How to Edit as You Shoot
by Jim Church
The key to editing in camera is being selective about what you shoot. As I said in past lessons, don't shoot video the way a kid waters the lawn. Don't swing your camcorder from side to side and up and down in an attempt to include everything you see. Don't shoot until you have a specific subject.
Keep it short and moving: Keep the action moving from scene to scene. Twenty seconds of a Queen Angelfish gliding over the reef, for example, is boring. Most scenes should be from about three to seven seconds. Views of a playful grouper can be longer if the grouper is doing something, such as interacting with a diver.
Network TV has conditioned us to fast cuts, condensed storylines and fast paced action. The one-half hour sitcoms you see on TV, for example, have only about 26 minutes of actual story supported by music and dialogue. To sum up, remember three simple rules: Keep the story short, concentrate on action and remember that viewers have short attention spans. What is your purpose? Suppose you plan to document a dive with your buddies. You will want to show one or more of them entering the water, what they see and do and end with one or more of them returning to the surface. Each part of your video story-entering water, underwater activities, etc.-usually requires several shots. (A shot begins when you trigger from standby to record and ends when you trigger back to standby.)
Your purpose may be to document marine life, such as hermit crabs, eels peering out of their lairs or fish at cleaning stations. Even though these are close-up shots, include an introductory wide-angle shot to establish the location. Use an occasional wide angle shot to reestablish the location between your series of close-up shots and use a wide angle shot to end the montage.
Shooting strategy: Before beginning a shot (or a series of related shots), think through each of the following questions: What is your specific subject for the shot? How will you begin? How will you end the shot? What will be the subject for your next shot? Here are some examples of how you would use the four questions listed above.
Assume you are swimming slowly along the reef. You see two potential subjects, an eel and a grouper, about eight feet apart. Which will you videotape first? For this example, you decide to start with the eel. Second, you must decide how
you will start the shot. Will you start at about three feet and move in or will you start with a close-up and pull back for a wider shot? Third, how will you end the shot? Will you simply stop shooting, pan to the adjoining reef, then
stop or pan to your next subject? You must decide on the spot. You start this four step process again with your next subject.
Sequencing shots: Getting shots in proper sequence can be difficult if you can't control the other divers or they have other interests. If the other divers are cooperative, make a simple list of the scenes you wish to shoot, such as:
1. Divers enter water from the swimstep.
2. Upward view of divers swimming down to the reef.
3. Divers swim along the reef.
4. Divers find fish, eel, lobster, etc.
5. Close-up views of what divers find.
6. Divers swim back to the boat.
7. Divers board boat at swimstep.
If you want to elaborate your shot list, bring a deck of index cards. You can make simple stick figure sketches on the cards. Arrange the cards in order and use these to show divers what views you wish to shoot.
Avoiding problems: Editing in camera isn't easy. No matter how hard you try, there will be some unwanted scenes. Thus, you may wish to delete some scenes if you copy the tape from your camcorder to a VCR. For clean deletions, give each
shot some header and tailer. Start shooting just before the action begins and stop shooting a few seconds after the action ends. This lets you delete scenes without abruptly cutting in or out of the action.