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Chapter 10.  Professional Editing Techniques

Chapter 10.  Professional Editing Techniques

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10.1.ThePowerofEditing

Theeditingprocessiscrucialinanykindofmovie,fromahome

movietoaHollywoodthriller.Clevereditingcanturnatroubled

movieintoasuccessfulone,oraboringhomemovieintoone

that,forthefirsttime,familymembersdon'tinterruptevery

threeminutesbylapsingintoconversation.

You,theeditor,arefreetojumpfrom"camera"to"camera,"

angletoangle,tocutfromonelocationortimetoanother,and

soon.Today'saudiencesacceptthatyou'retellingastory;they

don'tstompoutinconfusionbecauseoneminute,JamesBond

wasinhisLondonoffice,butshowedupinVeniceasplitsecond

later.

Youcanalsocompresstime;that'soneofediting'smost

commonduties.(That'sfortunate,becausemostmoviestell

storiesthat,inreallife,takedays,weeks,oryearstounfold.)

Youcanalsoexpandtime,makingtensecondsstretchoutto

sixminutesafamiliareffecttoanyonewho'severwatcheda

finalsequenceinvolvingabombconnectedtoadigitaltimer

(andheroesracingtodefuseit).

Editingboilsdowntochoosingwhichshotsyouwanttoinclude,

howlongeachonelasts,andinwhatordertheyshouldplay.



10.1.1.ModernFilmTheory

Whenyou'recreatingarockvideooranexperimentalfilm,you

cansafelychuckalltheadviceinthischapterandinthisbook.

Butifyouaspiretomakegood"normal"movies,onesthatare

designedtoengageordelightyourviewersratherthanshockor

mystifythem,thenyoushouldbecomefamiliarwiththe



fundamentalprinciplesoffilmeditingthatshapevirtuallyevery

Hollywoodmovie(andevenmoststudentandindependent

films)ofthelast75years.Forexample:



10.1.1.1Tellthestorychronologically

Mostmoviestellthestoryfrombeginningtoend.Thispartis

probablyinstinct,evenwhenyou'remakinghomemovies.

Arrangeyourclipsroughlyinchronologicalorder,exceptwhen

you'rerepresentingyourcharacters'flashbacksandmemories

ordeliberatelyplayingachronologygame,asinPulpFiction.

DVETHICS

TheHome-MovieDilemma

Asyouedityourfootage,you'realteringreality;you'reshowingtheaudience

onlywhatyouwantittosee.Whenyoucreatemoviesthathaveastoryline,

that'snoproblemtheaudienceknowsperfectlywellthatwhatit'sseeingdidn't

actuallyhappenthewaythey'reseeingit.

Whenyouedithomemovies,however,youhaveadilemma.Howtrueshouldyou

betoreallife?iMovie2camewithatutorialmovie,inwhichyouworkedwith

footagethatshowedamuddydogbeingunsuccessfullywashedbytwo

noncommunicativechildren.Inreallife,thoseeventsmighthaveconstitutedan

unpleasantexperienceinvolvingaruinedcarpetandyellingparents.Butwiththe

helpofalittlesweetguitarmusicandsomeselectiveediting,theentireaffair

becomesasunlit,nostalgicsnapshotofidyllicchildhood.

Inaway,you'vealreadypre-editedyourlife,simplyinselectingwhattofilm.

Mostpeopledon'tfilmthefamilybickeringatdinnertime,the20minuteswhen

thebabyscreamsinconsolably,ortheuneventfulhoursfamilymembersspend

sleepingorwatchingTV.You'reprobablymorelikelytofilmthehighlightsthe

laughter,thesuccesses,thespecialevents.

ButwhenyoueditthisfootageiniMovie,you'llprobablyweedoutevenmoreof

theunpleasant,theboring,andthemundane.Youmayevenbetemptedto

rearrangeevents,makingthemoviefunnier,moreentertaining,andmore

cohesive.Whenit'sallover,you'llhaveaDVcassettefilledwithsunny,funny,

excitingfootagethatmayhavecomealongwayfromthemuchlessinteresting

realityitwasmeanttocaptureespeciallyifyouaddmusictoyourmovies.(Music

givesfootageenormousemotionalovertonesthatweren'tthereatallwhenthe

scenewasoriginallyfilmed.)

