Survival Kit Part 3

Directing (putting it all together)

Shooting footage is one thing, turning it into a documentary is another thing altogether. Directing is a process of story telling. A good place to start is working out why are you making the piece and what is the Story. Once you have worked this out you are half way there. Without a good idea of why you are making the piece and what the story is you will almost certainly fail.. For example you may be making a piece to persuade people to get active against generic engendering. The story may be that a group felt so strongly that they decided to take things into there own hands and pull up a genetic test site. Main stream media often uses to entertain or because it is interesting as the why, but from an alternative media point of you this is pretty lame.

Although a good director should be both enthusiastic and knolagable about the subject don't get carried away in thinking that others are as enthusiastic as you are. This brings us to who are the audience (who is the piece aimed at). It is worth remembering here that if you are creating a campaign video preaching to the concerted is not necessarily very useful.

Story telling is a skill in its own right. It is not possible to say what makes a good story but pointing out a few things to avoid is useful. A story should not be static. Simply explaining how things are is very flat, unless you are shouting a conflict. To do this you really have to show both sides of the argument. To make the story more dynamic you can use time, showing how a campaign has developed. You could follow an action from the beginning to the end. Showing how people felt before the action, how it went and how people felt afterwards (The piece douse not have to be strictly chronological). Remember you are using video as a medium and think about the visual aspect of the piece. If it is mainly talking heads maybe radio is a better medium, although a skilled film maker can make an effective piece about almost anything.

If you already have footage for the piece confining yourself to this can be too constraining. It may be that to embellish the piece you have to collect more footage. This may mean doing extra interviews, going back to the location to collect cutaways/wildtrack or even waiting for an event to happen. Film making can be a very drawn out process. If you don't have the footage you need it may not be worth continuing until you have it.

In terms of working out the sequence of the piece writing the main scenes onto post-its and experimenting in ordering them on a wall or piece of card can be useful. Alternatively you could draw up a story-board where you split up pieces of paper into squares and sketch the scenes. A big mistake that many people make is trying to do everything themselves (filming/ directing/ editing). This can create a very introverted inaccessible piece. You should have already logged the footage (see Logging Footage) and acquainted yourself with it. If you logged it some time ago, or if someone else logged it, you should sit down with the logging sheets and re-aquant yourself with it. You should then create a paper edit. This is a piece of paper with the order of shots and details about them including titling. This is only a starting point and represents a very rough edit. As well as including the actual edit it is worth including any clips you think may be useful such as extra cutaways.

Paper Edit
Project:genetic Snowball Sheet: 1 of 1
# Reel In Out Description
1       Opening Titles "genetic Snowball"
2 05 00:01:15:00 00:01:18:00 People getting into Van
3 05 00:34:23:00 00:34:27:00 Shot from inside Van
4 10 00:45:15:00 00:45:15:00 Jo talking about the action, starts "This is the 4th of July..." and ends "...How long it will be". Only audio used with next shots as cutaways.
5 07 00:55:10:00 00:58:10:00 People in van
6 05 00:10:45:00 00:10:45:00 Fade to pan of field

As you can see the frames part of the timecode is always 00. This is because this is a rough cut and you should allow a couple of seconds at the end/beginning of each shot as you may need it when editing. In reality the Edit Decision list may be a lot rougher than this.

It is always good to have another person to work with. One very effective way of doing this is to work with a good editor. You could work the general story out and then work with another person to check it works and talk about the general sequence. If you are working with and editor you should then let them do a rough cut of the film. You can then work with them to refine the edit. After the editing is done it is then useful to preview the piece to others. When you are doing this watch the audience, rather than the film. Talk to them afterwards about what they liked/disliked about the piece. It is worth showing the piece at several times to different people at different stages of development.

This section has just scratched the surface of directing. Although much will come with practice for a fuller discussion of the subject Directing the Documentary by Michael Rabiger is a very well respected text.

Types of edit suites

There are basically two types of edit sued, traditional linear and computer biased non-linear.


A linear suet is made up of a video-tape played (the source VCR), and a recorder (the target VCR). These are connected together so the footage you want can be copied from one to another. To control the editing (copying) process an Edit Controller is used.

