Category Archives: Anatomy of an Edit

The Logic of Natural Sound in a News Package

Call it the NPPA style of storytelling if you like; I just call it good storytelling.

  • Sprinkle natural sound moments into your story
  • Break up narration with soundbites or natural sound
  • These elements are ultimately about helping the viewer

Sound helps the viewer get into the story.  The sound makes them feel like they are there witnessing the story as it’s happening.  Watch movies. The ambient sounds carry you away and into the story.  Storytellers presenting stories in this style are trying to do the same thing.

There is logic to the use of natural sound.  I’m going to try and explain my philosophy to the use of natural sound.  The story I’m going to use for this post is It’s Just a Drill.

We’re going to talk about the logic of natural sound.

  • Natural sound helps with action and reaction
  • Natural sound can help grab the viewer’s attention
  • Natural sound can act like an adverb
  • Natural sound can act like punctuation
  • Natural sound at the beginning of narration or soundbites can help change location
  • Natural sound when appropriate reinforces a narration or soundbite
  • Natural sound can help with the rhythm of a story
  • The natural sound should be relevant to the story

The story starts with an action [:01], a woman screaming, “get me down.”

This is followed by a reaction of a CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) member at [:02] telling the woman, “I need you to be strong.”

  • Simple action and reaction

This is followed by another woman screaming at [:03], “Find my daughter please somebody!”

Those 3 pieces of natural sound set up the entire story.  I’m also grabbing the viewer.  Viewers aren’t always paying attention to the television or a website when a story starts.

  • Natural sound is an excellent way to grab the viewer

The first narration from the reporter is, The screams are real.

When I think of natural sound, I think of it as an adverb in a sentence.  What’s an adverb?

  • An adverb is a word that modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb
  • Adverbs generally answer one of four questions; how, when, where, or to what extent.

A simple sentence with an adverb is, He ran fast.  Now think of this in the world of stories you’re going to edit.  The reporter narration is, He ran.  You follow that with a piece of the natural sound of a person running fast.  Your natural sound is acting as an adverb.

In our story, the first narration at [:06] is The screams are real.

I then use a woman screaming, “Help.”  Its kind of like modifying the verb screams in the sentence like an adverb would in the written word.

The next narration at [:07] is, The injuries and the blood are not.

I follow that sentence with a woman sighing at [:10].

This piece of natural sound is acting more like an exclamation mark.

  • Exclamation marks are used at the end of sentences or a short phrase which express a powerful feeling
  • An exclamation can accompany mimetically produced sounds

In a story, you might right read, “The lion went roar!, and I ran away.”

In the world of stories you are editing you might have a narration, The lion roared, and then you’d have the natural sound of the lion roaring.  That would make your natural sound an exclamation mark.

At [:10], I have a woman saying, “It’s scary for us.”

I break up her sentence with the natural sound of a woman saying, “I don’t wanna go down, I don’t wanna go again.”

Here, the natural sound is acting like a comma

  • a comma can be used to connect independent clauses, as in; My friend, wearing green pants, is playing football outside.

The sentence in this part of the story would read; Its scary for us, I don’t wanna go down I don’t wanna go again, but we need to learn in this kind of exercise, 3, so that when a real one happens that we’re prepared.”

Just like in sentence structure, you don’t randomly put words or punctuation in the right?  If you apply that same logic to natural sound, I think it’ll greatly enhance your use of natural sound.

Watch the story again.  Notice the placement of natural sound and think about sentence structure.  Notice I don’t break up a sentence from either the reporter or a soundbite unless there is a natural pause, like adding a comma.

Notice when the natural sound comes at the end of a sentence from the reporter or a soundbite it’s acting more like an exclamation mark.

At [:19] I use the woman on the backboard before a sentence.

She moans.  Using natural sound this way, I’m changing location.  As you can see, they are now outside the arena.


  • These are guidelines for using natural sound
  • These are not rules
  • This is my logic

I don’t follow these guidelines every time I edit.  Sometimes I add natural sound by feel.  Stories have a rhythm.  Sometimes I add natural sound just to keep the rhythm going, like a drum in a song.

At [:24] I have a CERT volunteer laying down a tarp.  You hear the natural sound of him putting the tarp down on the ground.

This natural sound is not an adverb, a comma, an exclamation mark, or a location change.  It’s merely there to help with the rhythm of the story.  You see him and the tarp later in the story.  So, it’s relevant to the story.  It’s just not appropriate at this moment.  This brings me to another topic of natural sound.

  • Relevant Natural Sound

Ask yourself when you’re editing a story.  Why is that natural sound there?  Just cause isn’t a good enough answer.

  1. It’s relevant to what’s going on is a good answer
  2. If you were there, you’d hear that is a good answer
  3. It’s helping tell the story is a good answer
  • Relevant natural sound is simply sound that helps tell the story and not some random piece of noise.

Back to our story

At [:27], I use natural sound again to change location.  The natural sound of the horse gate opening is taking us inside the barn. Then the narration is, They are real-life neighbors learning how to manage emergencies.

