Category Archives: Natural Sound

Use should be Constantly Experimenting with Natural Sound

One of my favorite stories I have ever done is It’s a Kids Game.

I love using natural sound (you should too).  I love experimenting with natural sound.  I have used too much natural sound in a story.  I have used too little natural sound in a story.  The only way to figure out if you use too little or too much is to experiment.  Ultimately you have to decide if your story has too much or too little natural sound.

I did more than just experiment with natural sound in It’s a Kid’s Game.  I experimented with the rhythm of natural sound in this story.  A long time ago, someone told me that using natural sound elements in threes was his/her guideline or rule, meaning he/she would use three distinct ‘pops’ of natural sound when appropriate.  This rule/guideline helped with the rhythm of stories.

What if you tried to do anything but three natural sound pops.  What if you did four, five, or six.  What if you did just one but tried to avoid three.  That’s what I attempted to do one day while doing a natural sound story.

I’ve written the story out here as if I was following was a script.   So, watch It’s a Kids Game, then read the script, then watch It’s a Kids Game again.

Here is the script;

  • Whiffle ball being thrown
  • The player taking a deep breath
  • Swinging a ball
  • Pitcher saying ‘All right.’

  • “It’s kind of like a swiss cheese ball.”
  • A whiffle ball being thrown
  • A ball hitting the chain link fence
  • A ball bouncing on the tennis court
  • Someone hitting a wiffle ball with a bat
  • Spectators saying ‘nice.’

  • It sounds like baseball.
  • A batter takes a big sigh
  • Someone saying ‘One out.’
  • Someone saying ‘bases-loaded.’
  • The pitcher saying 3,1
  • A batter hitting the ball

  • “It resembles baseball a lot.
  • A batter hitting a whiffle ball
  • Another batter hitting a whiffle ball
  • A batter watching ball go by and hit hitting the net
  • A spectator saying ‘just a bit outside, ball two.’
  • Ball going into net and batter saying aw!

  • They’re all kids when it comes to this game.
  • Guy saying oh! as he misses a ball while batting

  • That’s the first time I’ve ever seen an adult play whiffle ball before.
  • A batter hits a wiffle ball

  • Wiffle ball, all the way.
  • ‘Count’
  • ‘2-0’
  • The natural sound of someone missing

  • The Balls are a lot smaller.
  • Sound of pulling the ball out of the bucket
  • Sound of pitcher’s efforts

  • And they’re a lot obviously lighter.
  • It’s pretty much like throwing air
  • Sound of whiffle ball going by and hitting the fence
  • The guy said, oh!

  • It’s the baby brother of baseball.
  • The guy hitting a foul ball

  • It’s America’s game.
  • One guy hits wiffle ball
  • Another guy hits whiffle ball
  • The guy saying, ‘yeah, baby.’

  • It might be the next Olympic sport you never know, yeah, you never know.
  • The guy saying ‘all right.’
  • Give you something to hit

  • We’re all a bunch of has-beens, bunch of has-beens never will be’s.
  • Natural of shoe scraping ground
  • Sound of his second-foot scraping ground
  • A batter hitting the ball

  • They don’t run like the bases, they just basically have points where um it’s used for 1st base, 2nd base or whatever cause there’s not enough room you know to run.
  • Sound of whiffle ball
  • Sound of the ball hitting the fence

  • You can’t get a full team of guys together anymore. We’ve got work, kids.
  • Bat hitting a whiffle ball
  • Kids saying whiffle ball
  • Gentlemen clapping

  • It gives us a chance to come out and be heroes even if it’s in front of six guys in an afternoon.
  • Guy missing pitch

  • I’m really surprised to see a lot of these guys have gotten it over the fence here.
  • You got it, get over, get over.
  • Hey, this guys just hit a home run.

  • I always used to think it was a kids game, but it’s actually gettin’ to be pretty serious.
  • Bat hits ball
  • Wiffleball comes in

  • It’s just kinda come out here and be a kid for a little while.
  • I should of hit that one.

  • I played it back in elementary school, but that was it.
  • Ball coming in
  • guy hitting ball

  • It is a kid’s game.
  • More adults are getting into it.
  • Ball hits backstop
  • If it makes me just a little bit younger.
  • “Nice, buddy.”
  • I’ll take every second of it I can get.
  • Good game, good game.

As you observed, I only used natural sound in groups of threes only 4 times.  I tried to avoid doing that, but I also had to get this story to air.  I wanted to prove you don’t need to follow some rules or guidelines simply because.  Understand the rules (which are really just guidelines) and then break them.