[Picture of linear edit deck]

When editing you must first copy a stedy black signal onto all the tapes you are editing onto. This gives the edit suit a reference signal to work with. To do this you need a tape with black on it to copy from. The simplest way to make up one is to put a lense cap on your camera and plug it into a VCR. You can then record the signal from the camera onto the whole of a blank tape. Make sure the camera is set to Camera not VCR. You must then copy this tape onto all the tapes you are goint to edit onto.

Editing is done by puttint the tape you wish to copy from in the source VCR and putting a blank tape in the target VCR. To do an edit:-

  • go to the beginning of the clip you wish to use on the source VCR and setting the In Point.
  • go to the end of the clip you want and set the Out Point.
  • go to the point you which to copy the clip to on the target VCR and set the In Point there.

It is then possible to do a Preview where the edit suit goed through the motions of editing showing you the edit on the monitor but douse not actualy copy any footage. You can then tweak the In and Out Points by resetting them. You can Preview the edit as many times as you wish. When you are happy with the edit you can then Perform it which actualy copies the footage onto the target VCR.

To move through the footage you usualy use a Jog?Shuttle Controlr. This enables you to move through footage both forward and backwards at a variety of speeds. The fastest is normally x10 and the slowest is a frame every few seconds. This is the shuttle part. The jog part allows you to single step booth forwards and backwards through footage a frame at a time.

[Labeled close up of edit controller]

It is also possible to insert just video or audio which allowed cutaways/wildtrack to be inserted. In this way the whole piece can be built up. Adding video affects requires an additional piece of equipment called an effects generator. Titles can be done by filming them on a piece of card or using yet another piece of equipment called a titler.

It is normal do do a rough cut first, where the in/out points are not to tight (close) to the footage you actually want first. You then take the tape out of the source VCR and put it into the source VCR. A blank tape is then put into the target VCR and the whole process is none again, this time the editing is made much tighter. It may be necessary to do the whole process a third time.

As every time you do a copy you loose quality you may decide to do the whole thing again from the rushes (master tapes).

Sound and cutaways can be added to the edit by only copying the picture or audio, it the case of audio the left and right channel can be copied independently. The sound will probably be put through a mising desk so it can be faded up and down.


A Non-linear suite consists of a computer with a video monitor connected to it. The computer has a video capture card in it which allows video to be copied off tape onto the computers hard disk. This system only required one video recorder..

Editing is done by placing the clips on a time line. It is them possible to trim (change the duration) of clips or even change there sequence (move them around in relation to each other). Audio can be edited separately from the picture allowing several tracks of wildtrack to be used.

[Labeled Screen shot showing time lined]

The software should also allow you to do affects and titeling. These also can be done using the software but the cheaper systems take a considerable amount of time to render (draw) these (i.e. a second per frame). The more expensive systems do all, or some, of these using extra hardware rather than software. They can do the effects/titling in real time (they can play the clip immediately without you having to wait for the clip to render).

The first stage of editing is digitizing the clips you wish to use. This involves copying all the clips you want onto the computers hard disk. On more sophisticated systems you can do batch capture. This is where you type the timecodes of the beginning/end of each clip you want.You can then let the software do the work unattended, apart from changing tapes (the software should prompt you when this needs doing).

The next step is to put all the footage onto the timeline and do a rough cut. If this is done by an editor who is working with a director it is a good idea to let the editor concentrate on doing this on there own. They can get things into good shape and the director can come in afterwards.

The edit is then tightened up while the director is there. Any additional footage and audio can be digitized at any time. The last stage is usually tightening up the sound by slightly overlapping audio and bringing in wildtrack.

Hybrid systems

Although these are the main type of editing equipment there are various hybrid systems. These use two (or more) video recorders which are controlled by a computer. As well as controlling the video recorders the computer can also add titling and transitions. They are sometimes referred to as Video Toasters as when the edit is actually done they ask for the required tapes to be put in the source player, copy the required sequence and pop the tape out (like a toaster). This can be a good budget solution and is more flexible than a non-linear edit suite. It douse require two video recorders and is less flexible, and more time consuming, than non-linear.