Allofthisintroducesafascinatingethicalchallengethat'snewtotheiMovieera.

Inthepast,fewpeoplecouldedittheirhomemovies,soeveryhomemoviewas



puredocumentary.WithyourDVcamcorderandiMovie,youmustdecidewhether

you'readocumentarymaker,astoryteller,orbothandinwhatcombination.



10.1.1.2Trytobeinvisible

Thesedays,anexpertlyeditedmovieisonewheretheaudience

isn'tevenawareoftheediting.

Thisprinciplehaswide-rangingramifications.Forexample,the

desiretoavoidmakingtheeditingnoticeableiswhythesimple

cutisbyfarthemostcommonjointbetweenfilmclips.Using,

say,theCircleOpeningtransitionbetweenalternatelinesofthe

vowsatsomebody'sweddingwouldhardlyqualifyasinvisible

editing.

Withinasinglescene,usesimplecutsandnotransitions.Tryto

createtheeffectofseamlessrealtime,makingtheaudience

feelasthoughit'switnessingthesceneinitsentirety,from

beginningtoend.Thiskindofeditingismorelikelytomake

yourviewerslessawarethatthey'rewatchingamovie.



10.1.1.3Developashotrhythm

Everymoviehasaneditingrhythmthat'sestablishedbythe

lengthsoftheshotsinit.TheprevailingrhythmofDanceswith

Wolves,forexample,isextremelydifferentfromthatofNatural

BornKillers.Everysceneinamoviehasitsownrhythm,too.

Asageneralrule,lingerlessoncloseupshots,butgivemore

timetoestablishingandwideshots.(Afterall,inanestablishing

shot,therearemanymoreelementsfortheaudiencetostudy

andnotice.)Similarly,changethepacingoftheshotsaccording



tothenatureofthescene.Mostactionscenesfeaturevery

shortclipsandfastedits;mostlovescenesincludelongerclips

andfewerchangesofcameraangle.



10.1.2.MaintainingContinuity

Asacorollarytothenotionthattheaudienceshouldfeelthat

they'repartofthestory,professionaleditorsstrivetomaintain

continuityduringtheeditingprocess.Thiscontinuitybusiness

appliesmostlytoscriptedfilms,nothomemovies;still,knowing

whattheprosworryaboutmakesyouabettereditornomatter

whatkindoffootageyou'reworkingwith.

Continuityreferstoconsistencyin:

Thepicture.Supposewewatchaguywithwethairsay,

"I'mgoingtohavetobreakupwithyou."Wecuttohis

girlfriend'shorrifiedreactionbutwhenwecutbacktothe

guy,hishairisdry.

That'sacontinuityerror,afrequentby-productofhaving

splicedtogetherfootagethatwasfilmedatdifferenttimes.

EveryHollywoodmovie,infact,hasapersonwhosesole

jobitistowatchoutforerrorslikethisduringthefilming

process.

Directionoftravel.Intheefforttomaketheeditingas

seamlessaspossible,filmeditorsanddirectorstryto

maintaincontinuityofdirectionfromshottoshot.Thatis,if

theherosetsoutcrawlingacrosstheSaharafromrightto

leftacrossthescenetobewithhistruelove,youbetter

believethatwhenweseehimnext,hourslater,he'llstillbe

crawlingfromrighttoleft.Thisgeneralruleevenappliesto

muchlessdramaticcircumstances,suchascarchases,

planeflights,andevenpeoplewalkingtothecornerstore.



Ifyouseeherwalkoutoftheframefromlefttorightin

ShotA,you'llseeherapproachthecornerstore'sdoorway

fromlefttorightinShotB.

Thesound.Inanestablishingshot,supposewesee

hundredsofmeninabattlefieldtrench,huddledforsafety

asbulletsandbombsflyandexplodeallaroundthem.Now

wecuttoacloseupoftwoofthesementalkingbutthe

soundsoftheexplosionsaremissing.

That'sasoundcontinuityerror.Theaudienceiscertainto

noticethathundredsofsoldiersonbothsideswereissued

animmediatecease-firejustasthesetwoguysstarted

talking.

