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Documentary editing with one camera

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Jon Fidler
Documentary editing with one camera
on Sep 18, 2009 at 6:37:46 pm

Hey guys


Im currently doing a home course on editing in my spare time (from assisting and digitisng tapes),Apple Art of editing), and there is a section on documenting an event.

In thie document they discuss editing a feature (the example and footage given is a travel documentary) with one camera, and say that it is acceptable on a professional level to make edits with this sort of setup which are not so smooth etc (actions match between cuts, but the background would be different etc). In my understanding only way to deal with this is by loads of cutaways etc, or cutting to close.

To me the idea of being this sloppy seems off, and am not sure if this style of doing this would be acceptable if I was working for a paid client.

Can you guys give me any input on this and also point me in the directions of any documenaries or shows where they use one camera just so I can get a feel for the style.






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grinner hester
Re: Documentary editing with one camera
on Sep 18, 2009 at 7:06:49 pm

You are welcome to surf the original programming on my website. I could never shoot a documentary with more than one camera as driving, hosting, directing and narrorating while shooting with one is challenging enough. ;)
There is no template. Jump cuts are effective as all get up if used properly... that is for a reason. Other times, there is no reason not to be telling the story with visuals. No rules. No templates. No guidline to go by on the next one. That is what is so wonderful about a documentary. Ya get to document then build a story.



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Jon Fidler
Re: Documentary editing with one camera
on Sep 18, 2009 at 10:21:03 pm

So basically if ive got no other options availbale its ok to go for the jump cut occaionally if it moves the story forward?


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Mike Smith
Re: Documentary editing with one camera
on Sep 19, 2009 at 11:26:30 am

It's OK to do what works, for the story and its audience, and the best you can with the material you have at your disposal. But you may want to make anything non-classical look like a feature, a positive choice you've made, rather than like a bug, just something you got wrong.

Many docs are made single camera. It's up to the crew to provide coverage to allow for editing.


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grinner hester
Re: Documentary editing with one camera
on Sep 19, 2009 at 8:11:29 pm

hell yeah. If anyone else tells ya different, ask to see some work they've released. I'd venture to say that dialog will end right there.
Again, rules are made to be broken. If you aint breakin' em, you are no artist.



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Jon Fidler
Re: Documentary editing with one camera
on Sep 20, 2009 at 11:14:36 am

Yeah I agree!


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cowcowcowcowcow
Mark Suszko
Re: Documentary editing with one camera
on Sep 21, 2009 at 2:17:07 pm

All well and good, as far as it goes... however, I want to point out that film has spent the last 100 years or so building and establishing visual conventions of one kind or another, and while nobody is saying you must NEVER break them, There is also no compelling reason to go out of your way to AVOID them. After all, they've become part of the visual vocabulary because they WORK. And you don't need to try and re-invent a century of technique evolution all by yourself; you can just start using these tools and save some time.

I don't think it is wise for beginners to break the rules until they have a solid grasp of what those rules are, why they are there, and when it is a good idea to break them. Your work still needs a narrative structure.

My own advice is to be more conventional the first few times so you can get comfortable with things like the line of action and look space and framing. These simple but powerful concepts are what distinguish visually arresting work from spazzy youtube home lolcat video.

Specific to the original question, then, I would say the jump cut is your last option, after you've explored every other way to cover a shot transition. The jump cut, like any cut, according to Murch, is a very powerful "re-set button" on the human visual system. When you employ the abrupt transition of a cut, you are signalling the brain:
"HEY!!!!!!! Something IMPORTANT JUST HAPPENED!! PAY ATTENTION!"

Now, was that really your narrative intention at that point? To beep the horn while at the stoplight?
Are you going to sit there beeping it another ten times before the light goes green? That's what a string of jump cuts do. They are jarring. The viewer sees that and is trying to figure out subconsciously what happened to the frame, instead of what's being said or done *inside* that frame. Do this enough times, and the audience gets impatient with you, and your work looks raw and unfinished, even if that's not your intention.

Fast dissolves, soft-edged wipes, frame re-sizing, and DVE push, flip, or spin moves, all have been used to cover transitions and avoid the bare naked jump cut, or to at least minimize it. ALL those people are not wrong, the techniques evolved for a reason and there is a vocabulary of how we use them.

Dissolves imply a passage of time and sometimes also space, but mostly time. SO to dissolve over the jump cut admits to the viewer: "...some time passed, but it wasn't important to sit thru it, here's what's important next".

I'd also like to speak to the shooting side of this; I love being the shooter as well as the cutter of my own stuff. But even if someone else is cutting, when I shoot documentary footage I either cover it with two cameras, or I vary the shots during the conversation. Except for very narrow purposes like legal depositions, I think it is very lazy and dumb to lock the camera down on one shot for thirty minutes and essentially walk away from it. That's not fully utilizing the power of the camera. I begin my edit when I'm using the camera.

That means, I'm editing just by my decisions to start or stop the camera, and when I choose to zoom in or not. And when I'm seeking cutaway and cover footage. My editing begins before the project begins, as I make choices about the setting, the camera location and framing, the timing, the sound, and later, during the ingest and logging, I'm editing in a rough sense in what I choose to log and what I choose not to log into the system.

Shoot for the edit. Because even more than the shoot itself, the edit is the fundamental part of transforming raw information into a particular message. You can change completely what the director intended to say, just by how you interpret and sequence the footage, and how you present it.

So learn the visual language, learn the rules, the audience is used to them now. Then later when you decide you need to bend or break a rule, you will know how to do it in a way that works for you and the audience.





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Doug Collins
Re: Documentary editing with one camera
on Sep 29, 2009 at 8:32:52 pm

Ditto everything Mark said. In addition, when possible, shoot a ton of B-Roll. Vary the shots; close-ups, medium shots, wide shots, pans, tilts, zooms….anything you can think of. Even if you think it is a dumb idea at the time it could save you later. Shoot way more than you think you will need. Get video of anything that is mentioned in the interviews, multiple shots of each. If you have time, try to get some differently angled shots of the interviewee after the interview is done. Over-the shoulders, reverse angles, etc. (Watch some of the national news shows interviews for examples.) You will thank yourself later.

Also, while shooting B-Roll, on locked off shots I try to shoot at least :30 per shot. Pans, tilts and zooms, I try to hold a steady shot for :04-:05 seconds before I begin the move and another :04-:05 seconds after it is done.

Basically the more you shoot the better off you will be during the edit.

Oh yeah, have fun while you are doing it. It seems the more fun I have shooting something, the more time I spend shooting it.

Good Luck

Doug


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Fred Jodry
Re: Documentary editing with one camera
on Sep 30, 2009 at 4:55:19 pm

-and while making all this good video make sure you give yourself plenty of good workable editable audio.


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Andrew Kimery
Re: Documentary editing with one camera
on Sep 30, 2009 at 5:33:12 pm

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father ( http://dearzachary.com/ ) has a lot of single camera interviews and a lot of jump cuts but they aren't distracting, IMO. The first couple got my attention but after that I got used to the 'style' and the rest were pretty transparent. It also helped that Dear Zachary has an incredibly compelling narrative.

If a jump cut works, it works. If it doesn't work cover it up.


-Andrew

3.2GHz 8-core, FCP 6.0.4, 10.5.5
Blackmagic Multibridge Eclipse (6.8.1)



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