This past week I found myself cutting a last minute excerpt reel of my material for an opportunity that has come up that I’m quite interested in.
What might surprise you is that I don’t keep an active Demo Reel. So much of my work historically has been for other producers and I’ve handed all the shot media over or I’m on a Non-Disclosure Agreement for so I can’t share what I’d like to.
When I was faced with having to sort through what I could share with folks who are unfamiliar with me personally and likely aren’t aware of my background outside of my CV, I looked back over nearly 15 years of material to cherry-pick a smattering of representative works.
One of the interesting things to me is just how much I have come to LOVE the “Hard Cut” as a transition.
You can’t “hide behind” a hard cut.
Of course, when I was starting out, like everyone in the late 90’s I used a lot of 1 second Cross Dissolves. The world of non-linear editing was really only just opening up to industrial video producers with Final Cut Pro becoming the independent producer’s Dream Machine. For just under $10,000 you could have a non-linear edit system in your facility. With an Apple “Blue & White” G3 450 MHz desktop with a 15″ LCD panel, three internal SCSI-2 hard drives (9GB each!) and a seat of Final Cut Pro 1.0.2, I was on my way! Never mind the $7000 DV VTR and the $2000 Sony Trinitron 15″ broadcast monitor…
The Cross Dissolve was the Independent Producer’s Darling in 1999/2000. It rendered quickly (5 – 10 seconds for a 1 second Cross Dissolve on DV material) and added production value. When faced with a straight-cuts edit, clients would always ask “can we do something to soften those transitions?”. Add a series of 1 second cross dissolves and the client walked away thrilled.
If the infamous Star Wipe was the Comic Sans of video editing in the early 2000s, the 1 second Cross Dissolve was Times New Roman.
Homer: OK, from here we star-wipe to a glamor shot of Flanders paying his bills, then we star-wipe to Flanders brushing his—
Lisa: Dad, there are other wipes besides star-wipes!
Homer: Why eat hamburger when you can have steak?
Lisa: I’m taking my name off this thing.
To further enable the overuse of the Cross Dissolve and other common transitions, graphics accelerator cards such as the Matrox RTMac started appearing around about the time the Apple G4 desktops started shipping. Check out this review from Macworld magazine in 2001.
Even with the RT card, you still needed to render your final output if you wanted to play it out over Firewire such as recording back to DV tape.
Yup… in fact, if you were on a tight deadline, you didn’t “play around” with transitions until you knew you had time for a final effects render.
Around the time I was starting to make a name for myself as an editor, I was also starting to work regularly as a live events switcher. I would direct and switch sporting events, live music and annual dance recitals on a series of 1 M/E (Mix/Effect buss) switchers. It was through this experience that I really began to understand the language of the video transition.
A Cross Dissolve creates a “third image” as the two images on “either side” of the dissolve combine on-screen during the transition. This is especially apparent in live events. Contrary to popular opinion, a dissolve is not a “soft cut” (although one can use a short duration dissolve when one has no option but to butt-end two clips or images that don’t necessarily work together otherwise).
As well, I find that numerous dissolves actually slow down the pacing of an otherwise well-paced edit.
Ever since I started spending a significant amount of my time “driving” a video mix console, I started working harder as an editor to find clips that work together with a simple cut.
I have become a significantly better editor since discarding the Cross Dissolve “crutch” – if an edit doesn’t “work” as a straight cut, I either look for different in- and out-points or I rethink the combination of the two clips. This normally results in a much stronger edit than simply applying a Cross Dissolve.
Less really is more in editing.
The interesting phenomenon is that often new clients think you are trying to take the “easy way out” by not throwing transitions and effects into their production. Someone along the line has told them that straight cuts are “jarring”.
I ask them if they find films jarring.
“No…” accompanied by a confused look.
Almost every cinema transition is a cut. The Cross Dissolve as a default is frankly a video phenomenon, partly because of the way dissolves needed to be handled in film editing in the days before non-linear computer-based editing of film, which was a photochemical process where the incoming and outgoing clips needed to be photographically duplicated and lengthened and then rephotographed fading through each other.
Now, don’t get me wrong… I try to “hide” cuts when appropriate using on screen elements. The “organic wipe” is one of my favourites when a foreground object momentarily occludes the scene and you can cut to another clip “magically” – the “bus driving by” or “pedestrian walking through” are the classical examples. Then of course, there is the “walking straight at the camera” effect that was poorly executed in the recent World War Z film (the editor stayed too long on the lens occlusion and it became apparent that this was a premeditated “effect”).
If you can see the transition, it is no longer a transition – it is an effect.
My opinion is that the viewer is “taken out of the moment” that we have worked so hard to immerse them in.
I micromanage single frames of video for pacing and for transparency of the edit. I hardly call that laziness.
Thanks for reading!