We've chosen our camera, weighed up the differences between GoPros and DSLRs, noted down common cock-ups made by filmers, and captured some cracking shots. Now in Part Four of our 'Improve Your Edits' series, Sam McMahon, a Morzine-based filmer, takes us through the process of stringing everything together in the editing suite.
You’ve mastered your equipment and have a season’s worth of banger shots stored on your hard drive, but all that amounts to nothing if you don’t know what to do with it next. Welcome to the world of video editing! It’s laborious and time consuming, often enragingly frustrating but equally addictive once you get going - the devil is in the details. Knowing what you’re doing in the editing stage is just as important as being handy with a camera - probably more so as a good editor can even rescue the odd bit of footage from your buddy’s shoddy GoPro skills. Some of the skills you’ll learn in the next few digital pages will show you that you really can polish a turd.
Navigating The Software
In the olden days, film was edited on a reel-to-reel system. Footage was literally cut off the spool with scissors and then taped back together. Thankfully these days are long gone and everything is digital. You probably have simple movie-editing software like Windows Movie Maker or iMovie already pre-installed on your computer. These are great to get a flavour for video editing, but if you want to get serious you should absolutely look at upgrading.
The top of the range Adobe and Apple suites are scarily expensive, but they do offer watered-down versions for a reasonable price. Just like with cameras, every brand has a whole army of nerds shouting their badly-spelt opinions around the internet. Have a shop around and find the package that suits your needs best. To suit as many readers as possible, we’ll be taking a more general look at editing without sticking to one brand.
All editing programs share one common feature: the timeline. This is where all the cutting and stretching takes place, where the magic happens. It replicates the analogue style of production so you can drag your perfectly filmed clips onto it and then chop away at them to your heart’s content, usually with handy little scissor icons. Now you know where they came from!
Before you even open your new editing suite, you should at least think about organising the thousands of movie clips you shot over the winter. Every producer has their own method, but you should be aiming to get everything for each edit or segment sorted into individual folders. The small working areas in most editing apps means it’s near impossible to do this through in situ. Naming each shot with the rider’s name and the trick or a brief description helps, but keep your character count down through abbreviations as they’ll get cut off in your softw.....
My personal method is, for example, if I have a shot of Elliot doing a 50/50 front three off on a down flat is to name the clip ELL50F3DF and then make sure it immediately gets saved to the correct folder before I forget what it means and bin it - but you’ll figure out your own method as you go. Another advantage of pre-organising your shots is that you get to see exactly what you have before you get started and then imagine how it will all fit together. A great idea is to start looking for the opening and ending bangers.
Choosing The Tunes
Other than the actual riding, the element that will make a great edit stand out is the accompanying music. Classic parts have classic soundtracks that enhance the viewing experience and make it memorable, whether it's Romain de Marchi shredding to Paranoid Android in Absinthe’s Vivid (above) or the cheeky Icelandic homage to Sigur Ros in Halldor’s part in They Came From.
Warning though, it’s an unwritten rule in skateboard and snowboard movies not to reuse songs. No matter how much you think Kids by MGMT suits your riding style, anyone who knows anything will hear that and instantly think of the first movie that used it, so don’t copy! You don’t want anyone to be let down by the lack of 120 foot booters and triple backflips in your edit. This also keeps things fresh and evolving. Try and find a track your audience is unlikely to have heard before, that way if they here the song again they’ll be transported back to your mad editing skills. For inspiration, there’s nothing better that putting together a playlist then going for a shred with your headphones on and seeing what feels good.
Music works so well in shredits, but a few little tricks will give yours a little extra class. Try editing to the music. This is simply making sure any key moments in a shot such as take offs or landings/bails match up to the beat. If it won’t work for a particular shot then try cutting to the next shot on the beat instead. All it takes is a little bit of playing around as you’re building your composition. If you do it as you go, you can make sure the music is synced all the way through. It’s not snowboarding, but for one of the best ever examples check out this trailer for Girl Skateboard’s Pretty Sweet.
Planning Your Edit
You’ve organised all your shots, chosen your perfect track and now see bits of the song that match up to certain frames perfectly. It’s a great idea to go into an edit with a plan, just like before a filming session. I like to get comfortable with my footage then listen to my chosen track a few times on my iPod while out and about, maybe even jot down some notes whilst I’m at it. It’s impossible to plan out a whole edit frame by frame, but a few keys moments like a break down or build up in the song often can look good matched up to some slo-mo while a change in tempo is a good place to change the theme on screen. In Torstein’s DC part (above), where his street riding only starts at the first chorus is definitely not an accident.
One thing that will help your edits look a bit more pro is the length of each shot that goes into your final piece. As we’ll explain later, shorter really is sweeter. You need to have a think about how much your audience really wants to see. Be it the seasoned Whitelines subscribers or your Mum, most people have a pretty clear idea of what riding a snowboard looks like, i.e. the run up and run outs to and from every feature. Have a look at some existing edits around the interweb. There’s rarely any footage before the take off for a trick or more than a split second after the landing, usually enough to show that it was landed and they rode away cleanly. Exceptions to this can be the first trick of the edit or to show how gnarly the run in/landing for a feature is as well.
