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Make Better Videos, Part 2: Keep Your Objectivity… Kill Your Darlings!

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Over the years as a working video professional, I have gotten a lot of sage advice from fellow filmmakers on how to make better videos: “Befriend the person in charge of craft services,” “never date the lead actress,” and my personal favorite, “don’t fall in love with a shot, scene, or line of dialogue unless you’re willing to kill your darlings and leave them on the cutting room floor.” While the first two pieces of advice technically have nothing to do with the final product, the third piece of advice is crucial in maintaining overall objectivity and remaining true to your story and the audience..

“Seeing Around The Edge Of The Frame” – Walter Murch

A lot of time, energy, ego and money goes into making videos and films. Pre-production and production generate an enormous amount of work for a lot of people. Emotions get involved, decisions are hastily made, and the story begins to unfold. Dailies are produced and sent to an editor, who begins to watch them, make notes and construct a rough edit based on the script.

Ideally, there is distance between the production process and the editor, primarily for the purpose of maintaining objectivity. This distance allows the editor to see the story within each shot, and not be clouded by things that happened on set.

In film editor Walter Murch’s book on film editing perspectives, “In The Blink Of An Eye,” he extols the need for an editor to see only what is on the screen. He writes, “The editor, on the other hand, should try to see only what’s on the screen, as the audience will. Only in this way can the images be freed from the context of their creation. By focusing on the screen, the editor will, hopefully, use the moments that should be used, even if they may have been shot under duress, and reject moments that should be rejected, even though they cost a terrible amount of money and pain.”

Murch is known for editing films such as “The English Patient,” “Apocalypse Now,” a re-edit of Orson Welles, “Touch of Evil,” among many other films. “In The Blink Of An Eye” and “Conversations” are two books that every budding and working filmmaker should have in their library as they are jam-packed with nuggets of truth that speak to this idea of storytelling objectivity.

How To Maintain Objectivity In A One-Person Crew

But what about the one-person crew making videos? How can objectivity be maintained when everything is known from start to finish? The answer? Practice!

As a filmmaker, I love making short 5-10 minute documentaries for the purpose of practicing my craft and meeting interesting people. Each video is an attempt to learn how to tell a better story, and in many ways is a lesson in maintaining objectivity. I have learned to let the story breathe and unfold in each stage of creation.

When I get the initial spark of an idea, I think of who the subject will be, the questions I would like to ask them, what kind of B-roll will serve the story, along with technical questions related to production. I may have some shots that I want to try, but I am willing to cut anything that will make the final video weak. From there, I shoot everything that I think that I’ll need. Typically, I shoot roughly 2 to 4 hours of raw video including interviews and B-roll, which I then edit down to the final length of 5-10 minutes.

During the editing process, while I edit to the story that I have constructed through pre-production and production, I also think about issues of pacing and clarity, as well as educational and entertainment value. If one section is dragging, it is often because something that I thought would work, isn’t. By removing a line of dialogue, or even trimming 1-2 seconds, pacing can be improved.

I then think about clarity. Is there a clear message throughout the video? Are the interview clips telling a clear and concise story? Should the B-roll be introduced sooner or later? How long do I hold on the shot of the interview subject talking?

Finally, I think about educational and entertainment value. Did I learn something by watching the final video? Was I entertained? Did other people finish the video with a feeling that they wanted more? Or was there general disappointment in the story told?

Objectivity Is About The Audience

A lot of questions to ask. The truth is that whether you are working in a large crew or by yourself, the final video does not exist in a vacuum. There is an audience that interacts and watches your video, hopefully sharing it with others.

Keeping your audience in mind is the final way to maintain a sense of objectivity. By treating them with respect and telling the story that needs to be told, you will be able to kill your darlings.

After all, you can still release your darlings that were cut on YouTube, or alternatively, as Deleted Scenes on a DVD release.

With that, get out there and practice. Happy filmmaking!


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