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Editing Advice - Live Theater Recording

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Coleman McPherson
Editing Advice - Live Theater Recording
on Dec 10, 2016 at 3:11:03 am

Hey ya'll,

So working on a freelance editing job and having some difficulty. Basically I'm cutting together film of a live theater performance. Pretty straightforward: it was a multi-cam setup with four static shots set up but, ironically, I've found that I wasn't given sufficient coverage to work with. Basically of the four shots, only two are consistent the whole way through. Basically a have a wide of stage left and a medium shot facing straight ahead and those are the two shots that I've been reliant on. I have one extreme wide shot from the back of the venue but it only starts about a third of the way through the production; I have no footage from that angle whatsoever for the beginning of the production. And lastly, I have a few medium shots from stage left.

What I'm wondering is how to create something that feels natural with limited footage? Because thusfar, I have the entire show watchable from start to finish but to me, it feels choppy as I haven't been able to think of a natural way to to cut between these different angles and also how to introduce these completely new shots after being completely reliant on only two for the third of it's runtime. My current philosophy has been to use the medium shot for the dialogue which takes place on the stage (it's a small stage so I can basically fit all of the actors comfortably in frame at most parts) but then when the main character addresses the audience through narration (the play is like a noir detective story) I pull back out to my master wide shot. But this has lead to long stretches where I'm stuck on one shot.

Some more details; there is basically no stage action to follow with the exception of two musical numbers and one scene where they chase a character throughout the venue; that's where I'm trying to utilize the the neglected shots. The rest of the "play" (and I use that term loosely) is treated as like an old-timey radio show from the 1940s. So the actors are literally just standing up there and reading their lines from the script into microphones.

So thoughts?

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Bill Davis
Re: Editing Advice - Live Theater Recording
on Dec 10, 2016 at 7:11:26 pm

My key questions would be-

What cameras?
What formats are they shooting at what resolution?
And what's your deliverable resolution?

I'd start there because if you have high-ish Rez capture and something like "watchable on-line" deliverables - you might be able to get away with some "virtual angles" by pushing in on the existing shots as appropriate.

If so, then I'd look at the whole program with fresh eyes asking one question of myself.
"Who's talking now and how can I get as close as practical in order to best show them?"

Initial pass to do that. Fill in with the wider group stuff.

My 2 cents.

Good luck.

Creator of XinTwo -
The shortest path to FCP X mastery.

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Coleman McPherson
Re: Editing Advice - Live Theater Recording
on Dec 10, 2016 at 8:51:08 pm

You mean using Scale and Position to create something like an artificial closeup? That I have attempted but it only has really been workable with certain shots; with the wides it hasn't worked because it's been producing really fuzzy images. And with the mediums, it's worked on some but not consistently as not all of the medium shots were framed up properly; the Rule of Thirds was not always followed properly by the cameraman on the back-medium unfortunately which has lead to some of the actors being cut off partially. Which isn't a disaster, per se as I have been able to to rely on other shots in those situations. As far as the equipment goes, the show was shot with some decent equipment and a good enough image quality that I did think to try to artificially create some new shots. The main thing that has prevented me from doing that has been some not-so-good framing in certain shots and also nightmarish blocking in some areas. Basically because the stage is so small couple with the way it was shot meant that in certain areas of the cut when there are a lot of actors up there, some (even one's with speaking roles) are completely blocked off and you can't see them at all.

The guy I work for has been made aware of all this though and it seems like he's at peace with it as the cut, at this point, doesn't look bad. It's just that to me as a rookie-but-aspiring-professional editor I'm concerned that there's no way that I can get this cut so that it has a natural flow to it. I'm going to finish up the cut today though and I think I'll take your advice with the finishing touches and try to get as close as I can to the actors' performances. I think at this point, though, I think that there's no way to avoid this being a Frankenedit.

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Mark Suszko
Re: Editing Advice - Live Theater Recording
on Dec 12, 2016 at 5:29:03 pm

Cheer up. To an extent, no matter how good your camera directions were, any video of a stage play ends up a "franken-edit", by the very nature of shooting stage plays. The nature of a stage play is presenting all the visual options to an audience and letting them play the role of live-switch director in their own individual minds, as each member of the audience chooses, moment by moment, where they focus their own attention, as it is drawn by movement, by lighting cues, by sound. Welles' filmmaking was so interesting partly because his style was a hybrid of theatrical technique enhanced by the grammar of film shots.

Sure, you can average-out the most likely choices of what most people would focus on from moment to moment, and put camera shots on those, but it will never be quite the same as staging the action for the cameras specifically. The very first movies just placed a locked-off wide shot in the center of the audience seating and rolled the iso. It wasn't until later, when film makers learned they could move the camera around and edit between different angles and takes, that film began to develop it's own aesthetic.

Specifically to your question of options for improving the shots: is there a chance you can layer a tighter shot of the narrator speaking to the audience, in a half-dissolve, or picture-in-picture wipe of the wide shot? The layering can obscure some of the loss in resolution and detail.

A tip for next time: bring your iso cameras to the dress rehearsal, and use those for super-tight close-ups from angles that would be impractical for the actual audience in the front row seating and even on the edge of the stage. When you mix these in with the three camera positions from the "actual" show, you create the look of a 6-camera live switch. You also have some "insurance" to cover blown lines between one version and another, and backup audio, across multiple recordings.

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