In-Camera Editing

The simplest way to edit is in-camera, where everything is shot in sequence and the tape can be viewed straight away. It is important not to turn the camcorder off as the cuts will not be clean and you may get rollback (where the end of the previous shot is recorded over) . Modern camcorders are fairly sophisticated and allow affects such as fades so with practice quite good results can be obtaned. It is extremely unforgiving and for a serious work is normally not flexible enough. You must decide weather you are going to edit in-camera before you start shooting as shooting for separate editing requires time to be left after and before each shot. However if you don't have access to an edit suit it may be your only option.

Editing afterwards

Editing is partly an intuitive process and is much more than simply putting all the good footage you have into a logical order. Although the technical side of editing can take some time to learn it is by no means the main skill. It will not be covered here in much detail due to the diverse range of equipment available. It can take years of practice and a certain amount of aptitude to become a good editor. This douse not mean that it is not possible for a novice to produce a watchable piece. Editing can not be learned from a book so this section simply aimed to point you in the correct direction.

Choosing an edit suet

Linear edit suites are great for learning about editing and are cheaper (therefore easier to get access to). Non-linear edit suites are a lot more flexible as all the footage is first copied onto a computer disk and can therefore be manipulated with greater ease. Although you can upgrade a decent PC by adding a video editing card for £200 and getting a large (i.e. at least 6 gigabyte) hard drive the edit suet you have will be barley usable for anything serious. Editing takes a long time at the best of times and a cheap edit suet can make it take twice as long. To get a decent video capture card will cost over £600 and you will need a top of the range PC with fast disk drives. Therefore the only real option for most people is to get access to one. Many collages, and some arts centers, have edit suites. If you talk to those in charge you may find someone sympathetic who may let you use it for a reduced rate, or even nothing. <

Getting down to work

Before you even consider editing make sure that you have enough footage to produce a piece. If you were a good editor you would be able to get away with having less footage but if you are only learning it will be an up hill struggle. If you have good access to equipment you may be able to use the footage to practice but in terms of creating a workable piece the odds are really stacked against you.

Editing takes time with a short piece taking days to put together. A five minute piece may take someone who knows how to use the equipment over four days, an these will be long days. However you may well be learning how to use the system as well. Before you start editing it is worth getting hold of the manual for the edit suet you are using or, in the case of non-linear editing, you may be able to get a book on the software.

One very good way of learning is to get an experienced editor to help you. Even if they do not know the edit suet they will understand the process and as has already been said before the technical side is not the most challenging.

The first stage is collecting together the footage you want to use (referring to the paper edit). When selecting the clips a good rule of thumb is; if the you think the picture may not be good enough, or if you need the sound and and it isn't up to scratch then don't use it (if in dought throw it out). If it becomes vital later you can always bring it in then. When you have finished this you should have a pretty good idea weather you have enough footage or weather you need to collect more. The next stage is to do a rough cut. At this stage don't worry if you have to much, everything douse not have to be included in the finished piece. You must then refine the edit with the last stage being refining the sound.

Off-Line/On-Line Editing

One way of producing video is to use a cheaper edit suet to do the bulk of work (the off-line suit) and do the final edit on a more sophisticated/better quality on-line suet. Unless the equipment is compatible you will need to create an Edit Decision list from the off-line edit, although the edit software may create it for you. You may use a lower resolution off-line system to do the main editing and then use a full resolution system to do the final edit. Alternatively you may use a linear system with burnt in Timecodes to do the off-line and use a non-linear system for the on-line. The off-line and on-line could be done on the same non-linear system. You would initially digitize the video at a low resolution. This will make titling and transitions much faster and use less disk space allowing you to digitize more footage. This will allow you to try out different shots and stop you worying about running out of space. When the edit is finished you can then re-digitize at full resolution and leave the edit suet to render all the transitions/tittles unattended. This is only really possible if your system can do batch capture.

Principle of editing

When editing you are organizing the material you have shot into a flowing coherent sequence that can be understood by the audience. This is the mechanics of editing.