Thank you for reading

The Cut. It is an effect too!

The story you are about to watch put me on the map.  Several talented people took notice of my developing skills.  I won several awards for this story.   You should have a story like this, a story everyone notices and lives for a few years.  Ok, enough about that.

This is an educational blog, so what can you learn from a story like this.  You can learn that the basic elements we use every day can turn into an effect.  Yes, the cut can be an effect.  This was edited in a tape-to-tape edit bay back in 1999.

Our story for this post is New York Street Boys.

In this post, we’re going to talk about

  • Using a cut as an effect
  • Using quick edits as a transition device

The cut is the device storytellers use most often.  I’d guess over 95% of the content you see in film, television, and the web uses cuts.

We often see storytellers use effects to enhance a story.  Many of us know what effects our NLE are capable of and can grab any one of the numerous effects to enhance a story.

New York Street Boys is an effect driven story, except the effect is simply a cut.

Our story begins at [:02].  It starts with a wide shot of crowd gathered.

After that shot, we have 44 cuts in less than 8 seconds.  All of these cuts are edited to the beat.  I’m creating an effect by merely cutting quickly.

I understand I wanted to have fun with this story.  Rarely you ever get an edit that just calls out for a certain kind of edit.  I could have easily edited this with significantly fewer edits and had a good story.  This is a case of wanting the edits to enhance the overall experience of the story.

There are only 3 shots that are wide shots within that series of cuts.  Your eye probably only recognized two of those wide shots.  I did that because of the way the brain process information.  The brain can only process so much information at a time. If you’re going to use this type of editing and you still want the viewer to gather information about the story, tight shots are the way to go.

Try to use a vastly different shot.  Wide and tight and/or different colors or diverse elements.  This will help the viewer’s eye and getting information.

I’ve established the style in which I’m going to tell the story right from the beginning.  I’m going to use quick cuts, often single frame edits.  Does this represent the way the eye would work if you were there?  No.

New York Street Boys is not about imitating the eye.  It’s about using a tool, in this case, a cut to enhance the viewing of the story.

  • I want the viewer to see the story, hear the story, and I’m going to try and make them feel the story.

Quick cuts are my attempt to take the viewer as much into the story as I think I can.

In the series of cuts from [:12] to [:14], the tight shot has little going on in them.

In a few frames, you see the drumstick hitting the trash can.  But other than that, I keep what’s going on in the quick edits simple.

In the first 14 seconds of the story, I have lots and lots of cuts.  It would be an epic edit if I kept that pace up throughout this piece.  I don’t do this for a few reasons.

  • I don’t want this style to get in the way of the story
  • I’m just trying to use it to enhance the story in places
  • It would have taken me a long, long time to edit.

So from [:14] to [:31] I’m only just trying to tell a story.  I also introduce our first character in the story.

The next time I use quick edits is at [:32].  I’m using it as a transition device to introduce another character.

I do this quick edits transition again at [:52] to introduce the final character.

Looking back on this story, I realized I didn’t introduce the viewer to him like I did with Alex and Dean.  I guess that’s the reality of natural sound stories.  You don’t always have all the elements to tell the whole story.  It is a true talent to tell a great natural sound story.  I did a good job.  I did not do a great job.  You should always strive to tell a great story and have the editing secondary.  Honestly, I flipped those guidelines for this edit.  I put the editing first and the story second.  I will happen to you many times in your career.

At [:58] I use quick edits again as a transition device.  The story moves from them banging on trash cans to banging on their heads.

I have quick edits again at [1:09].  I use them for a transition to the crowd.  I felt I needed a little crowd reaction here with cheering.

  • You’ve got to have a reaction to all those actions in a story

I go back to quick edits at [1:15] to transition to the final element of the story.  The New York Street Boys using fire.

Again at [1:22] for the beginning of the fire portion of the show.

And then there’s my big finally at [1:32].  After doing all these quick edits in certain places, I wanted to create a big finale in the editing.  Just like the New York Street Boys create an end for the viewers in the mall, I wanted a big finish for the viewers watching the story at home.

Our story closes with a series of reaction shots from the crowd.

This was one of the most fun stories I’ve ever put together.  It took me about 8 hours to edit.  I edited this story tape to tape.  There are 246 edits in the story.  It runs [1:45]

Quick edits, when used in an appropriate story, can often enhance a story like this.  Taking the viewer in more intimately than even someone watching just a few feet away.  Frankly, it was a ton of fun to put this story together.



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

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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.

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