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The grammar of editing

Martin Johnson - Tuesday, December 24, 2013

This post is part 2 of a series on editing your first video. (Read the first post here)

Know your Grammar

When you write, you use grammar. Grammar is what gives you the structure of a sentence. Defn: Grammar: The study of how words and their component parts combine to form sentences. Film and video also uses a form of grammar, which like the grammar you use when you write, gives you a form or structure to edit images together. For example, traditional editing generally follows the following structure or 'grammar'.

  • An establishing wide shot
  • A series of closer mid-shots
  • Close ups of the important detail
  • A mid-shot
  • A closing wide shot that re-establishes the scene.

You can see this structure every night on TV when you watch the news.

Of course you don't have to follow this 'grammar' or structure. Editing from wide shot to close up and back again is not conventional but it will generate a response in your viewer. You may start with a series of close ups and then cut to the establishing wide shot later on. This has the effect of the viewer not knowing what's happening, which also may be the effect you're after.

Edit for your audience

It's important to know your audience - who will watch your video. Some audiences will love a fast cutting style, inter-cutting between different shot sizes while others will find this disorienting.  Know your audience so that your editing style doesn't put them off.

Interview with overlay

My first editing experience was editing local news stories for regional television. Generally this consisted of an interview with a local dignitary or important visitor to town plus some overlay or B roll footage of whatever they were talking about. A new civic building, sale yard or council service. 

Because this would be footage used in a news service, the newsreader would always read an introduction which set up the background to the story. We'd then go straight into the interview for 10-15 secs and then select overlay footage that illustrated what the interviewee was talking about - often the overlay would run over most of the interview until the last 10 seconds or so, when we'd come back to the interviewee.

This overlay footage generally followed the structure above, unless there was a reason for a different style.

Corporate Video editing

Corporate video has one overall objective which is show the organisation or company in the best possible light. Usually this includes footage of the companies activities or services. Its important that your corporate video has a good linear structure so the audience can 'follow the story'. One style is to start with three or four shots as a teaser - maybe pick three or four comments from the interviewees or corporate spokespeople. This 'teaser' is often used to generate interest in what is to follow.   Current Affairs stories on TV use the teaser almost as part of the main story - especially when the story doesn't really have any substance.

Like learning grammar for writing, learning film grammar takes time.


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