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Editing: Effects-Crazy

Resist the temptation to embellish By Charlie White
With all these spectacular editing and effects tools at our fingertips, its tremendously tempting to pull out all the stops and unleash a torrent of effects that will make your viewers heads spin. But most people prefer their heads in a non-spinning mode. How many effects can one person take? The hallmark of a truly professional production is one where it looks like there are no effects at all. Welcome to the strange, sometimes upside-down world of digital video effects, where sometimes the best, most elaborate tricks are undetectable.

Ill often write in a review that I like the way such-and-such editing system can do certain real time effects, (like wipes, flying boxes, 3D effects or flashing text), but then snarl that I dont think they should ever be used. After making such a haughty pronouncement, Ill invariably get email from a few sharp readers asking, ?OK, Chazz, if you dont think we should use any of those effects, which ones should we use?

In the great Milos Foreman film Amadeus, the emperor tells Mozart that his latest composition has ?too many notes. Mozart snaps back, ?But sire, there are neither more nor less than are required. Thats a great place to start. Get it straight exactly whats required and whats not, though. There are basic effects that are extremely handy but dont seem like effects at all. For example, I always keep the Scale DVE handy, because you never know when therell be a stray item in the shot that you dont want to see. Lets say theres a microphone showing in the top of the frame. You can usually zoom in slightly with the scale DVE and lose that mic in the shot, and then all is well. Or, if your horizon is slightly off, you can zoom in slightly and then rotate the shot so that its no so far off-kilter. Boom! Instant, invisible special effect.

?But thats not really a special effect, youre saying. Indeed, its not flashy, but its an effect nonetheless. But what actual obvious effects do I like to use? Well, theres a lot of sophisticated color correction controls included in just about every pro-level editing package available today, and I think thats an excellent way to enhance your production. Its not just for fixing things, either. Try fiddling with your color correction on a few shots where youre going for a particular mood, and youll be hooked. Notice how a blue tint gives a shot a certain cool feel. Try mixing up the tinting in a quick-cut piece, and youll see how slight colorations to your shots can establish an overall atmosphere.


Chromakeying is another special effect that Ive begun to warm up to, now that applications like Ultra Key (now called just ?Ultra) are becoming more prevalent. Where once DV footage was next to impossible to chromakey, now, if you light the background and your subject well, you can snag some near-perfect looking keys, and have a few synchronized camera moves thrown in for good measure. Now theres a special effect that I think looks convincing and can add a lot to a production. And, as HDTV becomes more prevalent, the chromakeying will become a whole lot easier and significantly more convincing to the extent of being undetectable. And there you have it, the one word that characterizes the holy grail of special effects: Undetectable.

Since this is Web site devoted to editing, I would be remiss if I left out those special effects that are sitting right in front of us every day the edits themselves. We certainly cant forget those most ubiquitous of special effects, first, the earthy, straightforward yet sometimes jarring cut and its smooth, slinky eloquent sister, the dissolve. But when to use even those? Therein lies the skill and art of editing. I always refrain from changing shots unless theres a very good reason for doing so. For example, have you ever been involved in a production that is a single-camera shoot where your talent is talking directly to the camera, and those in charge (or maybe you) have the bright idea of having the talent do a camera turn? This technique grew out of newscasts, where anchorpeople were required to turn to a different camera while the other camera set up on the next shot with a different anchorperson. Id say, leave the phony camera-changing out of your production, and if you must break up the flow of a talking head, cut away to some footage illustrating what the spokesperson is saying. Another temptation, this one in an interview situation, is to take a cutaway of your interviewer for no good reason at all. Save the cutaways for reactions, and use them only when you have to cover up a cut. Heck, Im even getting more comfortable with using jump cuts now, without even covering up the edits, especially since audiences are getting more sophisticated.

That brings up my last point think about how audiences are indeed becoming more astute, and are getting more and more jaded with each new effect foisted upon them by digi-vid jockeys. Remember morphing? Ho hum. Shaky-cam? Yesterdays news. Now even speed changes and The Matrix-like effects are starting to show their age. I think audiences are growing tired of cheap, obvious effects, and are more likely to warm up to some cleverly-written scripts, or artful-looking shooting and editing. Respect your audience, and they will respect your work. Treat them like theyre watching a sleazy screaming-car spot, and they reach for the remote. Talk up to them rather than talk down to them and theyll pay you back with their attention. Go easy on the effects, because remember, when you have a brand new hammer, everything starts looking like a nail.

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