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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Editing: The Cutaway

It's important to remember shooting and editing go hand in hand. And now that you've learned about what a jump cut is, it's time to start thinking about ways to avoid that jump cut.

The first thing you're going to want in your bag of tricks is known as the "cutaway".  When editing, you may need to break up the action you've shot with another shot (hopefully something relevant to the scene). Often, it's needed to avoid a jump cut.

Let's look at an example: let's say you have video of your friend giving a speech that you're wanting to edit down to the most important parts. Let's be honest. You don't need all his thankyou's and warm up jokes, so you're going to take the most important parts and cut them together. The problem is, every time you do this, there's going to be a jump cut in the video. Even a minute change can look like a glitch. Some editors will leave the jump cut in there as a special effect, but it's important to know why and when you're wanting to do that. For our purposes, we'll take a pure approach and try to avoid those jump cuts.

If you sat down to edit and never thought about this in advance, you're going to have a pretty hard time finding something to cutaway to in between those clips of the speech. In fact, as a shooter, it's your job to not "shoot your editor (or yourself if you're the editor) into a corner" and to be looking for opportunities in the field to avoid those jump cuts later.

An aside to broadcast new photographers who often aren't editing their own video: you need to make sure your editor doesn't even have a choice to use a jump cut. Think ahead. 

Ok, so how are you going to get out of those jump cuts? Well you're going to have to think ahead while you're in the field. While you're at the speech, you're going to need to shoot some cutaways.

What can this be? Here's a short list; some better than others:

  • His hands on the podium
  • Faces in the crowd listening (this will play into action/reaction in future posts)
  • Maybe even his feet

In other words, you're going to have to move. I always liked to use a wide shot in which maybe the subject was in the shot, but I had kept him out of focus. As long as he's roughly in the same part of the screen, it shouldn't look to bad. But trust your eye. If you go from a wide shot to a tight shot of the same person and it looks jumpy...don't use it.

Now that you have a few cutaway shots, you'll be able to use those when editing the speech. During those transitions from clip to clip, simply use the cutaway shots (just the video, not the audio).

A mentor once told me to always get the "cat in the window shot". This means get a shot of something completely away from the action just in case you need that cutaway. Now some purist might disagree using the argument that every shot needs to add to the story of the scene, but it never hurts to have that in your bag of tricks.