Capturing the Essence of the Edit

Photo © David Robin

As I’ve written before, editing video is about cutting out all that you can cut out in order to get to the purest essence of the message. I recently read in an article about the power of video that the average attention span of a  person nowadays is just 8 seconds (that’s one second less than the attention span of a goldfish). That means when a person comes to a website, you have (on average) just 8 seconds to capture their attention. For those of you who are producing web videos for your clients, you need to be aware of this fact.

I’ve always felt that a shorter video is generally more effective than a longer one. Why take 4 minutes to say that which can be effectively communicated in 2 minutes? Just so you can show more pretty shots? You run the risk of losing your audience before the video is finished. So I want to take today to offer a couple of examples of how I get to the “essence” of the edit.

What a difference the Ums Make

One of the most effective ways you can shorten an edit is to get rid of all the ums, pauses, and tangential thoughts an interviewee gives. Usually the more nervous a person is, the more of these they will have. So it behooves you to make them as comfortable and at ease as possible during the interview itself. But even the most eloquent CEO can have a number of ums, uhs or non-essential thoughts. You’d be surprised how much time you can shave off an edit when you painstakingly get rid of all these extraneous soundbites.

Let’s go back to the shoot I referenced in my “I crossed the 180 on myself” blog post. During that shoot I interviewed seven CEOs of medium to large companies. Here’s an audio excerpt from one of them. This first clip is the raw audio I started with for one section of the interview:

Now here’s that section of the interview again, this time with all the extraneous words removed:

As you can hear, it still sounds smooth. Just listening to it, you’d never guess she had as many ums and pauses as she did. And as you can see in the lower left-hand part of the player, I took that section from 22 seconds down to 14. That’s over 36%. Imagine doing that throughout an entire edit. If you did, you could turn a 4 minute video into a 2.5 minute video! And keep in mind that every frame counts. Two frames here, three frames there, another frame over there…they all add up over the course of the video. Use that splice tool liberally!

Find the Essence of the Point Being Made

Here’s another CEO. This time, it’s the CEO of the organization for whom we’re making the video. The organization is called Convene. They work with Christian CEOs to help them manage their businesses, families and lives in a way that honors God. In this clip, I felt there was one primary message: helping a CEO live up to what God has called them to do. When I take the edit down to what I feel are the best soundbites to capture that message, I am able to shrink it from 1:24 down to 0:48 seconds. That’s a whopping 43% reduction in time. Check out these two raw video clips to see the difference. (FYI: his reference to being a 5-talent or 10-talent person is an allusion to the parable of the talents, the message of which is, not coincidentally, using all the gifts God has given you to their fullest.)

Now here’s the clip edited down to the essence:

Gut Wrenching Sometimes, But Necessary

There will come times when it may be gut-wrenching cutting out what you think is a really cool soundbite. In the example above, I really loved the original audio where he says “God has this amazing abundant adventure for us…they settle, and for me that breaks my heart.” I thought this bite was powerful and emotional. I really wanted to keep it. But given everything else that was already in this video, it was imperative for me to shave off more seconds. These are all going to be 2-minute testimonial videos. Testimonial videos in and of themselves aren’t usually that engaging, so it was important to keep these to as close to 2 minutes as possible. Even with this cut, his video is still 2.5 minutes. But since he IS the CEO of the organization, he warrants more time. So, I had to weigh the importance of this soundbite (about God having an amazing adventure for us) vs. the overall message (use your talents to their fullest potential). Could I convey the same message without the “adventure” soundbite. The answer was “yes.”

Naturally, if you were editing this, you may make a different call. There is no right or wrong answer to these. But I think sharing my thought processes may help some of you when you’re in the editing room trying to decide what gets relegated to the proverbial “cutting room floor.”

Just remember the advice an indie filmmaking buddy gave me: when you’ve gone through an edit and cut out everything you think you can, go through it one more time and cut some more.

Oh, One More Thing…Get that B-roll

It should go without saying, to make this type of editing work, you must have plenty of b-roll to throw over all those cuts, otherwise you’ll have a visually jarring edit. So make sure you get that b-roll.🙂

8 thoughts on “Capturing the Essence of the Edit

  1. This is a great reminder for photographers too! I am always trying to get rid of the less meaningful frames to let my more powerful shots sing. We get so connected and invested in our work that at times its hard to let go of parts of it. Get to the point and don’t let your meaning get lost! Great post Ron!

    1. Hi Brea,

      That’s a good point. I didn’t even think about how it could apply to photographers, particularly in making albums too. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Great read. I follow you blog since a while now and although some of your tips might seem obvious, once used in filming work are great addition. I coudnt be more sweet to you, Ron🙂 Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks Vetec for following the blog. I really appreciate it.

      The level of experience of my readers varies. What seems obvious to some is totally new to others. There were times I wouldn’t blog about certain topics b/c I thought it was too basic. Then I learned from a very seasoned photographer that there is always someone out there who doesn’t know what you know. Some of the most thankful emails and comments I get are from blog posts I thought were basic of obvious. Besides, even us pros need to be reminded of the obvious sometimes.🙂

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