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Not just another Public Service Announcement

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Peter Davis
Not just another Public Service Announcement
on Feb 20, 2010 at 5:05:49 pm

I just started working as a video editor for a company that is basically a one stop shop for short, :30 & :60, Public Service Announcements. The majority of these spots are scripted to be a talking head. Every spot looks the same…wide shot to medium shot, maybe throw in a close up, dissolve to and from a picture, back to wide.
I am not trying to push the creative responsibility off on to somebody else. As the editor I know it’s my job to be creative, challenge the status quo and create an original spot. Is it common to have the creativity rest solely on the editor? I always thought the edit session was a creative collaboration between the producer/director and the editor. Looking for some inspiration; can anybody share some links of short creative PSA spots, where only a person against a backdrop was shot?
I am only working with Avid MC 4 and Photoshop CS3

Thank you

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Arnie Schlissel
Re: Not just another Public Service Announcement
on Feb 20, 2010 at 5:37:32 pm

Creativity starts in preproduction, or, really, with the pitch meeting.

If the director & DP show up on the day of the shoot & their creative vision can only deliver WS, MS, CU of a talking head, then I'd wonder what they expect to happen in the edit. Do they expect you to magically find a camera angle that they didn't shoot? To use the dolly or steadicam shot that they didn't create?

IOW, this is a kind of "garbage in, garbage out" scenario. The failure of the director & DP to have a more creative vision on set is the first problem with making dull PSAs. They've left you with the onerous task of building exciting graphics or finding exciting music to hide their own lack of vision.


Post production is not an afterthought!

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Peter Davis
Re: Not just another Public Service Announcement
on Feb 20, 2010 at 8:36:24 pm

Thanks Arnie. ”garbage in gargabe out” Well put.

The place definitely has a factory feel to it. We are working with a skeleton staff and the production department just bangs out projects so they can move on to the next.
I think the mentality is, as long the client is happy then it’s good enough…same spot, different client.

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Mark Suszko
Re: Not just another Public Service Announcement
on Feb 20, 2010 at 8:38:03 pm

I spent a major chunk of my life making PSA's, many of them the type you describe. It can be very un-fun. Most of those were done in the bad old linear editing days, which made things even more tedious. I cranked out around fifty plain vanilla stand-up spots like that in one weekend, and the strain of it on me and the gear finally made our outfit's case to get upgraded to NLE editing.

Right now I'm on a relatively cool assignment; they wrote short scripts, but have left the visuals totally to me. These are all going to be "no-shoot spots", done mostly with graphics, kinetic type, and maybe some stock images here and there. Cheap but trying to look expensive. To me this is almost the ideal as an editor; though everything I do still has to be okayed by the clients, really the entire series is banking on my own creativity and ability to interpret and execute the ideas visually. They hand the stuff to me and leave me alone to create. You can hardly ask for more as an editor. Well, besides money:-)

But back to your "humdrum" project.
What they have apparently given you is a radio spot that happens to have footage of someone talking to the camera. That's typical of folks who don't really know how to write for TV. I don't know your situation, it could be that you really have no room or charge to do more than clean up the takes and put some nice music and lower thirds over it. If that is the case, suck it up and concentrate on doing the tightest edit of that limited palette that you can. Spend extra time on adjusting the color balance, tweaking the audio mix, making it technically as perfect as it is thematically and narratively vacant. This helps preserve your ego, while polishing your skills for more worthy work later. It also solidifies your rep as a "get-it-done" type of person.

If you have a little room to riff with the footage, start by concentrating on telling the story, visually, and see if you can throw in alternate takes and angles, traveling mattes, PIP boxes, thematically sensible transitions, and b-roll that fits in with the message. See if you can key or roto the speaker and put them in a different layout. Grab their audio and cut only graphics to it, no video, see what you can come up with.

I got this one PSA shoot handed me, that was a kid and a guy playing her dad, just standing in a badly-lit and static composition like they were posing for American Gothic. The kid has all the lines and talks about her dad thruout, reading stiffly off a prompter a script she wrote. While playing with the footage, and wishing for a gun, I turned away from the monitors and just listened to the track. What it inspired was, I tossed all the video, and built some crude graphics that looked something like this music video, (which came much later)

(that's not mine, but a very similar look on the ruled paper and hand-scrawled kid-like drawing)

Suddenly, not only was the spot saved, the clients loved the new idea enough to ask for some more spots done the same way. I guess I am lucky though that some of my clients are very open-minded and trust me enough to let me play with the materials. It helped that our service arrangement meant all the experimentation was "off the clock" and not billed. That took pressure off of me and gave me time to explore and to try and then discard things that didn't pan out, before coming up with the final concept.

Another time, I had a PSA to do about domestic violence, and all I had were some statistics. I alternated stark white type about the stats, on black, with macro-shot tabletop footage of xcu's of a plain old stop-watch, running. The main stat was about how many women get attacked (every minute).

But what sold the spot and won an award, was the audio underneath the cut-aways to the stopwatch. I had standard ominous music under the whole thing, and stopwatch ticking under the watch, but we went into the studio, and I mic'd myself as I beat the living crap out of an old cabinet door, yelling and demanding to be let inside a fictional house/bedroom, with some baby crying far in the background (over the top but hey, clients loved it). That really violent-sounding foley action off-camera, interposed with the stats text, music, and the watch, is what won the prize for a spot that cost me one blank tape and an hour to make, and beat out my close friend's spot that cost $1k and had wonderful photography, paid actors, custom music, and pyro effects on-location.

So you CAN make the lemonade, if they let you, and you throw some creativity at it. But if all they want is the plain vanilla stand-up, try not to despair. Just keep your work standards high and take pride in that aspect of the execution, that it may be a turd, buy by heaven it is the shiniest, most broadcast-standards-perfect turd you can make. If George Lucas can survive the Ewocks Christmas Special, you will survive this current project.

Meanwhile, try to work on the personal relationship with these clients to start building up the trust you will need, to get them to let you off the leash at some point, and to get your input into the creative process at an earlier stage. This is something that will have to happen in small increments over time. Maybe they don't know that you can do more than they are asking, that is very common. Maybe find the time to make a spec version on your own time... but be VERY careful not to step on anybody's toes or make it look like you are competing. The idea is not to compete with the bad, but to try to collaborate towards making the bad better. Part of the same team, not a rival competitor.

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Alan Lloyd
Re: Not just another Public Service Announcement
on Feb 21, 2010 at 6:26:59 pm

Well-put and nicely fleshed out, Mark.

The time to "fix" things is not in post-production, it's in pre-production.

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grinner hester
Re: Not just another Public Service Announcement
on Feb 21, 2010 at 4:48:44 am

[Peter Davis] " Is it common to have the creativity rest solely on the editor? I"
In best case scenerios.
Congrats! Have fun. Throw some shots in AE and scale em and reposition em a bit. The DVE is Avid will tear the image up too much. You can fake zooms from one position to another not unlike the music video example in the thread below. If you have sapphire effects you can add a ittle motion blut to really help these transitions out. Otherwise a BCC glow will do fine as filler over the quick transition.
You can feather in different baclgrounds using animatte if these were not shot over a keyable source.
Music and sound effects will bring all together.

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