On the other hand, every choice you make will directly affect how your audience responds to what they are seeing. You are influencing there interpretations by what you show, and don't show, and can totally change there understanding of events. This is the aesthetics of editing.

Order of Shots

To edit you must imagine yourself in the position of your audience who are seeing the succession of shots for the first time. As they see each shot they must interpret it and relate it to what has come before, progressively building up an idea of what they are seeing. Generally you will be showing the shots in chronological order, if this is not the case you should be very careful as it can confuse the audience. When cutting shots together a series of brief shots will make the action dramatic and exiting (and in come cases confusing). Longer shots will make the action more gentle, restful, thoughtful, sad etc... (or just downright boring).


Although most of the time you will be reducing time (i.e. the sequence will be shorter than the action) you cam also extend time for dramatic affect. For example someone lights a fuse and the camera cuts from there face, what is happening around them and back to the fuse a few times as the fuse burns down. There are however a number of things to avoid (these are guidelines rather than rules).
  • no missing time (her hand hasn't moved but the next shot is a close up where the door handle is being opened)
  • no duplicated time (she has grabbed the handle in close up then reaches for it in the next shot)
  • no extended time (the close up shows her holding the handle for a wile and in the long shot she holds it again for an overlay long time)


  • Each shot should tell/show the audience something new, this will help to keep the piece fresh and keep the audiences attention.
  • You must consider the pace of the piece (much of this should be done before you sit down to edit). Jumping from fast to slow sequences may confuse the audience. A simple way of doing things is to slowly build up the pace and slow it down at the end.
  • A person can take in what is happening in about three seconds so shots shorter than this may confuse the audience (unless you are trying to create a fast action sequence).
  • If someone is talking for more that about 10 seconds use cutaways to emphases what they are saying.
  • Try to make shots flow into one another, look at the movement in shots and try to continue things in the same direction (and speed). You can use the direction people are looking and link this with movement is the same direction.
  • When choosing where to cut if possible do it after an action has happened. This may be someone looking over there shoulder, someone sitting down etc.
  • One of the best places to cut is on a wipe. This is ware someone or something obscures a significant part of the picture. This may may be a person walking across the shot or the camera panning/tilting to something that obscures the picture and is a relatively plain surface.
  • Remember monitors show more of the picture then TVs (which effectively trim the edges by at least 5 percent). This can cause real problems if titles are too close to the bottom of the screen. one solution to this is to plug a cheap colour TV into the edit suit as well as a monitor.
  • If you have a number of people telling the same story or talking about the same thing a very affective tequnique is to cut between them. In this way you can build up a colage of various people telling the story which is more interesting than one (don't forget to also include cutaways).
  • Don't be afraid to alter the order of events within a scene as long as it still makes sense. This may make things flow better visually. It can also sometimes make things clearer or emphasis a point. For example if you have lots of footage of people puling up crops and a crowd watching they do not have to be used in the order they were shot. Where several people are being arrested they have even been known to be arrested in the wrong order in the video.
  • Don't go mad with affects. Most of the edit should be made up of straight cuts with a 5 minute piece only having a couple of fades. This of course douse not apply to the beginning titles and end credits. They can be quite sophisticated but don't use affects just because they are there.
  • 10 seconds is an eternaty and most shots will be less than 5.
  • If there are a number of distinct sections to your pice, peraps with a change of mood pact, you could fade to black between the sections. You could also put a title screen between the two sections.


