Film editing is, by its very nature, a study in manipulation.
On a surface level, we manipulate the order of events unfolding on screen. We choose what a character says or doesn't say simply by including or excluding certain pieces of media from our timelines. We can even take completely unrelated pieces of video or audio and give them new meaning, as well as change the meaning of everything around them, depending on where they're placed in the timeline. That's a lot of power.
On a much more subtle level, however, an experienced editor can greatly enhance the emotionality of a scene using different types of temporal manipulations. They can compress time to build energy and make everything seem faster and more kinetic. They can decompress, or lengthen, certain periods of time in order to accentuate the emotionality and drama of any given moment. These are the types of manipulations that separate the good editors from the great ones.
My good friend Paddy Bird, an extremely experienced documentary editor and the founder of Inside The Edit, recently pulled a tutorial from his course that shows us – with incredible depth and precision – one of the most powerful techniques he uses to enhance drama in a scene. This technique is called "dramatic sync tempo decompression," and used correctly, this simple practice can take your work to another level entirely.
In this video, Paddy gives us an in-depth example from the documentary Cities At Dawn of how and why temporal compression works. We not only get to see the finished product after Paddy has worked his magic, but we also get the raw, uncut interview, a compressed and re-ordered version of the interview (the "sync" as Paddy calls it), a version with B-roll applied to it, and finally, two versions of the scene with temporal compression applied. Essentially, it's a crash course in Paddy's step-by-step process for going from raw footage to a finely-tuned cut. Check it out, and enjoy:
For those that don't have the time to watch the video, here's a quick recap.
In most genres and styles of filmmaking, documentary and non-fiction in particular, your characters rarely speak or act in a way that is conducive to creating great drama on screen. In narrative, hopefully this would be resolved on set with the director giving constructive and focused performance notes to the actors. In documentaries, however, you rarely have that type of creative control over the characters. That's where the editor steps in.
The most dramatic and enlightening moments often happen very quickly, which means that if we leave them at their original tempo in our timeline, they probably won't have as much of an impact on the audience as they should. That's where temporal decompression comes into play. Once you've identified the most emotional moments in your scene, you can artificially add time between spoken phrases in order to make every word more impactful. Essentially, you're creating dramatic pauses to amplify each and every word, which gives the audience time to digest and ponder what is being said, automatically giving it more dramatic power.
In the hands-on example from the tutorial above, which comes from Paddy's fantastic online editing course, we see the primary character, a photographer named Anthony Epes, as he describes his experiences in capturing stunning images of cities at dawn. There are two particular emotionally-charged moments in the rough cut that give power to this scene, but both happen quickly, in a matter of seconds. They're not reaching their dramatic potential.
By adding artificial space between each impactful phrase in those particular moments, Paddy is able to draw out the drama and let his selected B-roll add more meaning to each individual phrase. The difference between the original cut and the decompressed version is night and day.
Of course, for this to work properly, you absolutely need something else to cut to so that there aren't odd jump cuts or anything like that. In documentary, this would be accomplished with some B-roll footage that corresponds with (and adds depth to) the drama unfolding in the interview. In narrative filmmaking, on the other hand, you would use cutaways or reaction shots of other characters in the scene in order to mask the cuts.
Regardless of how you choose to use temporal decompression, it's one of the more powerful tricks in the editor's toolkit. If you're interested in learning more of those tricks, as well as an extremely powerful framework for editing, head on over to Inside the Edit and check out the amazing course Paddy has put together.
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I don't think the audio flowed very well. sounded cheesy
June 18, 2015 at 9:13PM, Edited June 18, 9:13PM
i think these are good courses. many people may not have very good flow in editing. but pricing for high res is :(
June 18, 2015 at 10:52PM
One is a really minor thing -- when breaking up dialogue like this, the problem is that sometimes the phrases can sound a little cut off or clipped. In the example, the soundtrack covers a lot of this, but not entirely. I'd be interested to see if Paddy has any tips for the audio editing to make the breaks more natural, because I don't know of any real solutions, other than to be very careful where you make the breaks in the first place. (And maybe creating an atmos track would make the park audio less cut-in-cut-out; and possibly a fade out on each clip would make the breaks slightly more natural.)
Second thought... It used to be said of actors that he/she has "good comic timing". But what makes timing good or bad? It's sort of to do, among other things, with the speed of your audience's thinking: people need to have enough time to "get" a joke, to make the unexpected connection; any less time and they won't get it; any more time, and you're overdoing it.
Well, similarly with this editing technique. "Sync decompression" has been one of my secrets when I'm editing narrative, so I'm a little annoyed Paddy's given it away to everyone! But then again, even if you know the theory, that doesn't mean you can do it. I don't think you can methodically teach people how long a pause should be to have a particular effect, any more than you can methodically teach them what the rhythm of cutting should be or how long a gap to leave after a joke.