The natural sound that follows is reinforcing the narration.  I have a woman asking a girl on a backboard, “Is that painful?”  What is she doing?  She’s managing the emergency.

  • I love when natural sound reinforces a narration or soundbite

After her natural sound action, I have a natural sound reaction of the girl on the backboard saying, “yes!” Then I have a CERT volunteer picking her up saying, “on the count of three.”  This is a natural sound sequence.

At [:36] is the natural sound of the CERT volunteer saying, “Is everybody good?” I’m using that natural sound like a  comma.

At [1:00], the natural sound is used to change location.  At [1:02], the natural sound is used to change location again.  Again at [1:05] with the woman screaming, “Mommy, where’s Lexi.”

I love using natural sound.  I love it when I can use one shot and all the natural sound within it.  At [1:05] is a prime example of me milking a shot for all it’s worth.

I start the shot with the woman screaming, “Mommy, where’s Lexi?”  I back time the next time she says “Mommy,” and a natural pause in the narration.  Then, I start the soundbite and wait for a natural pause in her sentence at [1:14], which is natural sound acting like a comma.

The natural sound comes, well very naturally to me. With time I hope it comes naturally to you.

This was a story I edited in one hour.  So practice, practice, practice.  After a while, the logic and use of natural sound will just become second nature.

Thank you for reading my blog

Check me out on Twitter @shawnmontano

Like the Edit Foundry on Facebook for daily thoughts on editing.

Are you just a video editor? Neither am I.

This is a video editing blog.  I try to give you insight into my mind and the process I go through in editing stories.  I’m not just a video editor.    I produce, I shoot, and I write as well.

I wrote stories as a child.  I wrote throughout college.  I love writing.  I wrote my first story for broadcast for a news station way back in 2001.  Since then, I’ve dabbled in it here and there.  My primary job for most of my news-careers was just a video editor.  I slowly developed my skill as a writer.  In the beginning, I never narrated the stories I wrote.  This is one of those daily news stories under deadline I wrote.  I know this is a video editing blog.  I think it’s essential to be more than one skill-set.  So, allow me to explain my simple logic for writing a story.  Oh, yeah.  I edited this story too.

The story I’m going to use for this post is Miss Doe

When I log sound, I don’t write the entire sentence down.  I write the beginning of the sentence and then maybe a few keywords to help me remember the rest of the sentence.  I want to have just enough written, so I remember what was said in each soundbite I log.  I don’t always write my log on paper. Sometimes I’ll use my N.L.E. and write in the comments.  The first thing I do is put soundbites down on the timeline.  At this moment I don’t need them in order.

Once I’ve got my soundbites on the timeline, I start building a story with only sound.  I arrange the soundbites so I can create a story without any narration.  I have got a good skeleton of the story.

What’s a skeleton?  For me, it’s just soundbites strung together.  There is no b-roll or narration, yet.  I watch this over and over.  I arrange and re-arrange until I get some cohesive story.

When I write narration, I just want to create bridges.  They connect the soundbites.   I write simple sentences.  I try to make them as conversational as I can.

I’m not a great writer.  I am a good writer.

  • I try to keep my sentences plain and simple
  • I read it out loud, trying to make it sound as conversational as I can
  • I try to apply both these rules to writing this blog as well

The story begins with two soundbites butted together, followed by narration, “Jack and Lori Cavanaugh spend their mornings watching wildlife.”

I’m just writing to video.  I know I have a shot of each person, and a shot of wildlife. Simple stuff here.

I have a narration, “but on Christmas Day,” followed by a soundbite, “We have the deer come across our property all the time,” followed by another narration,  “a strange sight caught their eye,” followed by another soundbite, “Christmas morning, I looked out the window with my coffee.”  I simply just created a bridge between the soundbites.  It’s that simple.  Ok, it’s not that simple.  It takes practice to write narration.

In his story, a deer has an arrow in her nose.  We don’t have a video of the deer, but we do have pictures.  The question I had for myself was when to reveal the deer.

When Lori’s talking about the deer at [:20], I decided to show a shot of the deer for just a second, but not long enough for your eye to comprehend precisely what’s happened.  I chose a tight shot to only reveal the dear and not precisely what’s going on with the deer.

The narrations is, “a deer they nick-named Miss Doe was clearly suffering.”

We are [:29] into the story.  I’ve revealed her injury.  I felt good that I didn’t drag this moment out to far.

I show a picture of the doe again at [:42].  She’s the story.  I only have pictures of her.  The challenge for me in this story was not to over-rely on her photographs.  I also want to try and make sure I was showing her enough.

The following narration is, “Jack and Lori called immediately called the division of wildlife.”

You’ll notice when the reporter says Lori I don’t immediately cut to Lori.  On this story here at [:46] and at [:06], I tried to make cuts, but the edits didn’t feel right.  They felt rushed.  I was forcing S.W.A.P. (Synchronizing Words & Pictures)  I don’t want to force edits.  The edits are where they are for pacing purposes.

Speaking of pacing, you’ll notice the pacing of this story is very simple.  There’s emotion in this story.  I’m not going to rush it.

