What exactly do you put in a sequence in video editing

This entry is about sequencing.  You already know about sequencing?  Please, bare with me.  You might learn something even if you didn’t understand about sequencing.

What’s a sequence?

  • A sequence is a series of shots that should get an object or a person from point a to point b
  • All shots in the sequence should have a commonality to them either by time, location, or elements in the shot
  • A sequence should have a beginning, a middle and an end (more difficult than you think)

All stories are one master sequence (why do you think that icon you double click to load in the timeline is called a sequence).  Within that master sequence, you should have many, many, many (get the idea) many smaller sequences.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a film, a news package, a personal profile on a web page, or a slide show full of photographs, all stories should use sequencing.

Every day in your life you experience sequencing.  In fact, when you open your eyes for the first time you are about to start the first sequence of your day.  My first sequence usually consists of me opening my eyes, looking at the time and then turning my head to see my lovely wife next to me.  That is a three-shot sequence with a beginning, a middle, and an end.  My morning continues with a sequence of me getting out of bed.  A sequence of me going downstair to make coffee.  Many more sequences make up my morning, how about you?

Imitate life.  Imitate the eye.  Life is full of sequences.  Your eyes observe those sequences.  Put those sequences into your projects.

There much more to sequencing.  So let’s use a story I edited to help understand more about sequencing.  The story we’ll use for this post is On This Rock.

This is a story I edited for the ‘Extreme Kellie’ series I produced while I was at KWGN/KDVR in Denver.  In this story, Kellie decides to give rock climbing a try.

The first sequence in the story is Kellie putting on her rock climbing shoes.

I start with a tight shot of her putting on her shoe on her right foot.

The next shot is a medium shot of Kellie fiddling with her shoe on her left foot.

The 3rd shot in my sequence is Kellie showing the bottom of her shoe.  This sequence was only 3 shots yet it had a beginning, a middle and an end.

  • All 3 shot are related by time, the time Kellie uses to put on her shoes.
  • All 3 shot are related by location, Kellie sitting on the rock.
  • All 3 shots are related by commonality; Kellie, Rock, Shoes.

All these shots are in order of events.  We don’t see every event. We don’t see her tying her shoes.  We don’t see her putting on her shoe on her left foot.  Our minds fill in those blanks for us because this is a very common sequence we observe every day in the world.  Effective storytelling and effective sequencing don’t have to show everything.  It should show just enough so the viewer understands what going on in the sequence.  It should also advance the story.

The next four shots are Kellie talking about how high the rock is and me showing a couple of cutaways of the rock.

Is this a sequence?  Does is get an object or person from point a to point b?  Not really.  Are the shots connected by location?  Yes.  Are the shot connected by time?  Yes (although they could have been shot on two completely different days and the viewer would never know; the beauty of editing).  Do they share a commonality?  Yes.

You see Kellie and the rock in one shot and in the other shot just the rock.  Yes, this is a sequence with a beginning a middle but not really an end.

I call this a transitional sequence.  Because I’m going to move Kellie from one spot on the rock to another using the rock cutaway as my transitional shot.  Think about if you were there watching all this happen.  You look at Kellie.  Then, you look up at the rock to see how high it is. While you are looking up Kellie stands up and walks to a new position.  You look down and she is now standing in a different spot.  You didn’t see Kellie get up an move.  Your minds accept this because you were looking at something else during that time.  The cut that might have happened in your head.  I’ve imitated it my timeline.

The next sequence is Kellie putting on gear.

We have a medium shot with a new background.  So, I’m establishing a new location with this shot.

The next shot in the sequence is Kellie stepping into the harness.

Followed by a tight shot of her tightening up the harness.

Followed by Kellie looking down commenting on making it tight.  The beginning, middle, end.  I’ll bet you’re saying, “how is that an end?”  “We don’t see the harness complete on her body.”  In the next shot, you do.

The next two shots are Kellie putting on her helmet.  Just a two-shot sequence here.  These two shots are tied to the previous sequence and to the following sequence.  Getting getting ready to climb the rock is one sequence with a beginning, middle, and end.  The getting ready sequence is made of five sub-sequences.

  • Putting on shoes
  • Moving Kellie to another position
  • Putting on harness
  • Putting on helmet
  • Attaching Kellie to safety rig

Every story you edit you should be able to break down into sub-sequences.  Within those sub-sequences, you should be able to further break down into sub-sequences. Sequencing should be everywhere in your story.

Next, we have a transitional sequence.

This is a sequence of Kellie getting ready to start climbing the rock.

Within all this sequencing is the actual selection of shots you make as an editor.

In this section of the story, Kellie is actually climbing the rock.  I’m going to sequence Kellie getting to the top of the rock.  The photographer did a great job getting lots of shots to choose from.  I’m going to explain why I chose the shots I did in the sequence.

I start with a tight shot of Kellie climbing the rock.

Followed by a shot from below her looking up

Followed by a medium shot from above looking down on Kellie.

Followed by a shot from the above wide.

I decided to start with tight shots, move to a medium shot and then to a wide shot.  I’m doing three things here within the sequence.

  • I give the viewer intimacy with Kellie
  • I give the viewer intimacy with the rock
  • I give the viewer a spatial relation on where Kellie is on the rock

Spatial relations is something that’s often overlooked in all editing overall.  Spatial relations is how editors help convey to the viewer where objects are relative to space.  I started the sequence of Kellie starting to climb the rock with two tight shots.  But Kellie could be anywhere on the rock in those two shots.  In the next shots, you actually see the ground below here but don’t really know how far she has to go.  In the 4th shot, I’m giving the viewer a good perspective that she’s at the bottom of the rock and has a way to go.  Now the viewer has a perspective.  Your job as the editor is the take the viewer to the scene as best you can.  Give them an idea of everything you can about what going on in the sequence.

I continue to give the viewer perspective on where Kellie is on the rock and I’m still sequencing.

Can’t stay wide to much.  I want the viewer to stay intimate with Kellie as much as I can as well, like in this shot.

Notice in the rest of the story I’m constantly moving from shots from above her to shots below her, all in sequence.  All about helping the viewer with perspective.

So what do you put in the sequence?

  • A beginning, a middle, and an end
  • Tight shots for intimacy
  • Wide shots to help with spatial relation
  • Variety (from above, from below, from the side) – help the viewer get an idea of what is going on and where
  • Shots that advance your story

Remember, only you can help prevent bad editing

Thanks for reading.