Adding frames of silence in video editing adds more than just silence

Adding frames of silence in video editing adds more than just silence – say what?  By adding a few frames of silence, you can enhance a story.

Ever edit a story with little video?  That’s a rhetorical question, by the way.  This happens every day to an editor somewhere.  This story has very little video.  Video is not essential, especially if you have emotion.  Anytime I get a chance to edit a story that has emotion, I’m all over it.  What do I do to help the story?  What emotion can I help display with editing?  How will my edit decisions impact the story?  Are there edits I’m not going to make that are important?  Let’s see if I can answer some of those questions.

The story for this post is Karen

It’s my job as an editor is to make you laugh, or to make you cry.  Sometimes the material we are given makes that a little easier than other times.

This story is about a woman who is almost a victim of a serial rape suspect.  In the interview, she is very emotional.  My job as an editor is to make sure her emotional state comes through in the story.

My job is to also stay out of the way.  What do I mean by that?  Sometimes an editor needs to not make an edit.

  • Those non-edits may be the most important edits you ever make.

At [:06], Karen sniffles, and the story pauses slightly.  I am introducing her emotional state.  I’m grabbing the viewer as quickly as possible.  There is a full 2 seconds of silence after the first narration before she sniffles.  Let your viewers in.  Give them time to feel.  So many stories I see the emotion goes by so fast the viewer doesn’t have time to feel it.

  • The #1 rule of editing is emotion.  Always cut into it and never cut away from it.

The pace is slow.  I’m going to maintain that pace as best I can.  Here are a few tricks.

  • There are at least 10 frames of silence between the narration and any soundbite.

Watch the story again.  Just listen to it this time.  If you listen carefully, you can hear all the pauses in between narration and soundbites.  This is a subtle trick.  It also a handy skill.  The beauty of it is it won’t cost you but a few more seconds.  If you’re in a world that requires short running times, this is huge.

At [:11] is her first soundbite. “I just kept thinking if Shawn hadn’t of come home with me, I just know what would have been happening.” After that soundbite, she looks at Shawn (her boyfriend, not me) and then turns her head and takes a deep breath. 

Upon revisiting this story, I think I left this moment just a bit too soon.  I think I could have held this for at least 15 more frames. Would 15 more frames have made any difference in the overall story?  No, but it’s essential to understand how just changing a few frames in an edit can create such a different edit in the end.

After the soundbite is a slow 80 Frame dissolve to a car going by and I put a slow zoom in on the shot.

  • Another simple editing trick for emotion, put a slow zoom on static shots to help pull the viewer into the story.

There wasn’t much video to work with on this story.  The only way to have more videos would have been to shoot a re-enactment.  This is not the type a story you would ever ask anyone to re-enact.  I use generic video at several points.  Do I care? Nope.  The story’s got emotion.  Viewers won’t remember these shots the next day.  They will remember Karen crying, though.

Karen didn’t want her house identifiable in the story.   I used these tight shots that could be from any home in any neighborhood.  Notice I put a slow zoom on each of these shots.  I hate static shots.

I am a fan of movement.  This is a visual medium of motion.  I like to have as much motion in every story as possible.

At [:45]  her soundbite is  “It was the first thing that popped into my mind, that it was him.”

There is a full second (30 frames) of silence before the narration starts.  I’m giving the viewer that extra time to feel and see her.

  • Sometimes nothing is more powerful than something.

At [2:16] is the final section of narration in this story.  9 seconds go by, and then she sniffles.  The story ends.  This is a powerful moment with no narration and no sound from her.  She is merely emotional on camera.  You can feel how fortunate she feels not to be a victim.  You can feel how terrified she still is.  Simply amazing, what 9 seconds of silence does for a story.

About the Dissolves

I dissolve mostly by feel.  Feel is impossible to teach.  Let me try and rationalize these dissolves with some logic.  In this story, most of the dissolves represent a transition in space. Dissolving from inside the house to outside.  Dissolving from a sketch to Karen. The 3 shots of the exterior starting at [:22] are cut together because they are all outside shots.

As for the dissolves from Karen full to Karen medium or Karen tight, I simply don’t like cutaways in this type of story.  Karen is the story. Her emotion is the story. Cutaways of her hands, of a lamp, or anything else won’t add to the story.

Thanks for reading.

You can follow me on Twitter @Shawnmontano

Please like The Edit Foundry on Facebook.