At [1:01], Lori gets emotional after her soundbite. At [1:04], her soundbite ends. I leave her up sniffling for almost 4 seconds.  I never try and cut away from emotion.

I try my very best to keep what I write to a minimum.  It doesn’t always work.  I like it when the people tell as much of the story as possible.  Try putting as much of the story down on the timeline, then you may realize that a lot of narration isn’t necessary.  Watch the story again.  There are a few cliches.  I know. I tried, but some of those simple cliches worked.  Pay attention to how much the soundbites drive the story.  Most of the information you get is from soundbites.  Obviously, we don’t get all the info from soundbites, and that’s where narration comes in.

  • Try writing and editing a story
  • You’re writing will get better over time

Your storytelling skills will improve with writing

Thanks for continuing to read The Edit Foundry.  Don’t forget to like The Edit Foundry on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @shawnmontano.



The Goodbye Talent Edit

Over the years, I have cut many goodbye stories.  This happens in every market.  It’s a story you should look forward to editing.  It always has emotion. How can you not want to edit a story that has emotion?

For this post, our story is Goodbye Ernie

Ernie Bjorkman retired from television news in December of 2008.  He was on the air in Denver, beginning in 1982.  What can you learn from me editing a goodbye video? A lot.

The first thing to remember is this is an opportunity to edit a good story.  You should never turn down a chance to edit a good story.  It’s practicing your craft, and it’s a chance to make people laugh or cry.  Those are 3 good reasons to edit goodbye talent pieces.  Be the go-to person for these edits.

The process for you will likely be similar to mine.  A producer will hand you several pieces of file media, some talent saying their Goodbye and off you go.  The rest is usually up to an editor.  You may have to sift a little.  You may have to spend some extra time in an edit bay logging.  All these things will pay off when people thank you for your effort.  Make people laugh, make people cry, and get thank you’s from the staff.  I’d call that a good day.

My idea is to take the same route, you would if it was a story with no narrator.  Weave the soundbites into a story.  Add lots of moments from the talent’s career, and you have a great edit.

Just like in a story with no narration, I try and use as much natural sound as possible.

At [:03], We see Ernie working as a trash man for a day.

The reporter I use first says, “You know sometimes there is a man,” I then cut to shots of Ernie with a trash man saying, “Let’s pick up some trash, man.”  My natural sound reinforces the reporter’s soundbite.  Just like you try and do with your daily news stories, I apply the same logic to this story.

I try hard to keep this up throughout this piece.  The next soundbite is, “And I don’t want to say a hero, ’cause what’s a hero really.” I use this great shot of Ernie looking left.

He looks hero-ish.

The next soundbite is, “Sometimes there is a man, well he’s just a man.  He fits right in there with his time an place.”  Ok, well, he is a man.  I don’t want to show the reporter.  This is a goodbye piece.  I want to show our anchor as much as possible. I do use older videos here.

I have 9 edits in 18 seconds so far.  I’m averaging an edit every two seconds.  The final runtime of this story is 4:10.  That’s a long story.  I want to keep the viewer interested.  I want a brisk pace.  I’ve got my work cut out for me.

At [:28], I move on to another reporter.  A younger reporter.

She says Ernie’s been like a father figure to her.  I sift through my media to find Ernie working in a pre-school.

I am not just using any video.  I’m reinforcing the thought just like I would in a standard news story.

Next up was the main weather anchor.  At [:58], Dave says, “I can’t believe it’s been 8 years from the day I walked into the door.” I sifted through my video and found a shot of the weather anchor walking into frame.  Kind of like walking into a door.

It’s close.  I’m trying.  If you work just a bit harder, it’s these little things that will make your pieces better.

At the time of the edit of this story, Ernie was pursuing a career as a veterinary technician.  I used as many stories as I could find, which had animals and Ernie in them.

As you continue to watch, the story notices my use of natural sound spliced among the soundbites from anchors and reporters.

Also, notice the effort I made to find a relevant video.  At [1:39], a morning anchor says, “He’s been a Denver favorite for the past 75 years.”  I found this shot of Ernie with a mauve jacket.

That certainly looks like something Ron Burgundy would wear.

The final Goodbye is this story is from his co-anchor.  At [3:39], she speaks about looking up to Ernie.  I found this great shot of Ernie looking confident.

Just trying to do my best in this story.

At [3:55], I decided to add this part with her co-anchor and weatherman.  They are wondering if he’s gone yet.  Here is the final shot in the piece.

Can you have a better closing shot than this?

This was the best goodbye talent piece I ever did.  Why?   I applied the logic of editing I would use daily.  I thought all those moments splitting up all the talent soundbites really made this stand out from other goodbye talent pieces I’ve seen.

Thank you for continuing to read The Edit Foundry.

Please like The Edit Foundry on Facebook and follow me @shawnmontano on twitter for daily tips and thoughts about editing.


Good Edits are Subtle Edits

The art of editing comes down to frames of difference.

