Video Editing Tips For House of Worship Beginners

by | Production, Video, Video Connections

A woman in a studio, editing a video.

Churchgoers around the world are experiencing a transformation. Many worship services now incorporate video elements, and there are several reasons for the change. The modern media world surrounds us in our everyday lives, so why should the church experience be any different? Generations have learned to watch television from birth. Why not leverage that information to distribute the messages you want to get across?

The techniques used by video editors to shape the media they work with reveals a lot about the way people create meaning in the world. Given the exact same raw footage, two different editors could make two completely different videos. But a good editor should always be in tune with how people think and feel and then use this knowledge to build compelling stories. And while an editors’ chosen style may largely reflect the type of project he or she is working on, there are some approaches that generally work well in any scenario. Here are a few popular ways to use video in the church world. Note: With some of the techniques mentioned, examples are given that aren’t specific to churches, but the examples used make the technique easier to understand.

Make Tight Cuts

Any video that features a lot of talking will benefit from an editor who knows how to make tight cuts. Cutting scenes tight means taking out unnecessary pauses, using timely cutaways to close gaps between dialogue, or even losing lines of dialogue all together. Most projects will also have an estimated running time that needs to be kept in mind and making efficient cuts that can compress time will save you from having to go back and re-work scenes if you find the edit is running long.

Choose the Best Angles/Takes to Tell the Story

Always let camera work or performance dictate which shots you use in your final video. However, the importance placed on each of these aspects will likely depend on the type of project you’re working on. For a scripted feature or documentary, the character’s relation to the overall story is paramount. As such, editors who work on these projects sometimes have to leave beautiful shots or entire scenes on the cutting room floor simply because they don’t add anything to the overall story. On the other hand, when editing an interview or news story, your goal is usually to balance the speakers intended message with the expectations of the audience. When selecting footage for this type of project, it helps to think about what you would want to see or look at while listening to the audio. Using this method to choose camera angles and clips also helps the speakers to tell their story.

Use Wide Shots Sparingly

At the start of a scene, it’s usually necessary to cut between different camera angles so the audience is aware of the setting in which it’s taking place. However, once the scene has been contextualized and dialogue begins, medium and close-up shots hold the most significance for the audience. The reasoning behind this practice is evident when you consider that it’s almost always more captivating to watch a speaker’s facial expressions and gestures as they talk from up close rather than from a distance.

Pay Attention to the Speaker’s Body Language

On camera, speakers can reveal a lot through their body language. Moreover, everyone has a unique intonation and rhythm to their voice. If you pay attention to body language and pick up on the subtle hints in the way a person speaks, it can provide a natural tempo to your editing that the audience will feel intuitively. When acclaimed film editor, Walter Murch, was cutting the 1974 film The Conversation, he discovered that nearly every time he chose to make a cut, Gene Hackman’s character would blink at almost that exact point. Over time he continued to probe this notion until he came to the conclusion that a person will often blink every time he or she has a whole new thought or emotion.

Edit Out Mistakes

Even though editing out technical and speaking errors is all part of the editing job, if you can learn to do it with finesse you’ll be valued and praised in the post-production world. One method often used to edit out mistakes is to cut on action. This technique involves cutting from one shot to a second shot that’s from a different angle and different take that omits the mistake. Cutting on action gives the audience the impression of continuous time when they’re watching the edited film even though the shots used for the scene in the final cut could have been shot hours or even days apart.

Use B-Roll Shots in Sets of Three

If a scene requires cutaway inserts, using three in a row just feels right. If each B-roll clip you use is approximately 1.5 to 2 seconds long, anything less than three clips feels too meager while anything more than three seems unnecessary. An example of where B-roll shots are often used is when a character enters a room and looks around. In this case, three point-of-view inserts could be used to give the audience a good idea of the landscape the character has just encountered. This approach also feels natural to the audience because it mimics the way we experience the real world as we move through our surroundings.

Use Split Edits

The 50s television series Dragnet used a very straightforward approach to editing. Whenever characters were conversing on-screen, a simple formula was put into play that went something like this: cut to actor A — actor A delivers line; cut to actor B — actor B delivers line; cut back to actor A and so on. Walter Murch referred to this as the Dragnet-style of editing and it’s usually only employed by novice editors. A more compelling style of editing involves the use of split edits, also referred to as L-cuts or J-cuts. A split edit occurs when the change in picture doesn’t occur at the same time as the change in sound. This technique often enhances the artistic value or flow of a film because it allows the audience to see the context of the dialogue rather just the dialogue itself. Split edits are also great for smoothing out transitions between scenes.

Maintain Appropriate Pacing

When working on projects, video editors create a flow or tempo based on the timing of their cuts. Similar to the way a song progresses from beginning to end with a rhythm that drives it forward through the various musical sections, editors need to set the pace of their cuts for a given scene or section so that it matches the desired tone and energy they want to establish. If an edit is too fast, the audience might not have time to absorb and process information that is vital to the story. Conversely, if an edit is too slow, the audience can become bored very quickly — an increasingly relevant point for editors making web videos. Even if all you’re editing is a simple interview, switching between multiple camera angles and/or using appropriate B-roll footage to cover sections of talk can make the video much more dynamic and interesting than using a single locked-off shot of two people having a conversation.

Give Your Edits Some Breathing Room

After spending a lot of time working on the same project, editors can become desensitized to the material. By taking a break for a while and returning with fresh eyes you can help maintain your audiences perspective which will help put you in the mindset to make the best editing decisions.

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