Thecamerasetup.Inscenesofconversationsbetween

twopeople,youmaynoticethat,evenwhenthecamera

cutsfromonepersontotheother,thedegreeofzoom,

lighting,andpositioningintheframeisroughlythesame

fromshottoshot.Itwouldlookreallybizarretoshowone

personspeakingonlyincloseup,andhisconversation

partnerfilmedinamediumshot.(Unless,ofcourse,the

firstpersonwerefilmedinextremecloseupjustthelips

fillingthescreenbecausethefilmmakeristryingtoprotect

hisidentity.)

Gestureandmotion.Ifoneshotbeginswithacharacter

reachingdowntopickupthenewspaperfromherdoorstep,

thenextshotacloseupofherhandclosingaroundthe

rolled-uppaper,forexampleshouldpickupfromtheexact

momentwherethepreviousshotended.Andastherolleduppaperleavesourcloseupfieldofview,thefollowingshot

shouldshowherstraighteningintoanuprightposition.

Unlessyou'vemadethedeliberateeditingdecisiontoskip

oversometimefromoneshottothenext(whichshouldbe

cleartotheaudience),theactionshouldseemcontinuous

fromoneshottothenext.



Tip:Forthisreason,whenfilmingscriptedmovies,directors

alwaysinstructtheiractorstobegineachnewscene's

actionwiththesamegestureormotionthatendedthelast

shot.Havingtwocopiesofthisgesture,action,or

motiononeoneachendofeachtakegivestheeditoralotof

flexibilitywhenitcomestimetopiecethemovietogether.

Thisprincipleexplainswhyyou'llfinditextremelyrarefor

aneditortocutfromoneshotoftwopeopletoanothershot

ofthesametwopeople(withoutinsertingsomeothershot

betweenthem,suchasareactionshotoracloseupofone

personortheother).Theoddsaresmallthat,asthenew

shotbegins,bothactorswillbeinpreciselythesamebody

positionstheywereinasthepreviousshotended.



10.1.3.WhentoCut

SomeHollywooddirectorsmaytelltheireditorstomakecuts

justforthesakeofmakingthecutscomefaster,inaneffortto

pickupthepace.

Themoreseasoneddirectorandeditor,however,usuallyadopts

amoreclassicalviewofediting:Cuttoadifferentshotwhenit's

motivated.Thatis,cutwhenyouneedtocut,sothatyoucan

conveynewvisualinformationbytakingadvantageofa

differentcameraangle,switchingtoadifferentcharacter,

providingareactionshot,andsoon.

Editorslookforamotivatingeventthatsuggestswherethey

shouldmakethecut,too,suchasamovement,alook,theend

ofthesentence,ortheintrusionofanoff-camerasoundthat

makesuswanttolooksomewhereelseinthescene.



10.1.4.ChoosingtheNextShot

Asyou'vereadelsewhereinthisbook,thefinalpieceofadvice

whenitcomestochoosingwhenandhowtomakeacutisthis:

Cuttoadifferentshot.Ifyou'vebeenfilmingthehusband,cut

tothewife;ifyou'vebeeninacloseup,cuttoamediumor

wideshot;ifyou'vebeenshowingsomeonelookingoff-camera,

cuttowhatshe'slookingat.

DVETHICS

TheInternetContinuity-ScrewupDatabase

It'sfinetosaythatthefilmeditor'sjobistoattemptcontinuityofpicture,sound,

direction,andsoonthroughoutamovie.Thetroubleis,that'snotnearlyaseasy

asitsounds.Rememberthattheeditorworksbypiecingtogetherindividualclips

frommanydifferentcamerashotsthatmayhavebeenfilmedondifferentdays.

WhentheproductionisascomplicatedasaHollywoodmovie,whereseveral

differentfilmcrewsmaybeshootingsimultaneouslyindifferentpartsofthe

world,afewcontinuityerrorsareboundtoslipinandsometimesthey're

hilarious.

CatchingcontinuityerrorsinHollywoodmovieshasbecomeabelovedpastimefor

thousandsofmoviefans.Premieremagazine,forexample,carriesamonthly

featurecalledGaffeSquad,inwhichreaderspointoutcontinuityerrorsinpopular

commercialmovies.AnInternetsearchforfilmcontinuityerrorsyieldshundreds

ofWebsitesdedicatedtopickingapartthemovies.Amongthese,theInternet

MovieDatabaseGoofspage(http://us.imdb.com/Sections/Goofscapitalscount)is

GroundZero;it'sprobablythelargestcollectionofviewer-submittedmovieerrors

everassembled.Theyrunalongtheselines:

RaidersoftheLostArk:"DuringthefirefightinMarion'sbar,Indy'sgunchanges

froma.38revolvertotheColt.45,backtoa.38,thenbackonceagaintoa.45.

