Klipp: Tips & triks

The shootings are over and now you have a pile of tapes on your desk. It’s time to make a film out of them. This is a shortcut on how to get you started.

How to get started
Basically, what you need is an editing program and a recording deck or a camera with an output, such as a fire wire connection to import your material to a computer. Don’t be afraid of the technical side: most of the time, the programs’ help-function and internet tutorials give a good start. The best way to learn is by doing.

Know your material
First you need to sit down and think a little: what kind of a film you are about to make? What’s the desired length and style? Take your time and go through all the material. Take notes and put down what you find from each tape and time code position. It is more like a rule than an exception that everything does not go as planned in the shooting process. The editor’s job is to re-think and make a functioning film from the existing possibilities.

The rough cut
When you have an overview of the material, the next thing you do is import the material to your editing program. Now, you are ready to start what’s called the rough cut. It’s a phase when you select the clips you want to use and organize them on the timeline. That means you put the scenes together roughly and create a structure for the film.

The rough cut is a way to get an overview about the film and see if it works the way you have thought it would. When making a documentary film, this phase can take quite a while since the story can often be presented in many different ways. The most important thing is that you have a story with a beginning, middle and ending.

Effects and cuts
Even when making the rough cut, remember to use straight cuts – avoid leaving black and adding unnecessary dissolves and other transition effects between regular cuts. At first, it might seem that a dissolve would soften a not-so-good transition, but actually more often it ends up confusing the viewer. Using transition effects too much draws attention to the editing and breaks the illusion of a continuous story. You can find more info about different cuts, like jump cut, continuity cut and other editing practices from for example Wiki-books and film editing guides from the library – see links and book tips in the end of this article.

Putting your story together
When you have finished the rough cut, it’s time to discuss it with the director and see what you have. A good guideline would be to try to tell something new in each scene that takes the story forward. Just as in the whole film, each individual scene should have a dramaturgy of itself, a starting point, development and an ending, preferably with a turning point. Apart from structure, timing is essential in editing. Try to use only as much of each shot as you need to get the message through. You don’t want to lose the interest of your audience by forcing them to watch unnecessary long shots, just because you have filmed them.

Get a second opinion
So now you have got it pretty much how you like. Before starting the fine tuning and locking the edit, it’s a good idea to show your film to a test audience. Sometimes an editor/director is said to become blind. That means you get so used to the solutions you have made that it’s hard to see what’s working and not working in your work. A test audience is a great way to see if a “fresh” audience understands your story and for example laughs at the right spot. Do not ask a boyfriend or your mom, but rather try to show your piece to members of the “general public” and see what they think.

Fine tuning
When you have received this feedback and dealt with the problems raised, it’s time to go to the last stage and finish the editing. In fine editing you go through each individual cut and try to make them as smooth as possible. Especially when cutting from one movement to another, shifting a transition just a few frames can make a huge difference.

When the test audience is happy and the director has had the final word, you can lock the editing and leave it to your sound designer. If you do your sound work yourself in the editing program, the least you must do is to check that the sound and dialogue are clear enough. It’s also good to check that the sound levels don’t vary too much and there are no gaps between clips. Remember to make a fade in the beginning and end of each soundtrack so that they won’t “click”. 

It’s time to get your masterpiece out of the computer and into the real world. If your sound comes from a sound designer, import a mastered file to your editing program and sync it to the video. Add some black video to the beginning and end of the film, and colour bars and 1 kHz tone if you prefer.

Now you are ready to make a master copy. This is a copy of your film in the best possible format you can afford. Common types of master copies are in tape format: DV, DVC Pro, Betacam SP or Digital Betacam, Mini DV etc. You may also want to save your film as an uncompressed Quick Time or AVI-file on an external hard drive or a Data DVD. It’s also a good idea to backup all your editing projects. That makes it easy to export different sizes and types of versions for example for internet distribution.

Besides the master, you will want to make screening copies. When choosing the format(s), you need to think of where your film is going to be screened. Film festivals most commonly accept DVD, Beta and film copies. Some festivals also accept Mini DV and other tape formats. Whatever you do, some extra DVDs are a must since it is rather cheap and by far the easiest way to show your film around whenever needed.

Book tips:
Hayward, Susan. Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts. 

John Cantine, Susan Howard, Brady Lewis. Shot by Shot; A Practical Guide to Filmmaking.

Ben Long, Sonja Schenk. The Digital Filmmaking Handbook.
Steven D. Katz. Film Directing Shot by Shot: Visualizing from Concept to Screen.

Written by Saara Konttinen