It’s 3 frames here or 4 frames there that can make each and every edit so much better or so much worse.  This post is about some of those subtle editing tips.

The story for this post is Sentence Please.

We’re discussing

  • Subtle editing tips
  • Staggering audio and video edits
  • Maximizing shot potential

Sentence Please is a story I edited in just a few hours.  Under the opening shot, you hear the announcer.  He’s telling a speller a word.  I  stagger the edits.  I create a J-Cut and an L-Cut in the first two seconds of the story.  These are also known as split-edits.  For those of you not familiar;

  • A J-Cut is when you hear audio from a shot and then see the video. You make the letter J visually in the timeline.

  • An L-Cut is when you cut to a different video, but the audio from that previous shot remains.

In Sentence, Please hear the announcer say, “Speller, your word is Malaria.”  The first shot of the story is a wide shot of the room with the announcer audio.

I make a cut (video only) and show the announcer.  That is a J-Cut.

Then I make an L-Cut.  You continue to hear the announcer, but the video is that of a speller.

In addition to using J and L cuts, I’m also employing eye trace.

I want to take the shot of the speller in pink [:01] right as she turns her head.  The turn of her head helps acknowledge the announcer to her left (our right).

I am also trying to back-time the shot of her, so she speaks the word right after the announcer finishes speaking.  In case you didn’t realize, I merged two different versions of the announcer to make this work.  The photographer didn’t pan quickly from the announcer to the speller.  The edits made it seem like two cameras were shooting the spelling bee.  Create the illusion of a two-camera shoot in your edits.

You’ll see plenty of split-edits in this story.  You’ll see plenty of split-edits every day in everything you watch.  Split-edits are a part of the craft that you should notice all the time.  No really! You need to start seeing split-edits everywhere.  They are a vital component of editing.  Take notice of them in your favorite movie, your favorite TV show, even your favorite commercial uses split-edits.

Let’s continue with the story and some more subtle editing tips.

The first reporter track in this story is “52 kids sat on the stage.”

For 52 kids, I show a lot of kids on stage. The next shot is that of a speller’s nervous hands.

I take the edit the second I see him fumbling with his hands [:05] nervously. The simple tight shot shows he is nervous.  I also take the edit mid-fidget.  Meaning the action of fidgeting has already started.  Having as many edits with the action already started also makes edits look more natural.  You should try to avoid making an edit before any action begins.  Again this is another subtle tip.  An important tip.  Try taking your edits mid-action more.  Your edits will look better, and your stories will flow better.

  • Very often the action within a shot can help convey a subtle message

I want to keep reinforcing the kid’s fidgety state throughout the story.

After a shot of another speller at the mic, the reporter track is “All with one goal in mind.”

The next shot is that of a speller looking down.  I take the edit right when she moves her hand around.

Her motion helps convey everyone’s feelings while they are on stage.  I also take the edit midmotion.

The difference between a good editor and a great editor is something that comes down to the frame you choose.  In the edit, did I prefer something that helped convey the message of the story?  Really start asking yourself, why is that shot in my story, and why did I take the edit the moment I did?

  • I cannot stress how vital editing midmotion helps your overall editing.

At [:17] I’m milking a shot.  I like to maximize shots visually and auditorily.  I use the shot, and the speller says meticulous twice.  I place the reporter track within the two times the speller says meticulously.  It’s a subtle way of getting more natural sound into a story.  If you’re under a deadline, this is faster than trying to find another shot.  You’ve got the shot on the timeline.  See if you can milk it for all it’s worth.  Just remember not to dry up the shot.  Meaning doesn’t leave it up for any longer than you should.  Vague, isn’t it.  Every single shot in every unique story is different.  There is no hard rule for this.  It’s a feeling you get once you become a good editor.

At [:20], the reporter track is “The 7 to 14-year-olds each won their Boulder Valley or St. Vrain school’s contest to get here.”

I still want to show that uneasy feeling onstage.  This shot of a 7-year-old perturbed was too good to pass up.  His expression tells so much.

Don’t you just love this shot?  I do.  That’s why I’m writing about it.  This shot has emotion in it.  As I previously wrote, I always cut into emotion and never cut away from it.  Do you think I cut away from this shot too early? I do.  I should have left it up just a bit longer.

This shot is subtle. I wait to take the shot the second she scratches her face.  Movement in every edit is what I strive for.  Even if it’s something this subtle.

You’ll also notice a good amount of edits that are backtimed.  Meaning I make a cut visually and back time the edit, so the natural sound moment I use plays right into a piece of narration or a soundbite.

Back timing edits are another tool to help blend and stagger audio and video edits.

Watch the story again.  This time pay attention to what each kid is doing in each shot.  Also, pay attention to how the action in the shot helps convey their feelings.

Little things like what’s going on in your shot, and when you take the edit can often make a good story just a bit better.

  • Every shot in this story has meaning
  • There are many split edits in this story
  • Subtle moments help make a story better

Thank you for continuing to read The Edit Foundry Blog.

Please follow me on twitter @shawnmontano

Please like The Edit Foundry on Facebook for more discussions about editing.

