How to Make Your Footage Standout: A Behind the Scenes Look
- 5 Min Read
If you’re reading this blog, I’m going to make an off-the-wall assumption that you (yes, you) have picked up a camera and filmed something. Not only am I going to jump to that conclusion, I’m also going to guess that once you saw the footage, it was – to put it nicely – bad. Now why is that? It’s not because you don’t have the creative vision of Steven Spielberg (that probably is part of it) or even because you didn’t have the privilege to train under the great Mason Horacek for an entire summer. Most likely, it’s because you overlooked the most crucial part: the edit.
If you were to go out and purchase a cook book, would you assume the same recipes cooked by yourself and master chef Guy Fieri are going to grace the taste buds of whoever tries them the same way? Are you going to expect a fifth grade marching band to be play Beethoven’s 9th Symphony as well as the London Philharmonic? Stick with me here: the point is that life is about interpretation. Great recipes, a classic symphony and amazing footage are worthless if you don’t know how to use them.
Figuring out how to turn shots of a six-year-old birthday party or a family trip to Mount Rushmore into cinematic gold is no easy task, but that’s the power of editing. Here is a beginner’s guide from a fellow beginner on how I believe you can make the most out of your footage.
1. WATER IT DOWN
When filming anything, you should always get as many shots as possible in order to ensure that there will be a plethora of different angles and moments to choose from. Then comes the hard part. Upon uploading these clips, you’re going to have to decide what is integral to this story and what’s not. I know that everything you captured could probably debut at Sundance on its own, but take a few steps back and ask yourself, is this going to push this story forward? If the answer is no, ditch it.
There will be some obvious clips to trash right away but my best advice is to be hard on yourself and really dig deep to find a beginning, middle and end that will keep the viewer engaged. Often times the story comes together when you sit down and look at what you have to work with. Never assume that the order that the shots were captured in has to be the order in which they fall on the timeline.
2. MUSIC IS KEY
This is where my best advice comes in. Are you ready? Pick your music before you even begin to put anything on the timeline. Sound crazy? It shouldn’t. At this point, you should have a fairly firm grasp on what kind of story you want to tell and the best way to convey that message is by using the music as your guide to edit to the beat.
For example, say you and some friends just went on a canoe trip for a week in Canada, grab Hard Sun by Eddie Vedder to help showcase the feeling of being outdoors and experiencing the vast wilderness. (I’ve never been to Canada, but I feel like that’s what you would want to convey.)
Or maybe you and your college friends are going to Lollapalooza next week (hypothetically of course, I would never miss work). Throw on Drake’s song of the summer, Nice for What, and make some quick edits as the beat bounces to capture that same energy of the festival.
Never overcomplicate the process. Slow motion, camera flips and special effects are all great, but you’ll learn those things along the way. For now, grab your camera, find a song, and do your best to showcase a memory.
3. SET THE TONE
Perhaps the most overlooked part of the editing journey is the pacing and tone of your project. This step requires you to take a step back and watch like you haven’t just spent the last three hours of your life with this footage. At this point in the process, the story might flow well to you (the person who has been there since the start of it all), but often times the gaps that you think are logical aren’t so logical for the viewer seeing this unfold for the first time.
Bringing in a test audience is a great last resort, but before you declare code red, take one final look and ask yourself these three simple questions: Does the music choice fit the tone that I am trying to establish? Does one point lead to the next without any confusion? Am I going to embarrass my entire family, friends and potentially never land a job if I post this? If you answered yes, yes, no, you’re probably ready to post.
If you still need an ego boost before taking on the internet, have your mom watch what you’ve created, and you’ll shortly feel like a young Scorsese again.
At the end of the day, I’m an intern who still has a lot to learn, so you can take everything I just said with a grain of salt. That being said, I do know a thing or two about making a video, and the tips listed above are small adjustments that can and will make a huge difference to your final product. If you’re an aspiring filmmaker or just want to make videos for your friends and family, knowing how to capture a tone, tell a story and keep your audience engaged is invaluable. Lawrence & Schiller has shown me that whether you’re making a video for a client or just filming something for yourself, you should always go through the same steps to get the best possible outcome and, more importantly, tell the best possible story.