Thismightbethereasonthatheisabletofirehisgunseventimeswithevery

loading."

BacktotheFuture:"WhentalkingtoGeorgeattheclothesline,bothofMarty's

shirtpocketflapsareout,butinthenextshotoneofthemistuckedin."

PulpFiction:"WhenyoungButchisreceivingthewatchfromtheArmyguy,the

timechangestwiceasitisflippedoverinhishand."

JurassicPark:"Asthehelicopterlandsontheisland,wegetaniceoverheadview

ofthelandingarea,featuringawaterfallandtwoJeepswaitingtotakethe

passengerstothevisitors'center.Butwhenweseetheground-levelviewofthe

helicopterlandinginthenextshot,weseetheJeepsbackinguptotheposition

theywerealreadyinthreesecondsearlier."



Titanic:"WhenCapt.Smithorders,'Takehertosea,Mr.Murdochlet'sstretchher

legs,'they'restandingtotherightofthewheelhouselookingforwardwiththe

suncomingfromtheirleft.WhenMurdochwalksintothewheelhousetocarryout

theorder,thesun'sbehindhim."

TheShining:"WeseeJackNicholsonchopapartonlyoneofthedoor'spanels

withhisaxeandyetafterweseehimlistentothearrivaloftheSnow-Cat,both

panelsarechopped."

Inotherwords,makingaperfectmovieisalmostimpossible.Ofcourse,asan

increasinglyexperiencedfilmeditoryourself,youalreadyknewthat.



Avoidcuttingfromoneshotofsomebodytoasimilarshotof

thesameperson.Doingsocreatesajumpcut,adisturbingand

seeminglyunmotivatedsplicebetweenshotsofthesame

subjectfromthesameangle.(Figure3-3showsadeliberate

jumpcut,usedasaspecialeffect.)

Videoeditorssometimeshavetoswallowhardandperform

jumpcutsforthesakeofcompressingalonginterviewintoa

muchshortersoundbite.CustomertestimonialsonTV

commercialsfrequentlyillustratethispoint.You'llseeawoman

saying,"Wonderglovechanged…[cut]ourlives,itreallydid…

[cut]Myhusbandusedtobeadrunkandaslob…[cut]butnow

wehaveWonderglove."(Inevitably,afastcrossdissolveis

appliedtothecutsinafutileattempttomakethemless

noticeable.)

Asyoucanprobablyattestifyou'veeverseensuchanad,

however,thatkindofeditingisrarelyconvincing.Asyouwatch

it,youcan'thelpwonderingexactlywhatwascutoutandwhy.

(Theeditorsof60Minutesandotherdocumentary-styleshows

editthecommentsoftheirinterviewsubjectsjustasheavily,

butconcealitmuchbetterbycuttingawaytoreactionshotsof

theinterviewer,forexamplebetweeneditedshots.)



10.2.PopularEditingTechniques

Varietyandpacingplayaroleineverydecisionthevideoeditor

makes.Herearesomecommontricksandtechniques

professionaleditorsuse,whichyoucanadoptforyourusein

iMovieediting.



10.2.1.TightEditing

Oneofthefirsttasksyou'llencounterwheneditingyourfootage

ischoosinghowtotrimandchopupyourclips,asdescribedin

Chapter5.Evenwheneditinghomemovies,considerthe

Hollywoodguidelinefortightediting:Begineverysceneaslate

aspossible,andenditassoonaspossible.

Inotherwords,supposetheaudienceseestheheroine

receivingthecallthatherhusbandhasbeeninanaccident,and

thenhangingupthephoneinshock.Wedon'treallyneedto

seeherputtingonhercoat,openingtheapartmentdoor,

lockingitbehindher,takingtheelevatortothegroundfloor,

hailingacab,drivingfranticallythroughthecity,screechingtoa

stopinfrontofthehospital,andfinallyleapingoutofthecab.