Practice your craft of video editing within every story

This Route is Known for the Dogs is a story produced in every newsroom.

There is nothing special about this story.  It’s merely an opportunity to practice the craft of video editing.  This story is perfect for refining video editing skills.  The story was supposed to be a vo/sot.  The photographer gave it to me.  I wrote and produced a script, then sold the story to a producer.  Luckily she was light on this day and allowed the vo/sot to become a package.

  • The Beginning

The story starts on a tight shot of a mail truck back door opening.  I know the rules.  Start wide, go medium, and then go tight.  I understand why I’m breaking the rules (there really aren’t any rules, just guidelines).  I don’t think I need a wide shot of a post office.  I’m pretty sure the viewer gets it.

  • Match Action

Meticulous with match-action I am. (Yoda laugh).  Watch the shot at [:12].


The next shot [:13] is a match-cut.  Do I need to be this meticulous? Nope.  I am practicing my craft.  The next time I need to have a clean, tight match-cut, I’ll have practiced it with splendid execution.

  • Natural Sound
“I am loading up…(natural sound of her picking up crate)…my mail…(natural sound of her putting the crate in a truck)…for today.”

Why do I do this? The main reason is that she stumbles over her words in the sentence. By using the natural sound, I simply create a sentence that’s tighter and takes less time.

  • The Middle

Two pieces of natural sound transition her onto the mail route.  I had lots of videos, including a sequence of Lynn getting into her truck and driving away. I couldn’t figure out an efficient way to use it without it just being an extra sequence. I didn’t really need it.  Just because I have the sequence doesn’t mean I’m going to force it.

“Delivering the mail seems like a routine job.” “It’s not the easiest job, huh?”

This is a beautiful little moment, and I write into it.  It’s the little things that make the story fun. You’ll notice from here to the end of the story, the natural sound is simple. It’s easy to have a series of natural sound pops of Lynn putting mail into mailboxes. I avoid doing that for a few reasons, mainly because that’s not how your eyes would see if you were following here.  If you’re just practicing your craft, pretend your eyes are a camera.  How would your eyes see the event if you were actually there?

  • An Old Trick

At [:28] I use a shot of Lynn closing and locking the mail truck door with natural sound, then she says,

“Safety is really a big thing, too, with the post office.”

I then use the natural sound of her locking the mail truck door.

One-shot, two pieces of natural sound and a SOT.  This is an old trick.  Using the beginning sound and the ending sound of a shot and squeezing a SOT in-between those natural sounds. It’s quick and usually very easy to accomplish.  Just practicing the craft.

At [:32], did you hear that dog bark?  Subtle, wasn’t it.  I’m foreshadowing.  You’re gonna hear as much dog barking as I can put in without it overpowering the story. If you were with her, that’s what you would hear, right?

At [:44] is an interview, on paper it reads,

“Just one afternoon doing a normal delivery as I was walking, I noticed that the screen door was not fully shut and the dog just instantly came out and bit me.”

Now, look at the video and natural sound I use to break up the bite and make the story flow better. Natural sound can also be compared to a period. That sentence has a lot of information. By breaking up the sentence with the natural sound, it’s like breaking up a sentence into multiple sentences.

Also, at the end of that SOT at [:56], I milk the dog barking twice!  Again that simple idea of squeezing as much natural sound as possible from one shot.

At [1:03] I have a spokeswoman’s SOT, I cover the last portion of her SOT because I’m butting two SOTS together.

At [1:18], I bring Lynn back on camera.

The viewer knows who she is because she’s the primary person in the story.  It never hurts to bring people back on camera, especially if they say something meaningful or emotional.

  • Bring people back on camera if they say something emotional or essential.
“Yeah, it is a carrier’s worst fear to get bit by a dog.”

I’d say that’s both vital information and something with emotion.

At [1:29], I bring her back on camera again for the same reason.

“A lot of customers always say my dog’s not gonna bite.  And every carrier has heard that thousands of times, the dog will bite.”
  • The Ending

The last shot is the walking off into the sunset shot.  I bring the story to a close with a simple shot of her walking away, still doing her job.  I’m covering with a closing piece of sound, and I throw in one more dog barking.  No need to show the dog here.  If she were walking along, she wouldn’t necessarily see a dog barking; she would just hear it.

Thanks for reading.  Don’t forget to like The Edit Foundry on Facebook for daily tips and discussion topics.

Time? Limited. Video? Limited. Discover The Line Between Perfection and Mediocrity

Ever edit a story with a limited amount of time and a limited amount of video?  I’m sure your answer is yes.

This is a story I edited on the Sunday before the Democratic National Convention in 2008.  It’s called Where Real Democracy Occurs.

I spent about an hour editing this story.  Anytime I have a story like this and little time, the first thing I’m going to do is cover it.  Covering usually takes about 15 minutes.  What do I mean by cover?  I mean no black holes.  All the edits may not be the cleanest, but it’s air-able.  Sometimes that’s the best thing you can do, in the time you have.

