What Makes a Great Editor

The Story Unfolds

Let me first say that video production is an powerful influential medium. If you don’t believe me, watch any two opposing political ads. It takes a team to pull off a good video, but it’s the editor who is the icing on the cake, the sugar in the coffee and the syrup on the waffles. It’s a great video editor who presents the right information, at the right time, and in the right order. The result produces effects on the actions, opinions, and behaviors of the viewers. So what makes a great editor?

A good editor is one which understands all aspects of filmmaking-WRONG. A good editor knows their software. A great editor has knowledge of the inner workings of the human mind and physiology. A great editor knows how to invoke thoughts and emotions in the viewer. Let’s take you through a few facets of how the editor unfolds a story.

Contrary to popular belief, the story doesn’t take place on the screen. The story takes place in the mind of the viewer. This may be difficult to understand at first, but reality only happens in the mind. By using certain techniques, we are able to help create the story that we want the viewer to see. That’s the mark of a great editor.

A great editor follows the rules, but knows when to break them. Standard editing teaches us to work from the master shot (the shot that shows everything in the scene) and then work your way in, closer and closer. This shouldn’t always be the case. In some instances, when the goal is to create a feeling of mystery, we could actually reverse this process. By starting the scene with close ups, which will naturally cause the viewer to question the context, we add a clandestine feeling. This can be further emphasized by depth of field.

Through The Eyes

Our eyes are very different from a camera lens, however it’s important to understand how the eyes work, so that the clips can be arranged in a cohesive manner. Both of your eyes combined have around 130˚ angle of view, however not all of that area can “see” at the same time. If fact, our eyes have a very narrow view of what can be “seen” at any given time. Most of that 130˚ extreme peripheral vision is an evolutionary development, so that you can see the motion of lion getting ready to pounce on and make you his lunch.

The slideshow below contains four photographs and is a rough representation of just how small the field of focus is within the human eye. In this example, we show you a normal photograph. We then show you how focusing the eye on objects in the foreground, mid-ground and background tend to reduce detail in other areas of the scene.

  • focus shift three women on beach in haiti water gravel
  • in focus picture of three women on the beach in haiti
  • focus shift three women on beach in haiti
  • blurred photo of three women on beach in haiti

With an understanding of the human eye, we can edit clips together in a way that allows for smooth transitions, allowing us to control the feelings of the viewer. Let me explain. Using the images above, suppose the focus of the first shot is of the woman in the far left chair. To make a smooth “eye trace” (eye movement), the focus of the next shot should stay somewhere near the same left side of the screen, unless… Don’t you just hate that? It’s almost like English class all over again. Unless, you want to create tension in the scene, then cut the clips together so that the eye movement bounces around-think fight scene. Just this one aspect has a huge effect on the viewer’s comfort level.

Example of Eye Tracing

Some of the best editing can be found in pharmaceutical commercials. Watch the commercial below and notice how your eye moves from one scene to the other. The editor has placed the eye-level of each actor in the same general location, thereby making smooth transitions between the scenes.

A great editor consist of someone who knows their software packages, someone who knows how to tell stories (avid readers make fantastic video editors), and someone who understands the working of the human physiology and who knows how to invoke feelings and emotions.

Comments are closed.