Cutting video footage, especially when working on unscripted projects, is often a discovery process. As an editor, you might not have the luxury have been on-set during filming. There’s a learning curve to scale of what was shot, when, and why. It means watching minute after minute of clips. All the while, you’re building familiarity with the footage and the project.
You must scrub through and listen to multiple takes of a scene. If there are interviews to piece together, the process can be laborious and time-consuming as you listen, and possibly transcribe what was said. And after all that, there is still the process of cutting and crafting statements and b-roll into something that will hold your audience’s attention.
For some, this building familiarity process ends up taking valuable time away from assembly. The temptation is to short-change it in favor of spending more time elsewhere in the edit process. As a result, interviews are quickly scrubbed through, sound-bytes haphazardly thrown together into some sort of a story arc, and then the work begins on b-roll, music and graphics.
This might seem to make your job quicker as an editor, but it often it results in a poorly constructed story. This leaves sound-bytes feeling disjointed and a story arc that falls flat. Instead of a video with a lasting impact, it relies on fancy transitions and graphics to keep your audience engaged.
Here’s where learning to use story frameworks can help you cut your interviews faster, resulting in more time to listen and absorb what they’re actually saying before you start cutting. You end up with a better video and still save time to craft your b-roll and graphics. After a decade of cutting interviews, this is the time saving process I use each and every time.
So what are frameworks? Frameworks are a mental way of approaching and simplifying story arcs. They help us see the dramatic arc as a general shape to follow and flesh out. This “framework approach” can help us quickly identify sound-bytes based on our desired story construct.
For example, a typical framework I use is what I call “Problem, Solution.” This framework helps me shape content in a simple story arc by identifying and filling content for three “acts” that look like this:
Act One: Introduce Who > Act Two: Set up Their Problem > Act Three: Show Their Solution
While listening to my interviews, I find the elements that fit the different acts of the framework. As I listen, I identify sound-bytes with a marker or a timecode notation, then continue on. Often, the elements are all out of order as the different interviews are filmed. This is normal.
Though I could start throwing everything into a timeline and sort it out later, I discovered that the timeline sorting process actually eats more time. Instead, it’s better to identify all the pieces and then start cutting and assembly. Sometimes what I think will make a great opening statement gets replaced with something better as I continue to listen and identify sound-bytes.
This identifying process typically takes a single listen-through of all my interviews. Depending on how many individual takes I have to go through, it can take more than an hour. I’ll speed up the process by increasing playback speed, so long as I can still understand what’s being said. Once I have listened to everything and identified the pieces, I go back through, looking at my notes and markers. It’s now time to start cutting everything together that fit the needs of my framework.
The actual assembly process happens quickly at this point. All the critical decisions of how the information will be presented and laid out are already made. There’s certainly some arranging and rearranging that happens based on flow and characters in the piece. But because I’m cutting to the framework, I can make decisions quickly based on whether or not the sound-byte strengthens or weakens that particular element of the framework. Every once in awhile I’ll need to find a linking element back in the interviews, but the process to find that statement or thought is easier because I already know what type of sentence I’m looking for.
Once I have the rough block of all the interviews woven together into my framework, I start tightening cuts, eliminating extraneous information, and moving on to the other steps of crafting my video.
The process is the same on each video, no matter if I’m using the “Problem, Solution” framework or another. There several different frameworks I can use, depending on which impact I want my story to have, or what material is there to work from. When looking at my project brief, I think about what format might best carry the audience and reveal the story to them. This helps me choose the right framework to work with.
Occasionally which framework I think is best will change based on the material. This is why identification of your sound-bytes is critical. The content often will dictate which frameworks will work best so rather than start cutting and discovering that a particular framework isn’t a good fit, I save time by identifying first, then constructing.
Other frameworks I regularly use include: “Mono-myth,” which is constructed in a manner that takes the audience on a journey alongside a main character. Popular movies like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings use this framework. Another is “Pullback,” where I drop my audience immediately into the action of the piece, then pullback to show them how the character got there. This is more tricky to do correctly and needs the right kind of story to begin with, but when it’s pulled off right it keeps an audience entertained until the end.
Frameworks are a powerful mental tool that help us both edit faster and construct better stories. They help us see through the confusion and overload of information given to us as editor, and shine a clear path of what to cut and why. And the better we are at identifying which frameworks fit our projects the best, the better our stories are for our audiences.