News Editing: Slow Down the Fast Cuts & Let Your Pictures Breathe
I am a fanatic about editing and starting a shot on just the right frame — and frames in TV in the U.S. roll at 30-frames-per-second. But in editing, being off by so much as one or two frames can made a difference.
When I hear people mention that a story or a film had “good editing” I think it tends to be their reaction rapid-fire cuts or “machine gun” editing. That certainly can be true in many cases, Apocalypse Now and The French Connection come to mind.
In TV news the average story runs between 75 and 100 seconds. An extremely limited period of time to tell a story. Frequently also having to be edited in a very period of time due to deadlines.
The actual editing of a TV news story is generally based on cutting on the punctuation of a reporter’s sentence. Making an edit where a reporter makes a small pause or is pausing in a sentence—editing to a new shot on every beat. This can translate into a new edit every 2 to 4 seconds.
Editing is the most difficult aspect of news and film editing to explain because it is based entirely on the editor’s personal sense of rhythm and recognizing the beat structure of a sentence or paragraph. It is much like music. It’s also interesting to note that so many editors I have worked with are either very much into listening to music or making music.
There are some editors, and I am including photographers/TV news cameramen in this because it’s pretty common for news photographers to edit the main story that they work on a given day.
Many photographers edit their shots very fast (I think unnecessarily fast) in order to squeeze in as many of their shots as they can. Often, in my opinion, whether the editing rhythm of the story warrants it or not.
Again, it’s a personal sense of rhythm.
I for one do not think that the TV audience watching at home recognizes any of this. They are just listening to and watching a story and just want to easily understand what they are seeing and hearing.
My own personal view is that longer holding shots with either interesting action or nice composition serves a story well and serves the folks at home who are watching the story much better.
Years ago when the cable channels greatly started expanded I watching BBC World Service. What grabbed me so much about that was the lack of American fast-paced glitz and glamor production with more emphasis on carefully selected visuals and letting shots run longer so the audience could look at the shot. Single shots that would last for entire paragraphs. Instead of shots that ran for only 2 to 4 seconds, BBC shots would run for 5 to 10 seconds or longer. And beautiful shots with either action or carefully composed shot on a tripod so that the audience was visually compelled to look at what they were seeing.
This greatly struck me and I started moving away from the fast editing, which had been my trademark up till then, and into shooting longer shots that would play longer on the screen.
For instance, a simple set up sequence of a building would normally be made up of two or three shots –
1) An establishing shot;
2) A tighter shot of the name on the building, such as police department or post office, and then
3) A shot either looking up at the building or of the entranceway.
What I started to do after that was to still shoot all of those shots, but I might only use one or two and I would put a very slow zoom in, or as we say in TV, “a push in” on the building.
The story that I posted above is just a regular, every day, ordinary, run-of-the-mill new story. The kind we do every day.
Another photographer could have shot it all on a tripod with myriads of close-ups of faces, feet in running shoes stretching, people looking on, a clock ticking, etc., etc., etc.—all edited in 1 ½ or so shots.
And that’s fine. Hey, I’ve done that a thousand times myself.
But now I’ve come to look upon that as being manipulative. Showing off filmmaking tricks rather than documenting and event. But hey, this is just my own thing now and I ain’t knockin’ anybody’s style. This is just mine now.
I just feel that I’d rather have fewer, longer-holding shots that the viewer can look at and really see some detail in what is being shown than lots of rapid-fire edits that play more like a really fast slide show than of a scene.
Also, the time it takes to edit a story is much faster.