Spatial Relations in Video Editing

Spatial relation is an often-overlooked principle of video editing. Spatial relation is something your brain has been processing since you were a baby.

Happy baby boy with straw hat

Around the 8th month of life, you began moving around your world. You explored the size and shape of objects and observed people and objects as they moved through space.  

Baby playing with block

How does this connect to editing video?  Well, your brain wants to understand the world too.  Since your brain was in its infancy, it’s been trying to figure out where things go. As an editor, you have to help the audience understand where they are in the world they are watching.  You have to help them connect points in space or time. So how do you do that?

Digital eye and cross

The story I’m going to use for this post is Give Him The Best Life

I start the story on a tight shot.

Screen Shot 2020-04-08 at 10.53.11 AM

It’s an important shot because it tells you this person is not well.  I’m getting you into the story.  You have no idea where he is.

The 2nd shot is a medium shot.

Screen Shot 2020-04-08 at 10.54.05 AM

You see his hand and his chest rising (I’m matching the narration).

The 3rd shot is a medium shot back to his face.

Screen Shot 2020-04-08 at 10.54.55 AM

See how he looks up?  The next shot is his mother above him.

Screen Shot 2020-04-08 at 10.55.38 AM

With the 3rd shot, medium of him on the bed at [:05],  and this shot edited together, I’m establishing a spatial relationship between Reece and his mother and how they exist in his bedroom.

We know we are in the bedroom.  I need to move Reece to a different position on the bed. First, I’m going to use a tight shot, so the audience doesn’t feel jarred by the fact he’s in a different spot on the bed, and the apparatus on his face is no longer there.

Screen Shot 2020-04-08 at 10.57.03 AM

There is a series of shots of him on the bed with his mom helping him get ready for the day.  All these shots are tight or medium.

I’m a firm believer in the power of the tight shot, and I love using them.  My 2nd most loved shot is the wide shot.  As wide as you possibly can be in the environment your in.  Why?  Your audience needs to understand the world you are putting them in, and the best way to do that is with wide shots.

In this story, I established Reece is on the bed.  Now by going wide,

Screen Shot 2020-04-08 at 11.00.49 AM

the audience understands where Reece is, where mom is, and what else is in the room in relationship to those two.

That is editing, keeping in mind spatial relations.

At [:48] I start wide this time.

Screen Shot 2020-04-08 at 11.02.32 AM

You see Reece still on the bed and his mother with a tube in her hand.

Then, a  match action cut off her using the tube to suction material out of his lungs.

Screen Shot 2020-04-08 at 11.03.02 AM

The general guideline in editing is to start wide, then move to a medium shot, then to a tight shot.  That doesn’t always work (hence why it’s a guideline and not a rule). Sometimes I start a sequence wide.  Sometimes I start a sequence tight.  It really depends on the shots I have and how they work together and maintain spatial relationship to each other.  I don’t want the viewer distracted.  I don’t want to viewer curious about how everything works in my world. I’m editing.  I want to help them as much as I can so they can watch the story and not watch the editing.

At [:52] I need to go to the next part of the story. I use a tight shot

Screen Shot 2020-04-08 at 11.04.08 AM

of mom beating on Reece’s chest.

Screen Shot 2020-04-08 at 11.04.41 AM

Then to a tight shot of mom.

Then to a medium of the two of them.

Screen Shot 2020-04-08 at 11.05.12 AM

I could of probably put these three shots together in any order, and they would have worked.  The previous sequence dictated how I put these shots together.  The important thing is I went to a medium shot, you could see the two of them and how they relate to where they are in their world.

At 1:09, I start tight again.

Screen Shot 2020-04-08 at 11.05.55 AM

Then go wide,

Screen Shot 2020-04-08 at 11.06.23 AM

so the viewer understands we are now in the bathroom.  I started tight because I didn’t want a jump cut from the interview to mom in the bathroom, just trying to avoid anything jarring to the viewer.

At 1:48 Reece is in a new spot

Screen Shot 2020-04-08 at 11.07.11 AM

On the kitchen table.  Then, a tight shot of his hand on the mouse ball

Screen Shot 2020-04-08 at 11.07.44 AM

If I only have time to show two shots in a sequence, I’m generally going to use a wide shot and a tight shot.  Wide for spatial relation and tight because I want the viewer to look at only one piece of information (which a tight shot should contain).

I continue moving Reece around the house.  Using tight shots and then wide shots, so the viewer understands where he is in the world I’m editing.

My photographer gave me lots of tight shots to choose from.  I wished for more wide shots, even some super-wide shots.

Understand spatial relations is significant in editing.  Help your audience understand where they are and what goes where in the world that’s in front of them.  The tight shot is a vital storytelling tool.  The wide and super-wide shots are #2 on my list.

Thanks for reading.

Shawn Montano

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