This can even be taken to extremes. Everyone already knows what a straight air method looks like, so to highlight just how tweaked the one in your shot is try cutting away everything but the grab. All of this makes a video more fast paced and therefore much more exciting and engaging to an audience. A second of boring footage is a long time in edit-land, so be as brutal as you can. CUT!
Unfortunately, not every shot is a banger. Even if it’s the person filming who might have messed up – either by missing the take off or shooting from a bad angle – it happens. But think about it. You want to show the world the riders and your own skills at their best, so why show anything else? Like the last point, it’s best to be brutal. A two-minute edit full of solid riding is way more interesting to watch and much more likely to cause an impact than a six-minute one filled with average shots.
I apologise if this next bit sounds too harsh, but read until the end until you judge me! Everyone has a riding buddy who struggles to keep up with the pace. Of course he’ll want to be included in the filming side of things. Now his footage might not stack up against the rest of your crew, but you like him and want him to be involved. It’s actually kinder to him to be even more brutal with his footage than the others. Say he spends the week’s holiday 50/50ing everything in sight. It makes him and your edit look better if you pick the biggest/gnarliest one or two rather than including all twenty ride on boxes in resort. Ditto with any one trick done on a whole bunch of features, pick the best of the bunch and leave the rest.
There’s a golden rule that any action sport photographers should follow: if a trick isn’t landed, it doesn’t count as a photo. Professionals don’t try and lie about the validity of their shots and the same goes for riders. They’d get a bad rep and what’s the point in claiming a trick that you know you didn’t get? Your mother should have taught you these rules, but just in case she forgot, don’t do it on video either! It might be tempting to do one of those shortcuts just before your buddy looses his balance in the run out, but if a trick isn’t landed right then it’ll look wrong in the air anyway. Plus bails and scorpions are hilarious, more of these please!
Because you read the previous articles in this series, when you were filming your latest masterpiece you made sure to get as many different angles as possible. Now what to do with them? A great tip, rather than showing the whole trick twice and dragging out your edit, is to show the take off/first half of the feature, then cut to another shot showing the landing, with a little overlap in between. So stylish, and it has the added advantage of making it look like you had a multi-camera crew for your shoot rather like in Jamie Nicholls’ season edit from last winter.
It’s also best to mix up angles for different tricks on the same feature to keep things looking fresh. Be aware of what’s called the 180-degree rule though. Where the rider’s path creates a line, it’s best not to cross over it as in the first shot he or she might be going from left to right, but this will be reversed in the second angle. This can create a continuity error that jars your audience, but remember rules are meant to be broken.
Almost every online edit and action sports movie is going to include some slow motion. Geoff Rowley’s skate part in Flip’s Sorry famously didn’t use any (watch it here. If you ever thought you’d had a bad slam, then quit your whining), that’s how prolific the effect is. Most editing programs won’t have a specific ‘slo mo’ button but instead call it something like ‘time stretching’ or ‘remapping.’
Unless you’re going for a specific effect and have the high frame rate equipment to back it up, like some of my good friends/associated morons in this Cavern Cup entry by Will Nangle (above), it’s probably best used sparingly. A particularly effective use is to only slow mo on a segment of a clip, like the tweak on a grab or a particularly hard slam, anything that slow motion can emphasise. Simply cut a clip at the start and end of where you want it in your timeline then apply the effect there. Simple. Now you look as pro as the next guy!
Now, this is where all that talk of frame rates in earlier articles comes in. The human eye can’t distinguish individual frames more than roughly 25 times per second, hence 25fps being the standard frame rate for PAL systems. This is all fine and good, but when you start slowing down footage shot at 25fps you’ll notice it goes all juddery, the more so the slower you go. This looks cheap, which is why you should’ve filmed it at 50fps, just like we told you... Also best to avoid slow motion on less than perfect shots, nothing makes a zeached slide more wack than giving everyone time to look at it and people can get bored by too much 50/50ing.
Tell A Story
The best edits that you’ve probably seen use all of the above to tell a story. Whether it’s a season-long road trip or just a week in a particular resort, it’s more engaging for the viewer if they can get involved in it. This isn’t always as obvious as using voiceovers or shots taken as your car drives along, though it could be something as simple as showing the slams taken on the way to getting a particularly gnarly shot. Once you know your way around your editing software, you’ll be able use all your skills in much subtler ways.
Check out this sweet edit by Morgan Cope (above) using just a reel of Super 8mm film and a day in Avoriaz. Working such a simple track and well-selected footage says much more than any pro’s drawl about how much fun snowboarding with your friends is - it shows you. Use your imagination to come up with a concept then use everything you know to follow through on it. That’s the difference between a filmer or editor and a full blow producer or director.
More advanced editing tips and concepts in the last installment of this series next week, but for now get practising and get creative!