Ah, physical continuity! This week we’re discussing chapter 8 of Ronald Osgood and M. Joseph Hinshaw’s Visual Storytelling, and as they point out, some of the best editing doesn’t draw attention to itself. In the popular GIF above, the scene’s physical continuity isn’t maintained; the soda clearly disappears from the frame. Osgood and Hinshaw say that “the audience probably isn’t thinking about production techniques unless there are technical problems, misuse of technique, or the edit has been created to draw attention to the technique.” There’s a technical problem obviously in this scene, but let’s think about the circumstances surrounding it. The creators of the commercial obviously didn’t want soda spilling all over the guy, but the better idea would have been to forego the soda entirely. Most 30 second commercials are whittled down from 6-7 hours of footage; the idea being that the editor picks the best scenes to tell the intended story. Perhaps the editors of this commercial didn’t have a scene to work with where the man didn’t have the soda, or perhaps the soda scene was the best way to start but it ended badly, and the scene where he didn’t have a soda ended better, and that’s why they chose this combination of scenes. I guess without interviewing the actual editor there’s no way to tell.
Another job of the editor is to choose “when each edit should occur,” and the book points out that there is no gold standard in terms of shot length. Whatever pace a video has, it should be consistent with the mood and purpose of the video. Action packed music videos might have a quicker pace than the slow, panning shots of nature documentaries for example.
As important as choosing the right scenes and their duration is, changing the order of shots is also the editor’s role. To most clearly communicate what the video’s intentions are, manipulating timing and re-arranging scenes is essential. In Visual Storytelling, the authors discuss a photographer and a subject, and how if the photographer is shown first, the subject is presumed to know that she is being photographed. Indeed, providing a scene of explanation beforehand gives greater context to the videos that we watch.