Is there anything awe-inspiring about this story?  Nope.  Anything awe-inspiring about the editing?  Nope.  So why write about it? We all have to edit crap, news, corporate videos, reality T.V., you’re going to get crap no matter where you edit.  When you get this below-average video, you need to be prepared.  You need to be prepared to find that point in your world between perfection and mediocrity.

  • You need to be prepared to find that point in your world between perfection and mediocrity.

You never want to spend too much time on an edit like this. I want to impress.  I want it to be the best.  Is putting more time into this project worth it?  That’s the question you have to ask yourself.  No one can answer that question for you.  It may take years for you to figure out your line.  I have finally discovered mine. Could I have done better?  Yes.  Would it have been worth my time?  No.

It’s these kinds of pieces that you just practice the craft.  Working on things like where to take an edit.  Work on pacing.  Work on your ability to add natural sound.

After I cover a story like this, I start looking for natural sound.  It’s what takes the viewer there.  The shot at [:16] isn’t stable when I take the edit.

I want to use that natural sound at that moment.  I didn’t have much wiggle room as far as taking the shot later as the photographer moved onto the next shot. I also didn’t want to cover any of it with feet from the previous shot.

The reporters write “hit the pavement,” so I use the feet shot to reinforce the track.

I’m under a deadline, so you don’t see any sequences in this story.  I love sequencing.  It’s the bread and butter of storytelling.  I don’t enjoy editing unless there is sequencing… perfection/mediocrity, find your line.

Since I don’t have any sequences, I will S.W.A.P. (Synchronize Words And Pictures). You’ll find me SWAP-ing in this story a lot.

At [:18], the reporter says, “A normally quiet morning in downtown Denver.”  I don’t really have those kinds of shots, but I do have some shots with a small number of people in it, so I use them.  Anything I can use to reinforce reporter track I’m going to use.

Did you see all the tight shots I used in this piece?  No?  What?  Watch it again!

A lot of medium to medium and wide to wide.  There are two reasons for this;  I didn’t get many tight shots, and I don’t believe in forcing tight shots.  If it works and the shot has meaning, great. If your editing a tight shot in just cause you to feel you have too many medium to medium, then stop and think about it for a minute.  The human eye takes in much more of the world as a medium shot; then it does as a tight shot.  Something to think about next time your shooting all those tight shots.  Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE tight shots.  I just don’t force them.

Back to the story. I’m using natural sound as much as I can, and I’m trying to keep the pace of the story up.

Whenever there is an interview, you’ll notice they are only up for about 4 seconds on camera, just long enough to super (lower 3rd) them.

The women’s bite at [:56]  was a little long,

so I trimmed her bite and covered it to flow better.

If you listen carefully, you can hear where I butted two bites together.  Stories like this should keep a good pace. Leaving someone up on camera for 10 seconds really slows a story down.  This isn’t going to win any awards, but it takes the viewer to the protest.  I try and use shots relevant to what’s going one and use as much natural sound possible.

The opening shot is the best thing I like about the story.

You’ll see people marching, the state capital, and a cop. That pretty much establishes everything your about to see. The closing shot is not that strong. I’m out of video and out of time, and at least it says the march is still going on. Again, back to the eye of the viewer, if you were sitting on the curb watching as all this, what might see before you get up and leave.

Sometimes little accomplishments like a good opening shot, proper use of natural sound, and a good pace are enough to feel you’ve done a story justice.  More importantly, you walk away feeling good about the story and knowing you didn’t waste any time.  Congratulations.  You found your line between perfection and mediocrity.

Don’t forget to like The Edit Foundry on Facebook.


Simple Video Effects in Final Cut Pro 7

Thunder was a story on my 2011 Editor of the Year entry.  This is an effects-driven story; you just don’t really see the effect.  That’s what you want when you use effects, you don’t want the viewer noticing them.  When you go to a movie, and the effects aren’t believable, the effects become a distraction, and the audience isn’t watching the story. The audience says to themselves, “That’s not real.” Effects affect viewers.  Think about that next time you want to go overboard with effects.

I’m a big fan of NFL films.  The stories they create are simply visual candy.  I wanted to create a film effect for the story on Thunder in the spirit of NFL films.  I  wanted to create my own look and feel, as well.  I have an effect on every clip in this story.  It’s not flying boxes.  It’s not crazy wipes.  It’s not picture in picture.  It’s something more subtle.  I’m creating an entire feel for the story.  What I’m doing is never distracting to the viewer.

Our story for this post is Thunder, which can be found on my Youtube page (

The story starts off with shots you would see at the beginning of a Bronco game.

Fireworks going off.



Fans Cheering.

The Broncos running onto the field.

You’ll see the first 14 shots in the story. I applied a motion effect.  All these shots are at 50% speed.  When your motion affects a shot, it tends to create a film effect all by itself.  I didn’t want to apply a motion effect to every clip, I needed to do something else to the video.

At [:22] Thunder and the video is moving at 100% speed. This shot is a screen-grab in the finished story.

This shot is of the original video.

I suggest you click and open each picture to see the difference between the two screen-grabs.  Toggle back and forth between these two shots.  Notice the differences?

