Rules of thumb for video editing

Here are some guidelines that may be helpful when you come to edit your movie. Of course, there are no hard and fast rules, especially if your work is humorous or experimental.

·    Do not string together scenes in which the camera is moving. Pans, zooms, and other moving shots should always be separated by static shots.

·    Shots that follow one another should be from different camera positions. The camera angle should vary by at least 45 degrees.

·    Sequences of faces should always be shot alternately from varying angles of view.

·    Change perspectives when shooting buildings. When you have similar shots of the same type and size, the picture diagonal should alternate between front left to rear right and vice versa.

·    Make cuts when persons are in motion. The viewer will be distracted by the ongoing motion and the cut will go almost without notice. In particular, you can cut to a long shot from the middle of the motion.

·    Make harmonious cuts; avoid visual disjunction.

·    The less motion there is in a shot, the shorter it should be. Shots with fast movements can be longer.

·    Long shots have more content, so they should also be shown longer.

Ordering your video sequences in a deliberate manner not only permits you to produce certain effects, but even enables you to convey messages that cannot or should not be shown in pictures. There are basically six methods of conveying messages through cuts. Let’s look at each in turn.

Associative cuts

Shots are strung together in a certain order to trigger associations in the mind of the viewer, but the actual message is not shown. Example: A man bets on a horse race and, in very next scene, we see him shopping for an expensive new car at a car dealership.

Parallel cuts

Two actions are shown in parallel. The film jumps back and forth between the two actions; making the shots shorter and shorter until the end. This is a way of building suspense until it peaks. Example: Two different cars drive from different directions at high speed toward the same intersection.

Contrast cuts

The film purposely cuts unexpectedly from one shot to another, very different shot, in order to point up the contrast to the viewer. Example: A tourist lying on the beach; the next shot shows starving children.

Substitutionary cut

Events that cannot or should not be shown are replaced by other events (a child is born, but instead of childbirth, the blossoming of a flower bud is shown).

Cause and effect cuts

Shots are related by virtue of cause and effect: without the first shot, the second would be incomprehensible. Example: A man fights with his wife and, in the very next shot, winds up sleeping under a bridge.

Formal cuts

Shots that vary in content can be strung together if they have something in common – the same shapes, colors, or motions, for example. Examples: A crystal ball and the earth; a yellow raincoat and yellow flowers; a falling skydiver and a falling feather.

Rules of thumb for video editing