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Editing with the Right Side of the Brain

Use the Force, Luke By Charlie White
Editing with the Right Side of the Brain by Charlie WhiteYou've probably heard about how your brain is divided into two halves, where one half does some things better than the other. The right side of the brain is said to control the big picture, imagination, the present and the future, and visual, conceptual aspects of life. So, why not try to use that part of your brain for video editing? Sounds like a natural to me.

Now that's not to say you should throw away the left side of your brain when you're editing. That's the side that follows rules, analyzes, assigns meaning to things, and generally deals with facts and logic. But let's think right-brain-like for this tutorial, and maybe we'll be able to develop a style of editing that you never knew was in that head of yours.

Let's start with the first thing you do when you're editing (besides the planning session before the edit): Picking and logging shots. I think that's one of the most important parts of editing. Turn on the part of your brain that's captivated by first impressions. Let your emotions rule, a classic right-brain activity. Rate each shot according to its emotional impact -- something that you can feel more than explain. See if something grabs you about a particular shot, and if it does, use your own personal rating system to take a note about it. I like to use a star system for marking a shot that grabs me, where five stars means I'm profoundly affected, and no stars means that shot hits the cutting room floor. This concept of emotional impact hits you at such a quick and visceral level that oftentimes you can see a shot that grabs you even when you're fast forwarding or rewinding the tape. How do I describe a shot that "grabs" you? Well, I don't. Your right brain will know.

Let your right brain see the colors in shots, and let it decide to add color and color correct. You'd be surprised how much difference you can make in the overall look of a segment just by tweaking the colors in a few shots here and there. You've probably been impressed by the way major motion pictures conjure up a certain overall "look" with colors. For example, if you saw the Spielberg film Minority Report, the overall impression was of a cool gray-blue palette. Use that color-sensitive right brain to pick out shots with lots of color, and to add or subtract color with color correction tools. Be careful not to go overboard with this, but if you tastefully add color in some shots and emphasize color in others, your viewers will not even be aware of what it is they like about your work, but they'll be impressed perhaps on a subliminal level. That's right -- you'll be talking to their right brains. Here's an important part of this concept, too: If you use the right side of your brain when you're editing, your viewers will use the right side of their brains when they're watching your work. And then, you've accomplished one of the important techniques of propagandists everywhere -- appealing to their emotions.

Your right brain is especially good at identifying patterns. So, look for patterns in your editing, and play with your viewers' right brains by subtly teasing them with these patterns. They can be rhythmic devices, or they can be certain geometric patterns you see in shots. The symmetry of many of the wide shots in the Oscar-winning American Beauty comes to mind here. Or the pattern of the rose petals sprinkled throughout the film would be another example. This could also involve alternating color emphasis from shot-to-shot. Pick out some of your own patterns and appeal to your audience's right brains.

The right brain is also sensitive to spatial aspects of visual material, and audio input, as well. Try to add space to your edits, either by adding depth to a composite you're putting together, or by adding a touch of reverb to the sound accompanying a shot of someone walking across a large room, for example. In a composite, separate the foreground from the background by making the background move slower than the foreground, or by lighting the foreground object more brightly than the background, or by adjusting focus/blur to add depth-of-field. Even when you're putting together a text graphic, you can play with the right brain by slightly moving the background, which teases the right-brain's sensitivity to both spatial aspects and animation.

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