How To Edit A Great Web Series Without Formal Training

Last week’s Forget The Box podcast featured director/producer Joshua Caldwell talking about post-production. As we talked, it got me thinking about all the lessons I’ve learned the past three years as an editor-by-circumstance of two web series and two short films as well as the lessons I’ve learned from our incredible filmmaking community. What follows assumes you have access to a professional editing program, which if you’re serious about filmmaking is worth investing in, and it also assumes you are, like me, not formally trained as an editor.

J Cuts

This may seem basic to those of you with film school experience, but for someone who’d previously only ever edited jump cuts, J Cuts were a revelation. Essentially, starting one character’s audio in another character’s coverage, overlapping the conversation so it feels more natural to listen to and watch. The surest sign of an amateur editing is being able to see the start and end of every single line of dialog per character. A helpful video:

How to plan for this while on set: when filming individual coverage, try as much as possible to get “clean air” on either side of lines, even if in-context characters might be speaking over each other. This gives you some editing space to pace out a conversation as you please in the edit.

Know whose face is important

In a similar vein to J Cuts, don’t assume the important person in a scene is the one speaking at any given time. If the effect of a line is most important to a silent character, make sure it’s them we’re looking at during those key scenes and moments, even if the speaking actor is giving a great performance. If their reaction to their own words is less important than the reaction of the other actor, we shouldn’t be looking at them as they talk.

How to plan for this while on set: Make sure you get quiet reaction shots of important character moments to use. You shouldn’t just be capturing them saying lines, and you should make sure your actors know that even while they’re waiting for their next line to come up, they should be living in their character to give you poignant options later. This will be less necessary the more experience your actors have.

Remember your transitions

Knowing what happens DURING a scene is only half the battle, both in storytelling and in editing. Understanding how you get from one shot to another is important, as is knowing how you get from one scene to another, because in many cases, just having a new shot isn’t enough. Good editing should feel seamless, and paying attention to transitions is hugely important in making that happen. If you’re going from one shot to another within the same scene, try to cut on movement and match said movement in the next shot. If you’re going from one scene to another, maybe plan a clever match cut in the vein of Edgar Wright. (see examples in the video below)

How to plan for this while on set: If you want to try a more stylistic or adventurous transition, especially getting in and out of a scene, make sure you also shoot a simpler version. If you’re newer to filmmaking and editing, you never want to leave something as massive as a transition to a single option. In any case, have a plan, ask people who know more than you, and then make three more contingencies.

Make use of your resources

Ultimately, when you’re new to something, the best way to get better is to do it a lot and to ask for help. For the latter, here are some articles that have been particularly helpful to me in my editing education:

Stareable community member Herman Wang’s Colour Correction Primer @hermdelica

Former Stareable intern Mark Mainolfi’s 3 Tricks To Make Your Audio More Believable @Mark_Mainolfi

Stareable community member Thomas Tulak’s Filmmakering Like a Boss: The 180 Rule @Thomas_Tulak

Stareable community member Anthony Ferraro’s Footage Prep Hack: How To Organize A Hard Drive Of Raw Footage To Entice An Editor To Work On Your Low Or No Budget Web Series @Anthony_Ferraro

Do you have any editing or post production tips for new filmmakers? Leave them in the comments!

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Often our actors will come up with their own movements for their lines, e.g. “I’m going to cross my arms as I start this line and uncross them as I walk over here.” And experience has taught me to let them - it gives them physical cues to help remember their scenes and allows them to decide the embodiment of their own characters, and plus provides excellent movement to transition on during editing.

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