I’ve done several things here.  The one most noticeable is I crushed the blacks, meaning I darkened areas more than they originally were.  See the blue on Thunder’s face mask and the blue on the rider?  They are a vibrant blue deep blue in the original video.  In my treated video, they are an intense blue almost to the point of being black.  Look at the NFL films logo, same thing there. The original video is that rich deep blue.  The affected video is still blue but closer to black than in the original video.

Now, look at the whites like on the banner in the background or the whites around Thunder’s exposed head.  Notice how much richer the quality of the whites is. Look at the smoke from behind Thunder in the upper left.  It has a slight blue tint to it in the original video.  My affected video it’s much whiter.

It took me a while to achieve the exact look I wanted for this story.  Just crushing blacks wasn’t enough for me.  I wanted to enrich the whites as well.  It was mostly trial and error.  If you’re going to create a look like this, I suggest you play around with how I’m about to explain how I did this.   From what I did, you could create an infinite amount of looks for your video.

So how did I create this look?  First of all, I’m sure there are many more ways to do this.  This is simply one way, my way (at the time). The first thing I did was to create two video layers for this story.  The second layer being identical to the first layer as you see here is this screen-grab, click on it to see it bigger.

Here is what the first layer looks like, all alone.

This story was edited on Final Cut 7.  The way I did this can be achieved on other non-linear systems as well.  I applied a 3-way color corrector to video layer one.  I color corrected the shot like I would typically do.  After I color corrected, I turned the saturation all the way down, so the shot turned black and white.  You’ll notice my screen-grab is not entirely black and white.  I’ll explain that in a minute. Here’s a screen-grab of what my color corrector looks like with levels if you want to try and imitate the look.

You’ll want to play with your black levels, the midrange levels, and your highlight levels.  That’s the 3 slider bars below the color wheels.  Notice my black levels are slightly lowered, my midrange levels are up significantly, and my highlight levels are reduced somewhat.

Then I moved to the identical clip-on video layer two.

The first thing I did with the identical video on layer two drops the opacity to 50% so the I could see through video layer two and down into video layer one.  Now it can see both clips together but manipulate each layer independently.  Doing this allows for greater control of your final look.

The clip I have on video layer two, I add the 3-way color corrector onto that clip. Again I color correct like I usually do.  Once I get the shot color corrected the way I like, I started to drop the blacks levels on this clip.  Then, I played with the highlight levels (that’s the slider bar underneath the white color correction wheel). Here’s a screen-grab of what that color-correction looks like.

I went back to the clip-on video layer one and started increasing the saturation on video layer one, so just a hint of color appears.  This really brought out the flesh tones on people. You don’t need to increase the saturation too much as you can see here.

As I went clip by clip, I made several adjustments.  Depending on the video, I often decreased midrange highlight levels, whereas, on other clips, I increased levels.  This is really just how I did it on a few clips.  Once I got my look, I needed to tweak each clip, and I’m sure you will too.

So in review.

  • Create your story.
  • Copy all of your clips on video layer one and paste them on video layer two
  • Add a color corrector 3-way onto the clips on video layer one
  • Color correct to your desire
  • Using the slider bar lower your black levels slowly, you won’t need to move the slider much
  • Increase your midrange levels using the slider bar below the mids color wheel
  • Drop opacity on the clips on video layer two
  • Add a color corrector 3-way onto the clips on video layer two
  • Color correct to your desire
  • Lower your black levels
  • Increase/decrease your mid-levels
  • Increase/decrease you highlight levels

I hope you can take what I did for this story and apply it to something you do.  I love to take a look at what you do with this idea.  Send me a link to I’d like to see your work.  Thanks for reading.
Shawn Montano

In Deadline Video Editing I’m constantly thinking Wide, Medium, Tight and Match Action

This story led my 2011 National Press Photographers Association Television Video Editor of the Year entry.

I’m honored to receive this award for the 4th time in my career.  There are teachable moments in every story.

Gratitude is a Common Denominator is a story to watch for this post.

This is a one hour edit.

Here are some tips for editing under the deadline.

  • Lay down all your narration to the timeline
  • Create a raw sequence
  • Lay down all your SOTS to the timeline
  • Lay down as many natural sound breaks, and you are aware of (more on this later)
  • Don’t worry about these edits being clean just yet

The first thing I do is lay down the narration in its entirety.  I DO NOT place narration in the preview window.  I load straight to the timeline.  I’ll go through the narration and delete what I need to, meaning I remove the 3,2,1s and the pauses, etc.

Next, I place my SOTS in the preview window.  I mark the ins and outs and drop to the timeline.  I’m editing for speed, and I know I’m going to trim and clean up the final edit as I go, so I’m not entirely worried about clean mark Ins and Outs. I just want to get them down on the timeline.

Next, I’ll place as many natural sound breaks into the timeline as I immediately know.   Did I look at the video first?  Did the writer note natural sound moments?  Are there obvious ones?  I don’t waste time searching for natural sound breaks now.  As I scroll through the video, I know I’ll find more.

