Readers have enjoyed my past blogs on editing from home, making a better demo reel, and other video-editing articles, so now I’m sharing with you my favorite editing tricks that I find make for better cuts and ultimately make videos easier to watch.
I know the skill level of video editors can vary greatly, but I’ve found that on Fstoppers, many people are photographers who have transitioned into making videos, and therefore had to learn how to edit. You might already do some of these editing tricks, but if not you should definitely try them out.
1. Shorter is better, except when it isn’t.
With the shrinking attention span of most audiences, and all kinds of media fighting for your time on the internet, it’s often a good idea to keep your videos as short as possible. This is true for most cases, but I’ve found that strategically placed pauses in videos can actually make videos easier to watch, and therefore maintain viewers for longer periods.
This is called “breathing room.” Instead of cutting from one interview audiobyte directly to another with no break for a long period, try adding 3-5 seconds of b-roll in between them, bring the music up to full, and then lower it back down to begin the next speaking section. Here’s an example below:
At about the :34 second mark, notice that the dialogue stops for a few moments and the music picks up. The beat hits on a humorous closeup, then continues on.
Adding breathing room can provide your audience with a mental “break” in the information they are receiving, and a small pause can also trigger the understanding that a new thought or subject is about to begin. When used in conjunction with changes or hits in music, these can add a fantastic flow to interview segments.
2. Use intro and outro video clips that have natural segues.
Following in the idea of using specific edits to subconsciously trigger an understanding in the viewer, editors will often use cross dissolves when starting or ending scene. Fade to blacks are used, as well as wipes if your name is George Lucas.
Note the opening shot of this video. We see the back of a grip truck being opened from black, which is used in lieu of a fade up from black. It works better because the music is hard hitting, which wouldn't work well with a dissolve.
Next time you want to end or begin a scene, see if you have a clip that naturally leads the eye into the new subject matter. For example, a simple pan up at the beginning of the clip or pan away at the end of a clip can trigger an upcoming scene change. It feels more natural than a forced cut, but also combining the two can make for elegant transitions.
3. Master the J-cut.
A J-cut refers the shape of the letter J, where the lower part of that letter form goes further left than the top section. What this means in an edit is having the audio from the incoming clip play before actually seeing the video it corresponds to. Here’s what I mean:
Don’t overdo it, as a second or two works fine. Mentally this feels very natural because in real life when a noise occurs, we often turn and look to see what that noise was. In editing terms, that means we hear something slightly before we see it, making a mental “cut” with our eyes from the original thing we were looking at to turn and see this new thing that is creating audio. Pay close attention next time you watch a suspense thriller, and you'll notice this type of edit happens all of the time.
In my example, I use the audio from an interview segment to lead into the video of that interview. In more noticeable cases, action sequences with diegetic sounds will often lead their visuals just a little bit.
If that blew your mind and you’d like to read more examples of human observances and how they relate to video editing, I’d highly recommend reading “In the Blink of an Eye” by Oscar-winning film editor Walter Murch.
4. Clean up your dialog and save time.
I’m surprised when I see great looking video that is fraught with interview audio that is full of “ummms” and other speaking errors. I understand that people can slur their words to a point where you can’t separate one word from the next. It happens. But whenever you can cut out a long breath, an “umm” or other thoughtless comment, do it. The trick here is to use very short audio fades. This requires some patience and finesse, but cutting out 8-10 of these in a single interview can save a few seconds, and those seconds add up over the course of a long video.
Above are before and after screenshots of my timeline of the video clip below. Look at how many small cuts I had to make. Sure there might be a part that starts to sound a little weird, but I’ve found that most people won’t notice it as much as they would notice a person saying “ummmm…” In the video below, you'll first see the clip with the mistakes edited out, and then the original version. I think it's pretty clear which one is better.
5. Add markers to your music tracks to show places to make edits.
This trick is an old one but easily one of my favorites.
When working with your clips on a sequence that has some music, most editors will have the waveform of the audio displayed, and try to match some edits to where the music hits on a beat or crescendo. This is great, but if you simply play the music back in the viewer first and add markers to it, those markers will appear in your timeline. You can then just line up your edits to the markers, and they will snap right into place. So easy!
These are just a couple of my favorite editing tricks– pretty simple overall but when it comes to video editing, the details are what makes a world of difference. What are some of your favorite editing tips or tricks? Share them in a comment below. If we get a lot of suggestions, I might even compile them into a future post!