  • As with filming footage sound is at least as important as the picture. If you were editing over four days as well as paying attention to it during editing you would probably spend at least half a day after the edit to tightening up the sound.
  • Don't totally kill the sound on cutaways. It gives atmosphere if you can hear the ambient sound slightly.
  • Try to keep the sound at a uniform level throughout the whole piece.
  • Always overlap the audio between cuts by a few frames, especially is the audio changes drastically.
  • If the audio changes drastically but you are still in the same location (which often happens) you can use some wildtrack to smoth this over. For example if there is a lot of crowd noise take a separate piece of crowd wildtrack a few seconds long. Overlay both clips (e.g. by 4 seconds) with the wild tract and fade in in at the beginning and out at the end slowly (e.g. 2 seconds).
  • Another way of getting round drastically changing sound is to overlap it by a fre seconds.
  • One good technique to use if a person is talking is to have there voice appear a second or so before you see there face.
  • Don't try to link dialog to tightly with the picture, rather let the cutaways flow.
  • Music can be used to emphases the pace or mood of the piece. It will also help smooth over irregular sound levels (though should not be used simply for this).
  • If you are using music and someone is talking periodicaly dip the level of the music while they are talding.


Burnt-in Timecodes Timecodes that have been recorded onto the tape on top of the picture to help with logging/editing. See Burnt-in Timecodes for more information.
Batch Capture With more sophisticated editing equipment you can control the VCR from the edit suit. This means that to digitize you can type in the Timecodes of the clips you want and leave the machine to 'Batch Capture' the footage.
Cut This is where the location, place or camera angle changes in an edited sequence or when a video camera was stopped (or paused) on started again. In other words the picture just changes. Over 90% of editing consists of straight cuts.
Crossfade This is where two shots are mixed dissolving one shot into another.
Cutaway A piece of video footage where you are only interested in the picture which is normally put over someone talking. For example if someone is talking about a forest you may use cutaways of the forest for the person to talk over.
Dissolve See Crossfade
Edit Decision List A detailed list of the Cuts/ Transitions/ affects and titles of an edit. These may be computer generated or hand written. They are used so an edit can be re done, either on the original edit suit or a different one.
Fade Going from a video sequence from/to black/White. For Example fade to black is where the picture gradually gets darker until it is black. Fade from White is where you start of with white and the scene gets darker as a picture appears.
DV (DVC) Digital Video Cassette. This is a digital format which has exceptional picture quality and a resolution of 500 lines and exceptional coulor saturation (TV has 640). The tape which is used is 4mm so fairly fragile.
Hi8 Oldish but still acceptable format with a resolution of 400 lines. Use 8mm tape.
Jog/shuttle [Picture of Jog Shuttle Controller] A jog shuttle controller enables you to move through footage both forward and backwards at a variety of speeds. The fastest is normally x10 and the slowest is a frame every few seconds. This is the shuttle part. The jog part allows you to single step booth forwards and backwards through footage.

off-line / on-line

This reefers to both types of editing equipment and types of editing. On-line reefers to a full resolution/quality (i.e. broadcast) edit. Off-line refers to a initial low quality edit. See off-line/on-line editing for more details.
Pan A camera shot which moves left to right or right to left.
Rollback Where a camcorder rolls the tape backwards slightly so next time you press record you loose the end of the previous shot.
Timecodes Each frame has a reference called a time code. These are in the format HH:MM:SS:FF (Hour:Minute:Second:Frame). See Timecodes for more details.
Title Writing overlaid over a picture to say who is speaking, where you are etc.
Video Toaster An Editing method where VCRs are controlled by a computer. See Video Toaster for more details.
Rushes Industry Name for Master Tapes
Rough cut The initial 'Rough' Edit that is done in the production process.
Story Board A series of sketches showing how a film is going to look. Normally consist of sheets of paper split into squares each representing a shot.
VCR Video Cassette Recorder. Plays/Records Video.
  Video Capture Card A piece of computer hardware that is used to transfer video from a tape onto a computers hard disk.
VHS The Standard video format in the Europe and the States. Is relatively low quality with a resolution of no more than 280 lines and not very good color saturation.


Ambient noise used to give atmosphere to videos.
White Balance Used on a video camera to make sure the color balance is correct (i.e. White is pure). Artificial lights have a different color temperature than daylight therefore the camera must be adjusted. This is done by pointing the camera at something which is pure white and pressing a button for a few seconds.
Whipe A type of transition from one shot to another where the image wipes across the screen like a vernishen blind. In this way one picture replaces another.
Zoom Increasing of decreasing the magnification of a lens making it look like you are getting closer/further away. For example Zooming in or Zooming out.