BOOT CAMP 204 (04/12/01)




Recordings made on first generation video tape recorders (VTRs) in the 1950 and 60s had to be physically edited or ‘spliced’, much like movie film. With the development of the ‘helical scan’ system in the late 60s -- now used on all professional and consumer VCRs and camcorders -- splicing became impossible and footage had to be edited by re-recording scenes in sequence, on a second video tape recorder. This technique is known as ‘linear’ editing because of the way a recording is laid out along the length of tape.


Re-recording analogue video material degrades the image slightly, it’s not a huge problem on high-performance professional equipment but on consumer systems the quality of finished productions -- often a second or even third generation recording – usually leaves a lot to be desired. The arrival of digital camcorders in the mid 1990’s and the huge increase in the speed power and performance of PCs opened the way for a completely new way of editing home videos.


Desktop or ‘non-linear’ editing gets its name from the fact that raw footage is digitised or downloaded from the camcorder onto the PC’s hard disc drive. The non-linear bit refers to the way scenes or ‘clips’ can be more or less instantaneously extracted from any part of the recording and assembled into any required order. In addition to being quicker and simpler than linear editing the powerful graphics capabilities of the modern PC can be used to create eye-catching scene transitions, special effects and titles and because this all happens in the digital domain there is no loss of quality.


As we said last week there are a lot of different software packages and hardware configurations on the market so we can only talk in generalities but most non-linear editing programs work in the same way. Selected video clips are cut and trimmed on the applications desktop and then dragged and dropped onto a ‘Timeline’, where they are represented by thumbnail-sized images. The timeline is a visual depiction of the movie in storyboard form and in addition to the clips it shows the audio soundtrack, transitions and any special effects.


There are many different ways of working but the same basic principles apply to editing home movies, irrespective of the format, method or the technology involved. The first one is to have a plan, map out some sort of structure or outline for your movie, preferably on paper but however you do it the general idea is to tell a story, and all good stories should have a beginning, middle and end.  It is also a good time to have an idea of the length of your finished production early on. If possible try to keep it to less than 15 to 20 minutes in duration, which is approximately the attention span of the average home video audience, any longer -- unless you are unusually talented -- you are in serious danger of boring everyone rigid.


A lot of novice editors get bogged down and waste a lot of time on the opening shots; your first task to should be assemble a rough draft of all of the clips you want to use and get them into the right order. At this stage you can move clips around, make as many changes (and mistakes) as you like so don’t be afraid to experiment and don’t forget that your original footage always remains intact. You may have seen your recording a dozen times but remember it’s your audience’s first time so make use of the establishing shots we mentioned last week, when the action moves from one location to another. When you come to trim the clips to length try to keep them as short as possible, be brutal. In professionally made movies and TV programmes each shot typically lasts between 2 and 5 seconds, that may be a bit brief for a home movie but try to establish a rhythm and pace but vary the length of each shot so scene changes do not become predictable. Review your work as often as possible and always look for ways to shorten or cut out redundant scenes and save your work regularly.


One of the last jobs is inserting scene transitions and special effects and this is where many first-timers get it horribly wrong. Most editing programs offer far too many options and predictably the results can end up looking like a dog’s dinner. The vast majority of scene transitions should be simple cuts, with the occasional fade or dissolve to indicate the passage of time or a change of location. Unfortunately most first efforts are peppered with fancy spins swirls and twirls, they look dreadful and audiences find them extremely irritating. Special effects and exotic transitions should only be used sparingly otherwise they loose impact moreover they also take much longer to ‘render’ and slow down the whole editing process.


Finally, add a professional touch with some opening titles and end credits. Again learn from the pros, keep titles short and readable and avoid too much movement. By tradition, and because it’s easier to read, end credits usually scroll up from the bottom of the screen. Use a mixture of upper and lowercase characters, capitals are harder to read, as is text coming into the picture from the sides or flying around all over the place.


Next week – Email message rules





In linear editing selected scenes are copied from one video recorder to another, creating a second-generation recording. The copying process degrades the picture and if subsequent copies of the edit ‘master’ are made – a third-generation copy – the imperfections can become very noticeable 



System of recording information onto magnetic tape where the recording head (or heads) are mounted on a rotating head drum, around which the tape is wrapped 



Process in desktop video editing where effects and transitions are generated by the editing software and added to clips



Get to know your video editing package and avoid having to learn how to do basic operations when you’re halfway through your latest production. Most programs have a number of keyboard shortcuts that can help speed things up, learn to use them and if necessary print out a crib-sheet that you can keep close to hand when you are working.

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