I start with a tight shot.

Everyone knows the red bucket.  When you see money going into the red bucket and the sound of bells, your mind immediately evokes the memory of A Salvation Army volunteer.  Good natural sound selection is a great way to put the viewer’s mind into the subject matter.

  • Good natural sound selection is a great way to put the viewer mind into the subject matter

The next 3 shots are of musicians playing Christmas carols with natural sound.

I’ve established the story, what its about, and set the mood in 4 seconds.  Pacing is often a tough thing to set up early. Usually, stories start fast and then slow down or do just the opposite.  When I’m under deadline, I like to discover my pace as soon as possible.  I’m also going to go back to these gentlemen playing at the end.  These are my bookends to this story.  If you can find some element of a story and place it at the beginning of the story and have enough video and the ability to return to that element, it’s a great and easy way to bookend your story.

At [:06] into the story, I establish my central character with a visual introduction as well as the natural sound of him saying, “Here we go, help Salvation Army right here.”

Another thing I am always thinking about is my shot selection.  I like to keep up the variety.  The next shot in the story at [:10] is a tight shot.

In deadline mode, I can’t always pick the optimum shot.  I continuously think wide, medium, tight.

  • In deadline mode, I’m continually thinking wide, medium, tight

If your thinking shot variety along the way, it will eliminate problems as you edit.

Another element of editing I continuously have on my mind is match action.

Notice in the next three edits-I starts wide here,

then a medium shot taking the edit right as he turns his head (trying to hide the edit).

Follow by a wide shot starting the edit right on his movement (again trying to hide the edit).

Notice how often I use his head movements to help me with selection edit points.  It’s a great trick to keep in your back pocket to help keeps edits clean and hide the edit.

I’m very proud of this deadline edit.  It’s clean and straightforward.  However, I do want to point out two things that bugged me.  I simply ran out of time to change/fix before it aired.

The first one is here.

Notice that gentlemen looking at the camera?  So did I, but not until it was too late.  When someone acknowledges the awareness of a camera, it’s called breaking the 4th wall.  You don’t want the viewer aware this is a story being recorded.  You just want them to watch with no conscious elements to make them realize anything other than that.  Well, this gentleman looking at the camera and then moving out of the way is a distraction to the story.  I would suggest you avoid this as much as possible.  Silly me!

The other one is at [1:14]

My photographer was handheld at this point.  The camera shakes.  It is subtle but still noticeable.  You want to do everything you can to keep the viewer from realizing they are watching something being captured on a camera.  Camera shake is one of them.

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

Like the Edit Foundry on Facebook

Follow me on Twitter

Movement in Every Edit (well almost every edit) in Video Editing

I’m a fan of movement. You should be a fan of movement. I like to have as much movement in a story as possible. Often, I base my edit decisions on movement. If I’m choosing between two shots, I’ll choose motion over a better-composed shot with no action happening in the shot.

We are a visual medium.

Give your viewer as much to look at as they possibly can handle. Our story for this post is It’s Bad.

This is a spot news story edited in about an hour.  There are practices you can learn here and apply to any edit. The idea of motion isn’t a new one. Next time you are editing a story, think about the exact frame you are choosing as your IN point and the action in that edit.

There are a lot of static shots.  The standard video for stories like these is;

Crime tape

Screen Shot 2020-03-31 at 8.35.14 AM

Paramedics working

Screen Shot 2020-03-31 at 8.39.30 AM

Cops observing


and spectators watching

Screen Shot 2020-03-31 at 8.57.56 AM

We know what the video is going to be like in any type of story like this. So often in stories like these, I see edits chosen with nothing going on.

Only 6 shots with no movement, count them.

Pay particular attention to the next few shots and what I choose as the IN point.

[:07] IN point when S.W.A.T member puts on his helmet

Screen Shot 2020-03-31 at 9.02.35 AM

[:08] – IN point when another S.W.A.T member move his head

Screen Shot 2020-03-31 at 9.03.14 AM

[:09] – IN point when a police officer takes a step

Screen Shot 2020-03-31 at 9.04.30 AM

[:11] – I wait until just before you see many S.W.A.T members moving forward

Screen Shot 2020-03-31 at 9.05.01 AM

I’m trying to keep the story moving.  This may sound obvious but watch a newscast and look at how often there is nothing is going on within a shot.  I strive to have something going on in as many shots a possible.  Even little things like;

[:15] – Crime tape blowing in the wind

Screen Shot 2020-03-31 at 9.08.10 AM

[:20] – Cops walking from frame right to frame left

Screen Shot 2020-03-31 at 9.08.51 AM

[:38] – Officer’s arm moving in the left-hand corner of the screen

Screen Shot 2020-03-31 at 9.09.44 AM

I’m waiting for something to happen before I set the IN point.

Watch It’s Bad again.  Now that you know what to look for, notice how much all the little things like a bit of movement adds to the story.  Next time you edit a story like this think about it

  • Think about what’s in the shot

  • Is there something going on you can show instead of just a static shot

  • Wait for something to happen and then set your IN point