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Chapter 6. Editing > Rubin's Rules of Editing

Rubin's Rules of Editing

Ah, more rules. Maybe “rules” is the wrong word. Would it be better if I called them “meditations”? Don't worry, though—they aren't difficult.

Editing is about source management.

This is a fancy way of saying that if you don't know what material you have, you can't edit it. Know your footage—where it is located (using timecode, log sheets, and labeled tapes) and what it looks like. The more familiar you are with the material you have, the easier your edit will be. As a famous director once said to me, “You can't edit what you don't have. You can only edit what was shot.” To which I would add: “You can only edit what you can find.” So be organized.

Less is more.

It is far more common to leave your shots too long than to make them too short. The truth is, there is always something you can lose—whether your shots are going on too long or you have too much coverage providing too many angles on something that doesn't require it. I can usually pull 10 to 20 frames off of every shot in my cut without missing a thing. This may not seem like much, but after 30 or 40 shots, this trick will painlessly shorten a sequence by 15 to 20 seconds and generally make it better.

The hardest part of editing is accepting this notion that getting rid of something good will usually improve the remaining stuff. So don't fall in love with your material: Keep your mind on the whole and not any of the individual shots.

Don't worry about art.

In general, don't make yourself crazy worrying about the aesthetics of how each shot attaches to the next shot. When you're starting out, you just need to get the fundamentals down. The rest will come in time. This book isn't really about becoming a great editor (although later in this chapter I will give you some quick tips that might help get you started). Becoming a great editor would be a happy result of working with video for a long time.

Make sure that each shot “reads.”

A shot must sit on the screen just as long as it has to, and no longer. Beginners tend to have problems at both ends of the spectrum: long shots that go on and on, and shots that are too short simply because not enough material was recorded. As a rule of thumb, close-ups can be short (maybe a second or two) and wide shots can be longer (maybe 3 or 4 seconds). A trick to lengthen shots that you simply didn't shoot right is to slow them down with a special effect. Rule No. 7 below notwithstanding, you can slow down shots that move too quickly or are too short to “read” properly.

Sound is often more important than pictures.

This is a brain phenomenon that I can't totally explain. The mind can watch jumpy, jarring, and disjointed images, and if the sound is smooth and continuous, everything will be hunky-dory. But the opposite is not true: Noises, blips, and jarring audio cuts will ruin an otherwise decent stream of video. So make sure you edit for a smooth sound track. This can be easy or hard to do, and we will learn about it later in this chapter.

Don't overedit.

Computers make editing so simple that you may want to make lots and lots of cuts just because you can. But sometimes a shot is good when it's long. Sometimes there is no reason to go to a cut-away or see another angle. You have to trust your instincts here and think like someone in your audience. When you, as a viewer, want to see something from a different angle or are not sure what you're seeing onscreen, that's a good time to make an edit. But don't edit just for the thrill of it. Too many fast cuts can be as unwatchable as too many long, boring shots.

Forget about special effects. Well, mostly.

Don't be mad: I know I told you back in Chapter 3 when you were shooting not to use your camera's built-in effects, since you can add any of them later in the editing process. Now I'm saying don't bother. Your editing program's special effects—fancy manipulations of images, color, perspective, motion, whatever—are time consuming to create and are usually distracting and unnecessary to watch. While there are certain exceptions (including some titles, fade-in at the beginning, and fade-out at the end), in general I would advise working without the effects, particularly when you're just starting out.

Structure is everything.

Editing means creating a structure from pieces of disjointed video. If the video you shot doesn't have a natural structure, then simply fake one. You can use the elements of filmmaking—the establishing shots, the back-and-forth of a shot/reverse-shot sequence, some details, and a fade-out—to give almost any footage enough flow to make an enjoyable video. The right song from a CD will lend just enough cohesion to your video that you can get away with awfully little and still pull it off. But try to create a structure with the pieces of video you've captured. Without structure, you have little more than a fancy multimedia experience.

Clean up blips.

Through either sloppy editing or poor shooting, you may often end up with blips of video only 1 to 10 frames long that interrupt an otherwise smooth video track. When you're starting out, a single frame might seem very short (after all, it's only 1/30th of a second), but as you grow more familiar with video, you will not only notice a single frame but bad frames will actually bother you. Good editors will frequently take one or two frames off a shot to make it better. For me, this amounts to watching motion in my frames, and not leaving a shot with a fraction of a movement. You should become sufficiently comfortable with your editing software to be able to trim out a single frame when you need to.

You're never finished.

Editing software makes it possible to edit and tweak and fix indefinitely. And because you probably don't have a client or a deadline, you could just mess with your video forever. Often you might think you're done, then watch it again and think, “Hmmm…that shot is a little long. I should cut to a close-up there.” This is why I insist on setting (and keeping) deadlines. Give yourself, say, an hour or two, and just edit until the video is pretty good. Show it to some people, give yourself a day or so to distance yourself from it, and then make one more tweaking pass. Beyond that, you reach a point of diminishing returns, so allow yourself to stop. Pull the digital video files off your computer. Unless you do this, you might end up messing with the video for the rest of your life.



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