out of the first shot into the in of the second. When the changes between shots are minor, this can create an almost seamless transition. When there is a wide disparity, well, the results can be pretty distracting.

In Premiere:


(Image courtesy: Anne L. Gibson, Toucan Productions, Inc.)

When done, play the transition. While the image is not perfect, it may look better than a jump cut.

NOTE: The default duration is 20 frames, which is too long. I’ve found that the best results occur when the transition is between 6 and 10 frames. Every time you change the duration, Premiere will need to re-analyze the clip.

In Final Cut:


(Footage courtesy: John Putch “Route 30, Too!” (www.route30trilogy.com))

As with Premiere, the results aren’t perfect, there will be artifacts in the image. But, either of these transitions may look better than a jump cut.


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4 Responses to Better One-Camera Editing Techniques

  1. If anticipating an edit session with a lot of jump cuts, step down to a lower frame size sequence. Shoot in 4K and edit in 1080, or shoot in 1080 and edit in 720, and avoid a jump by scaling the next shot of the same person or thing as a larger sized image. Then for the next jump, go back to the regular sized image. Moving the audio slightly to the left or right of the edit can also help mitigate the cut. If the edit still has problems, make it a soft cut with a quick dissolve.

    • Larry says:

      Daniel:

      This is a good suggestion and one that I forgot. Thanks for adding it.

      Also, to be clear, you are not “moving the audio” – which would cause it to go out of sync – you are trimming the audio so that it edits at a different time than the video.

      Larry

  2. Hi Larry,

    Thanks so much for all of your informative & helpful training, and supplemental material. It is rare that I disagree, and perhaps never that I have commented on one of your posts. But this one is way off the mark my friend. A few things:

    Your statement that two (or more) cameras can’t be used in an edit if the talent looks directly at the camera is patently not true. That my be your preference, or your taste, but is far from a rule. This technique is used even day in interviews, narrative storytelling and documentaries. I have used it literally thousands of times, and plan to continue it, especially for documentaries and non-profit films that benefit from the storytellers direct connection to the audience. In my experience there are a few techniques that help sell cutting from direct eye-line to indirect eye-line when using multiple cameras. 1) Camera B (or C, D, etc) should all have significantly different local lengths from the direct eye-line camera. So for example, the A Cam with talent looking to lens might be a waist up shot, and the B Cam profile or 3/4 might be a tight shot on just the head and top of shoulders. 2) Cam B should looks best when on the fill-side of the subject.

    The Morph/Flow cut tool works only in a very few instances … rarely to never on two and three shots as in your example. Moprh/Flow work best when a number of stars align: 1) The camera is locked on a tripod, 2) When there is minimal head movement between the cut, 3) Eyes are open on both sides of the cut, 4) Facial expression is similar on both sides of the cut. It does not work if the person tilts their head between the cut, closes their eyes on one side of the cut, or goes from a serious look to a laugh. It is helpful to move fame-by-frame on either side of the edit to find head/mouth positions that are similar. Your Flow/Morph effect may not be directly above the audio edit. You will get excellent results (mostly in interviews) if these guidelines are followed. Lastly, I would suggest illustrating with two and three shots is a bit misleading because this almost never works. These tools are best reserved for interviews.

    Lastly, among the best techniques to conquer the jump cut is to simply adjust the image on one size of the cut with a zoom/transform of 15% and 25%. This works perfectly with 4k footage edited in a 1080p timeline (in this case you can blow it up to 200% for a dramatic focal length change,) and is very serviceable even on 1080p footage in a 1080p timeline, especially if you play with sharpening a bit.

    Sorry for the long comments. Thanks again for all your great instruction.

    Peace,

    Brian

    • Larry says:

      Brian:

      Never worry about disagreeing – I’m always happy to learn something new.

      Here, we disagree. Just because a technique is “used everyday” does not make it good. It just makes it popular. There is a decided emotional and cognitive difference for the audience when talent looks at the camera or doesn’t look at the camera. It is distracting and confusing. However, it is easy to shoot and easy to edit, which is what makes it popular.

      I agree, Flow & Morph don’t work well all the time. Optical Flow is a great idea that is very, very, very hard to do well. Both Apple and Adobe have problems.

      Finally, as both you and Daniel pointed out, changing the scale of an image (provided scaling does not make it blurry) is a great way to minimize jump cuts. This is a technique that I forgot to mention in my article.

      Thanks for writing!

      Larry

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