Editing your way to a story

Editing begins the moment you decide you want to do a story. As you sift through ideas, you are constantly editing out those you don’t like. Finally, you settle on one story. Now you edit even more: you choose an angle to the story. Remember to think visually as you brainstorm.

Season: Autumn
* windy day (people blowing in the wind, kites, leaves and debris blowing)
* leaves (fall colors, raking leaves, problems leaves cause, children’s leaf art)
* weather (clouds, rain, change in moods)

Once you choose your final angle, start thinking about where to find your visuals. Hopefully you chose based on images you have already seen or know your can find. Let’s use leaves and the problems they cause as an example.

Grab your camera and tripod and start shooting. In this second stage, you continue to edit by only shooting shots that relate to your story.
For this story I know several places in my area where leaves block up drainage from streets and street crews or residents are out during rainstorms trying to unblock the drains. Keeping in mind the need for wide shots, medium shots, closeups and good natural sound, here is what I would shoot:
WS of streets littered with leaves and storm debris
WS of streets with flooding
MS of people working to unplug drains/natsound
CU of rain coming down in puddles/natsound
CU of leaves drifting in water
MS of leaves in piles
MS of leaves blocking drains
CU of drain as it is unblocked/natsound
CU of leaf hanging on in tree
MS of leaves in trees
MS of bare tree limbs
Long WS of sky (if not raining) to show clouds passing overhead
Low angle shot of leaves as they are blown by wind
MS of someone looking out car or house window at rain
You get the idea. As I am shooting I’d grab interviews, first asking people if I could talk with them on camera (I’ll post a videojournalist’s guide to etiquette eventually) and explaining briefly how the video would be used. Questions might include:
State your name and spell it
What is the best part of autumn?
How do you feel about fall and what it leaves?
Is there a problem with leaves?
Could you do without fall leaves? Why or why not?

Now the story is pretty much in the can (this is a reference back to the days when news was shot on film, which came in a metal can). What I have is a basic reaction story to the leaves and problems they cause. If I want this to both educate and entertain, I’d go a step further and try to interview a city worker and get some statistics: what is the leaf season; how many tons of leaves fall in this city every year, what kinds of problems do these leaves cause, how much does it cost to clean up leaves, etc.

Now the story I want IS in the can. Time to capture to the computer and log (write down) all of the information I’ve gathered.

Logging is an essential part of the editing process. During this process you will choose which information you will use in your story (editing even more). Your information must be accurate. As I log (this means playing back the video in the computer, noting the time code for shots or interview segments, and transcribing information I plan to use) I keep an eye open for catchy sound – well worded informative sound bites, funny soundbites, biting soundbites. I will use these to build my story.

Time to write – and to tell the truth, this is the hardest part for me to explain. Ernest Hemmingway once said that, “Writing can be learned, but not taught.” Wow. Let me try anyway.

When you create a visual story you need to catch and hold your viewer’s attention. Memorable sound and visuals help you do this. A good rule is to grab them with a strong visual or sound segment and leave them with a memorable shot/sound. Here is how I might put this story together (in script form, more of less):

Nats heavy rain hitting leaves floating
Nats water draining as drain is unplugged
Interview/comments about rain & leaf problems
MS leaves in trees, sound of wind or rustling leaves
Narrator: When autumn leaves combine with autumn weather, problems ensue. The canopy of bright colors that once clung to tree limbs carpets the streets and clogs storm drains.
Interview/city worker comment on current problms with leaves
Narrator: The city of —– has —– trees which provide shade in the summer. Autumn weather creates a rainbow of red, orange, and brown. When this rainbow disintegrates, leaves pile up on lawns and in streets. (Name of public works person) says that the annual cost to the city to haul off the —— tons of leaves is $—– annually.
Nats of resident raking/unplugging drain
Interview/comments from residents about how they love autumn
Narrator: But most feel this is a small price to pay for the annual beauty that marks the passage of seasons.
WS: nats of car driving down rainy street with strong forground shot of leaf floating in water

Once the script is written and tweaked (read over it a few times and reword and edit), we’re ready to edit the video. This is the final stage of editing – you may have shot as much as thirty minutes to an hour of video. Once you are through editing, you may only have a story that runs two to five minutes. Ideally this final product will have your strongest visuals and audio.

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