Once upon a time, all movies were made like this: A man pointed a box at whatever was happening and turned a handle until the film inside ran out. That film was then processed and projected onto a screen for people to watch. The movies started out as clips of actual events, or places. Soon people started telling short stories, but always the stories were set in one place at one time, and all you got was a wide shot of the continuous action. Then, one day, a man had an idea (it was probably Robert W. Paul in his film “Come Along, Do!).
What if he filmed what happened in one room, then set up his camera (with a new piece of film in it) in another room and filmed what happened there too. Then he would take the two pieces of film and…. drum roll… stick them together. Then, what if he cut a piece of film before the end and stuck a new piece onto it? What if he cut from a wide shot of a person to a close up of their face? Would the audience be drawn into the movie by experiencing the emotions of the actor more intensely though this “close-up”?
“Daddy Paul”, as his contemporaries and imitators called him, pretty much invented editing but it would be down to others to take that basic language and enrich it into a vocabulary of cinema that allows film makers to express an infinity of meaning through the juxtaposition of images.
Imagine you see a man walking along a lane. He stops and turns, and looks down. You see a close-up of his face as he looks on wistfully. You see a field of blue cornflowers bending in a gentle breeze. You see the man turn away and walk off. Now imagine exactly the same sequence but instead of the shot of the flowers you see a house, and through a window a rich man gorging himself on a table overflowing with food. As viewers what do we feel about the man in these two different stories?
In the first scenario we have a man out enjoying a walk in the country; in the second we have a man who is hungry and probably homeless, wandering alone. This manipulation of the viewer’s feelings is what editing is all about. The principles apply equally to a feature film and a video advert made for the web. The way a sequence is edited creates the way the viewer feels about the product, or the company featured in the video. We all want our viewers to watch our videos and trust us, feel we will take care of them. The skill of the editor is to evoke these feelings and make the video visually interesting enough to keep people watching.
I’ll return to this topic in a later blog, with some practical advice for first time editors. Until then, good luck with your videos.