June 19, 2015 at 12:12AM, Edited June 19, 12:12AM
pretty sure he is just demonstrating how to view/feel the flow of an edit. you can always adjust the audio to make it sound better afterwards. if not then you cant. but by letting that single piece of clipped dialogue stop your edit will interrupt that flow of creativity when editing.
good/bad timing of acting/editing would still reference off of the process of how humans understand
1 notice /
June 19, 2015 at 1:24AM, Edited June 19, 1:24AM
When I use this technique, I try to make the cuts as smooth as possible by doing exactly what you said. Using an atmos track, or simply placing incredibly quick fades to even out some rough edges. That being said, it's really hard to do if the inflection in the voice of the subject doesn't lend itself to pauses. Sometimes it's hard to walk the line between bringing out the best of each subject, and manipulating the footage to make a better product.
June 19, 2015 at 6:41AM
To avoid that clipping sound I always put Constant Gain between the two clips, then shorten the effect to 2-4 frames. Works like a charm.
And of course if your clips don't meet up, Exponential Fade the first, and Constant Gain the second. Shorten to 1-2 frames and you're golden.
It's amazing how that simple fade can make the clip, even white noise transitions, practically nonexistent.
June 19, 2015 at 9:29AM
The cuts in the middle of the talk are a bit strange. The music helps to "disguise" the roughness of the cuts but... Like Adrian said, I also would to know if he uses some sound edit software to make the breaks more soft.
June 19, 2015 at 1:46AM, Edited June 19, 1:46AM
I agree. The first "and you anticipat-" is a bit of a jarring cut imo. I actually thought the first rough cut was the best one. To me it fit the interviewee's pacing better than the story. Seeing the timeline obviously clues me in to the cuts, but I still think I'd pick up on those quick clip breaks without it.
Great tips, but I'm not sure this was the best example. However, editing itself is a creative art too, subject to its own taste with everyone.
June 19, 2015 at 9:49AM
Very helpful content. As a wedding filmmaker I often struggle with pacing and flow, this is extremely helpful and a 100% relevant for me. Thanks!
June 19, 2015 at 4:57AM, Edited June 19, 4:57AM
Newbee here. This was incredibly enlightening, the manipulation of emotion is psychologically fascinating.
June 19, 2015 at 9:23AM
As a guy that's had to intuit and suss this out through years of production all I can say is, "be thankful if you're an aspiring editor and you're watching this."
These are the fundamentals. If you can feel them and empathize with them you'll be a good editor.
June 19, 2015 at 12:41PM
It's hard to find good editorial techniques tutorials. And this one blasts it out of the park! Great advice, and pretty well explained :)
Obviously, it all depends on each editor's sensibilities, and what the director/producers want. Still, I enjoyed this video!!!
June 19, 2015 at 12:56PM, Edited June 19, 12:56PM
Yeah, I wonder why there aren't more tutorials and editing, besides how to use editing software
June 26, 2015 at 11:46AM
The cuts are too harsj, and pauses are clearly artificial.
The theory is good, but the example does not make justice to the goodness of it.
Som the final result is not fantastic at all...
June 20, 2015 at 5:25PM
...and then you're five minutes over your runtime and the producer forces you to cut out all the dramatic pauses and nuances you've put in and it plays like it's in fast forward.
June 22, 2015 at 3:08PM
I feel like having a more compelling interview to work with, would have shown how effective this style really is. I still think it did add a bit more of a punch, but the B-Roll, the Music, and the Pacing all kind of worked together in that aspect. I just wish the B-Roll would have shown the Drama / or his emotions of pausing after getting the shot to appreciate it all (I feel like the shot that was shown to show this felt a bit rushed) However, I live off the show don't tell, no exposition (I'm a writer) philosophy. Also the beard scratch threw me out of the moment, on every cut.
June 23, 2015 at 1:10AM
To me the point was taking a pretty boring and jittery and hard to watch interview and turning it into something a bit inspiring and interesting. I think he brought out what the photographer felt but couldn't convey in the original footage.
June 26, 2015 at 11:03AM
A lot of good info here. Makes me want to re-edit stuff I've already done to see if these principals would make it better. Seems like I could spend many weeks on this, maybe trying to spice up really boring interviews from youtube. The editor really did seem to create a silk purse from a sow's ear of the original footage on this tutorial. Makes me wonder how much of this goes into political advertisements and star bio puff pieces. I'll be looking for evidence of these techniques in what I watch. Thanks for posting.
June 26, 2015 at 10:59AM
I watched this video some days ago, and I think I will re-watch it and make some notes. Yeah, the voice may sound a little cheesy but I think it can be corrected. This technique is really interesting and I think I will try it out in some future proyect. It really ads some "suspense" and importance to the words of the protagonist. Thanks for sharing this!
July 8, 2015 at 1:31PM, Edited July 8, 1:31PM