Video journalism/Editing Grammar
Grammar of the edit
At the completion of this topic, you should have:
(a) improved your sense of television editing grammar; its language, rhythm and transitions; and (b) become more conscious of what happens to meanings conveyed in a television story when that slightly different camera angle is included, or that special edit with the unusual style or new approach is employed.
The integrity of the cut - or in other words, don't use dissolves or other fancy transitions
We have established in previous sections of this Learning Schedule, that television products themselves provide a window on the process of communication. Audience responses to our products are constantly redefining our roles and approaches to making television. We can make these fine adjustments to production activities through a constant interrogation of the form. By analysing the form, gathering ideas about what audiences want and then responding through adusting editing grammar in a documentary, for instance, can sharpen product responsiveness to niche market. By fine tuning the rhythm of cuts and sequences one can suddenly make a film work for its audience. This involves anticipating contemporary desires and visual literacy levels while also anticipating what affect big feature films and other trends will have on audience expectations. This may sound impossible, but can be done by watching many variations of the form.
Re-write script: paper edit — rough cut — experiment with rhythm, grammar and pace
....... voices – such as those of the television anchor people and reporters – are attached to bodies that represent not personal witness, but institutional authority in anthropomorphic form.
This privileging of the world faces a crisis with every edit. With each cut the opportunity exists to re inscribe the filmmaker’s presence rather than excise it.
Each cut opens the gap between human agency and cinematic evidence only to anneal it again through continued exclusion. Documentary convention upholds the expectation of presence, of an ethic of witnessing, of a situated view, and yet exercises the bodily evidence of presence. [Nichols, Bill. Axiographics in Representing reality. – Issues and Concepts in Documentary. Indiana University Press, 1991, 90.]
Editing for associations — finding structure
Each piece of raw footage desires a final place in a film, news story, rock clip. Editing is a process that exists in both scriptwriting and in the actual cutting of film or videotape material. Editing in process chooses which sections are included and it sequences them with rules and conventions that constitute a film grammar.
Editing should ensure that the film story has seamlessness, rhythm and clarity. Experimental editing of the raw segments using low budget equpment like a computer based edit suite, should start to suggest new associations and story to your camera footage. By starting with a strong idea and working from that as the lead, like one might in a news story, the rough cut editing process of documentary or current affairs can present and build its own rhythm and grammatical structure. This process is better served by working with two people, the editor and the director or journalist, over a realistic period of time.
To indicate the time consuming nature of editing, it is felt in the industry, that the finishing of a minute of final sequencing in each day of editing is about the right rate of progress for a thoughtful film to emerge. A thoughtful one minute news-story can take the best part of the day to cut, a current affairs story might take a week to edit, while a half hour documentary a month – and so on.
Bill Nichols suggests that while the film segments are raw representations of reality they are also something that is not actual. ‘If I am to analyse this film properly, I must not mistake it for reality; but if I do not mistake it for reality, I cannot analyse it properly.’ [Bill Nichols, Ideology and the Image (Bloomington, Ind., 1981), 250.]
If David MacDougall’s ideas were applied, then one could proceed with editing so that each social actor (subject) had a distinct vantage point within the film. Their positions holding certain perspectives that are given through their narratives.
- The experiences of individual social actors are seen increasingly as vantage points within a society which, in the complex dynamics of their engagement, structure particular ‘readings’ of social phenomena. The portrayal of subjective experience becomes a strategy for resituating anthropological understanding within the textual richness of a society. The goal is not simply to present the ‘indigenous view’, nor to invade voyeuristically the consciousness of other individuals, but to see social behaviour, and indeed culture, as a continuous process of interpretation and reinvention. [David MacDougal, Ethnographic Film in Fields of Vision, Essays in Film Studies, Visual Anthropology, and Photography. Leslie Devereaux and Roger Hillman – eiditors. University of California Press. 1995. ISBN 0- 520-08522-1 (alk. paper).-ISBN 0-520-08524-8 (pbk. :alk. paper), 219.]
Editing aims at finding the best dramatic elements and sequence orders. Pace and the emotive and telling sound-image relationships are found by editing and sequencing outwards from the angle, argument or central theme. In the news story, the central theme is positioned and defined through the Lead or the Intro.
Sequences are built in blocks of simular theme, to provide ‘distinct vantage’ points around the social actors (subjects) until one theme converges with and enhances the next. The subject’s grabs are sequenced so that the story is told using the best grabs from each speaker.
- It is impossible not to talk of sequences, of associated relationships between shots, and yet the cutting has the effect of isolating each shot, giving it its own weight and unity, and not restricting the associative process to the relationship between immediately neighbouring shots. Because each shot sinks into memory, the possibility for association, for waiting, for letting things happen, is an extended, unproscribed one. [Susan Dermody. – The Subjective Voice in Documentary The Pressure of the Unconscious upon the Image. In Fields of Vision, Essays in Film Studies, Visual Anthropology, and Photography. Leslie Devereaux and Roger Hillman – editors. University of California Press, 1995, 296.]
Film segments or ‘factual referents’ in their sequences and blocks of ‘distinct vantage points’ are built outwards into something like overlapping concentric circles. Their growth provides the opportunity for screening or trialing blocks in different sequences, combinations and permutations. Experiments can be re-tested by relaying sound with newly matched scenes and edited sequences while pace and rhythm of edit cuts can be changed.
Trying these different permutations demands uncomfortable screenings with friends and small audiences. These screenings leave you wondering about the different and culturally determined interpretations that people make of television programs. Interpretations occur in ways that are often different to expected outcomes held by filmmakers, academics or producers.
Sometimes audience readings can be contrary and subversive to the culture that produced the material in the first instance. Susan Dermody signals a process which is both necessary and permissible in searching for those ‘best fit’ permutations that will ultimately constitute a film.
- One purpose of this paper is to try to identify something about a mode of film that is not quite documentary nor yet quite fiction, not essay, not poetry, not anything yet satisfyingly described by a single word. I am interested in trying to tease some of these things out, because I’m in the midst of trying to write a film like this, to get it right.
- It is a mode that may use images collected or created from the real world, documentary’ evidence from the real world, but is free to use them to speak of something other than primarily their ‘factual’ referents as documentary tends to do. It uses images to be truthful rather than necessarily factual; and sometimes too be truthful toward private rather than necessarily public realities.
- But all of this is in one way or another in service of an engagement with reality, a communal sharing of reality, a commutas such as the best documentaries always provide at some level. [Susan Dermody. – The Subjective Voice in Documentary The Pressure of the Unconscious upon the Image. In Fields of Vision, Essays in Film Studies, Visual Anthropology, and Photography. Leslie Devereaux and Roger Hillman – editors. University of California Press, 1995, 296.]