10 Tips for Beginner Documentary Editors

Here’s a quick list inspired by a video that I have seen today:

  • Make sure all interviews have lip sync.
  • Don’t bring in the lower-thirds simultaneously with the interview (unless you don’t have a choice), and give the audience a chance to look at who is speaking first, before they want to learn about who they are.
  • You don’t need to put up lower-thirds too often. If we haven’t seen the person for at least 5 minutes, you may choose to refresh the audience’s memory. If you have commercial breaks, you want to identify everybody when we first see them after every break.
  • Try to avoid redundancy in speech. Sometimes interviewees will repeat an idea with different words and that’s something to pay attention to.
  • When an interviewee has a “false start”, corrects themselves or rewords something in a better way, always try to get rid of the first part.
  • All the ahs, uhms, stutters, repeated words (e.g. “and, and… uh… and…”), awkward pauses need to be cleaned up as much as possible, unless it’s an important part of the speech and the presence of these elements add some dramatic value for instance. Sometimes there’s no way to clean those up. But if they are underneath B-roll there’s usually no excuse not to clean them up.
  • Never choose to cut to a person as they’re ah’ing, uhm’ing, stuttering etc. Again, those need to be cleaned up in the first place.
  • It’s always best to cut to an interviewee as they’re saying something with substance, making a point, emphasizing something, finishing a thought, switching gears, etc. That said, you don’t “have to” cut to them every time they make a point. But if you intend to cut to them, it’s important to choose when you should be cutting to them.
  • You do however want to cut to them for the punch line of a joke, or if your interviewee is laughing.
  • If you feel that your B-roll doesn’t 100% match what your interviewee is talking about, and you’re just using it to bridge two pieces of an interview, try not to linger on that B-roll for too long.
  • REMEMBER: Most people aren’t comfortable speaking in front of a camera. As a documentary editor, it is your responsibility to make sure your interviewees look good and sound good.

    This is just like making sure all your ingredients look fresh and at their best when you’re serving food. You want to cut out anything that is out of place, distracting and not flattering 🙂

    Just like making a puzzle

    Editing is just like making a puzzle. It’s fun, it makes you think, it requires patience, it excites you when you find the right piece and form little sections, and you can’t wait for that moment when the work will be complete and you’ll just sit back and admire it (well, hopefully!).

    I feel like editing a feature is like having a 5000 piece puzzle that comes in a box with a black and white sketch of what it would sort of look like when completed. But what makes editing a little trickier is that you would actually have let’s say 10,000 pieces in there and only 5000 of them would be put to use.

    Editing non-scripted work however, is like finding a bag of puzzle pieces in grandma’s house and she tells you “I think that one made a picture of a lake with houses around it, but some pieces might be missing; and there will be other pieces in there that belonged to another puzzle.”

    I’m cutting a non-scripted TV show pilot right now and I feel like I’m working with grandma’s puzzle bag. It’s really challenging, but every time I find that little piece that fits, I get a thrill out of it.

    I’m not sure what kind of puzzle would documentaries be… I think it would depend on the kind of documentary and the approach taken in the making of it. Maybe it’s the kind of puzzle that you design yourself… Another kind of fun, and very exciting as well!

    OK, now back to work! 🙂

    “5th & Alameda” Trailer


    Here’s the trailer for the movie I’ve edited over that past few months.

    The movie was shot on the RED (Mysterium) and edited on FCP 7.

    Happy New Decade!

    For some reason it’s not easy to write a blog entry after having neglected the blog for such a long time. I wasn’t lazy, but just very busy. In our industry, we always say “busy is good”, as we all go through rough patches where we have nothing to work on. So I feel blessed that I had a great project to work on for the past few months.

    We’re only a few weeks away from completing an independent feature called “5th & Alameda”. It stars Mario Van Peebles, Saye Yabandeh and Corey Sevier. It’s been an amazing experience working with these very talented actors, and a huge learning curve working with the RED for the first time.

    Working with a new format is always a bit intimidating. But luckily there were lots of resources online and I had taken quite a few seminars around town, hosted by the Editors Guild, Video Symphony, etc. And the rest of the process, you figure it out as you go.

    Aside from editing the movie, I’ve been busy cooking and experimenting with a bunch of new recipes. Now I finally have a much bigger kitchen, with a large counter, and a bunch of new “kitchen toys”. This is somewhat the equivalent of having a spacious edit bay, couple of big monitors and and cool plug-ins and software to play with.

    I’ll be sharing more post-production tidbits and recipes in the New Year.

    Until then, Happy New Decade! May this be a great one for the world and not one that we would look back to with regret and sorrow. PEACE & JOY! 🙂

    How to bring back the audio tracks of a clip in the timeline?

    An editor friend of mine just asked me if I knew how to do this on FCP. The method is pretty much the same as the AVID and here is how it goes:

  • Park the playhead over the video clip you want to add audio tracks to.
  • Set the In & Out, but hitting “X” (mark clip), or manually if you need a custom placement for your audio.
  • Then hit “Match Frame” (“F” is the default key for this) to reveal the clip in the viewer (source) monitor.
  • Make sure that ONLY the Audio tracks are active and connected. (e.g. A1 to A1, A2 to A2, or however you need it)
  • Do a “Replace Edit” and you’re done!
  • TIP 1: If you have any audio transitions you will have to REMOVE them, or FCP won’t let you replace the edit.

    TIP 2: Since we’re only replacing the audio and keeping the video as is, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the sync warnings to make sure you’re doing it right.

    A few kind words

    Today I delivered the first episode of the series I had been cutting and my producer handed me a small envelope. Enclosed was this beautiful “Thank You” card handwritten with kind words about my involvement in the show. I thought that was very nice of her.

    I’ve been working in the industry for over a decade and it’s not everyday that producers make such kind gestures. We all appreciate a few kind words with a personal touch, especially if we have gone an extra mile.

    Now that the show is delivered I’m taking a mini vacation and flying to Costa Rica tonight. Beaches, waves, wild life, hikes and local food await! I’ll be back on Monday to start a new episode. Life is good, pura vida!

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