Shooting For The Edit

IMG_8744 When shooting, it's all too easy to get caught up in beautiful cinematography, forgetting to capture the transitions, establishing shots and other essential bits that make up the grammar of film. Remember that we are making something to be watched, so we must get all the necessary shots to create a watchable narrative with sequences.

As an editor, there are two major issues when editing footage that you didn't shoot: 1). Lots of useless footage, that isn't long enough, stable enough or varied enough to be cut to together.  2). A lack of "non-sync" shots that are used to stitch together the narrative of a piece.

Rich Filming

Sequences are the series of shots that, when cut together, make an understandable story. Fortunately, the BBC COP Podcast has once again come to the rescue of confused videographers everywhere, with it's Shooting For The Edit episode, featuring expert advice from such luminaries as Ian Hider, a BBC Academy trainer. I strongly suggest that you follow this link to hear the podcast in full, but I've included the top tips from my notes below.

Rules Of Shooting

  1. Hold each shot for at least 10 seconds of quality footage, to give the editor room for manoeuvre. Count "1, Mississippi, 2, Mississippi, 3, Mississipi...." all the way up to 10.  Be disciplined; if the camera wobbles, start again from 1.
  2. Change the angle and shot composition as much as possible between each shot - the bigger the change, the better they cut together. For example, if you are shooting a person from a wide angle at head height, then shoot the same person with a close up, from a low angle - this will look better when edited together then two shots from the same position cutting from wide to close up.
  3. For movement shots, don't start with the contributor or subject in shot. Start with an empty frame, then have them enter shot and exit it. This gives the editor more options.
  4. For actions, have the contributor repeat it several times, and film it from different angles. The editor may want to change the shot mid-action, so you will need to have it from several angles.

Sequence Example: Someone Reading A Book

You could just have a fixed camera from one angle, showing a person reading a book. But this will be boring, and the viewer will quickly lose interest. Ian Hider suggests a minimum of three shots that will edit together into an understandable sequence:

  • Only the face of the person looking at the book
  • Only the hands and the book
  • The person and the book in the same shot

These shots, alone, will edit together into a nice sequence. Remember to change shot size and angle as much as possible, to maximise the effectiveness of cuts, and keep the viewer interested. A few more shots will make the piece even more interesting and give our editor more options:

  • The book over the shoulder of the contributor, with their shoulder or head "dirty framed" (out of focus and dominating the foreground of the shot)
  • The face from behind the book, with the book "dirty framed"
  • A wide shot from the other side of the room, showing the reader in context
  • An "arty shot", which Hider describes as "from somewhere that the eye wouldn't normally be" such as near foot level, or zoomed in extremely close

Other Tips

  • Shoot every sequence in it's entirety 4 times - from 4 different angles and compositions. This means you can cut to any angle at any point.
  • Film establishing shots to "tell" the viewer where we are, such as street signs and exterior shots (for example, the building that they are reading the book in).
  • Shoot non-sync cut-aways. These are shots that aren't fixed to a particular action. For example, if there is a light in the room, a close-up of the light can be used as a filler at any point.
  • Direct your contributors - if you need something re-done to get the best shot, explain to them why you need it, and then ask them to re-do the action.

Yes, following these rules does mean you need to be more organised, with better planning and more time on location. But that is simply professionalism. You will have everything covered to ensure you have the necessary material to make a fantastic film - your editor will love you, and so will your producer. Practice editing your own films - it's the fastest way to learn what's necessary and unnecessary, and will make you a better cameraman.