Inatightlyeditedmovie,shewouldhangupthephoneandthen

we'dseeherleapingoutofthecab(orevenwalkingintoher

husband'shospitalroom).

Youmightkeepthisprincipleinmindevenwheneditingyour

own,slice-of-lifevideos.Forexample,averyengagingaccount

ofyourskitripmightbeginwithonlythreeshots:an

establishingshotoftheairport;ashotofthekidspilingonto

theplane;andthenthetumultuous,noisytrying-on-ski-boots

shotthenextmorning.Yougetlessrealitywiththiskindof

tightediting,butmuchmorewatchability.



10.2.2.VarietyofShots

AsdescribedinChapter2,varietyisimportantineveryaspect

offilmmakingvarietyofshots,locations,angles,andsoon.

Considerthelengthsofyourshots,too:Inactionsequences,

youmightpreferquickcutting,whereeachclipinyourMovie

Trackisonlyasecondortwolong.Insofter,morepeaceful

scenes,longershotsmaysetthemoodmoreeffectively.



10.2.2.1Establishingshots

AsnotedinChapter2,almosteverysceneofeverymovieand

everyTVshoweventhenightlynewsbeginswithanestablishing

shot:along-range,zoomed-outshotthatshowstheaudience

wheretheactionisabouttotakeplace.

Nowthatyouknowsomethingaboutfilmtheory,you'llbeginto

noticehowoftenTVandmoviescenesbeginwithan

establishingshot.Itgivestheaudienceafeelingofbeingthere,

andhelpsthemunderstandthecontextforthemediumshotsor

closeupsthatfollow.Furthermore,afteralongseriesof

closeups,considershowinganotherwideshot,toremindthe

audienceofwherethecharactersareandwhattheworld

aroundthemlookslike.

Aswitheveryfilmeditingguideline,thisoneisoccasionally

worthviolatinginspecialcircumstances.Forexample,in

comedies,anewscenemaybeginwithacloseupinsteadofan

establishingshot,sothatthecameracanthenpullbackto

maketheestablishingshotthejoke.(Forexample,closeupon

maincharacterlookinguncomfortable;camerapullsbackand

flipsovertorevealthatwewerelookingathimupsidedownas

hehangs,tiedbyhisfeet,overapitofalligators.)Ingeneral,

however,settingupanynewscenewithanestablishingshotis

thesmart,andpolite,thingtodoforyouraudience'sbenefit.



10.2.2.2CutawaysandCut-ins

AlsoasdescribedinChapter2,cutawaysandcut-insare

extremelycommonandeffectiveeditingtechniques.Notonly

dotheyaddsomevarietytothemovie,buttheyletyouconceal

enormouseditingshenanigans.Bythetimeyourmovie

resumesafterthecutawayshot,youcanhavedeleted

enormousamountsofmaterial,switchedtoadifferenttakeof

thesamescene,andsoon.Figure10-1showstheidea.

Thecut-inissimilar,butinsteadofshowingadifferentperson

orareactionshot,itusuallyfeaturesacloseupofwhatthe

speakerisholdingortalkingaboutaverycommontechniquein

trainingtapesandcookingshows.



10.2.2.3Reactionshots

OneofthemostcommonsequencesinHollywoodhistoryisa

three-shotsequencethatgoeslikethis(Figure10-1again):

First,weseethecharacterlookingoffscreen;thenweseewhat

he'slookingat(acutawayshot);thenweseehimagainsothat

wecanreadhisreaction.Thissequenceisrepeatedso

frequentlyincommercialmoviesthatyoucanfeelitcomingthe

momenttheperformerlooksoffthescreen.

Fromtheeditor'sstandpoint,ofcourse,thebeautyofthethreeshotreactionshotisthatthemiddleshotcanbeanythingfrom

anywhere.Thatis,itcanbefootageshotonanotherdayin

anotherpartoftheworld,orevenfromadifferentmovie

entirely.Theritualofcharacter/action/reactionissoingrainedin

ourbrainsthattheaudiencebelievestheactorwaslookingat

theaction,nomatterwhat.

Inhome-moviefootage,youmayhavebeencreatingreaction

shotswithoutevenknowingit.Butyou'veprobablybeen

capturingthembypanningfromyourkid'sbeamingfacetothe



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