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Tips on Editing Short Films

Entries to LaCie’s PushPlay short film competition

The short film holds a unique position in the movie-making business. For many the short film form is the best way to demonstrate their filmmaking abilities, or at least practice them, and showcase them for free online.

Websites like shortoftheweek.com or Vimeo Staff Picks are a great way to stay up to date with the latest and greatest short film’s winning awards in festivals or other competitions.

For a select few it’s the way to get noticed by ‘the industry’ and move on to bigger and better things.

For an even rarer tribe, it’s also the way in which they can get their feature film financed off the back of the short. Which is what Damien Chazelle did for his first feature Whiplash, which went on to win 3 Oscars (Editing, Sound Mixing and Supporting Actor) and be nominated for Best Picture and Best Screenplay. You can read more about the editing of Whiplash here.

Shorts should never be thought of as an abbreviated version of their feature counterparts, but rather as supplementary material to them.

You want to be able to approach collaborators with your feature script and a short film that gives a glimpse into the style, character, and tone of the project.

Filmmaker Noam Kroll shared these helpful thoughts on how best to go about adapting your feature length screenplay into a fundraising short film which encapsulates what you’re trying to achieve.

In this post I’m sharing an interview I conducted with EditStock.com founder and short film aficionado, Misha Tennenbaum.

Misha had a great deal of wisdom and insight to share on creating short films and entering them into competitions, having judged a lot of them himself and reviewed hundreds of shorts on EditStock.

EditStock let’s you practice your editing skills by downloading the raw footage for commercials, short films, documentaries and music videos to edit in your own way, and then offers professional feedback on your cut.

You can save 15% off EditStock products with the promo code ‘Jonny’. Find out more details here.

Misha recently gave a really interesting presentation at LACPUG which was packed with his own ideas on the concepts on film editing and how it’s changing today. It’s well worth a watch.

Any further thoughts off the back of your presentation at LACPUG?

This is how editing will be done in the future: As you ingest your footage your NLE will automatically tag your b-roll with keywords including facial recognition, location, and content.

Your interviews will be automatically transcribed. Editors will open and edit their transcriptions like a word document.

The editor will hit the “edit” button and the NLE will automatically arrange the string out based on your “paper” edit. The NLE will cover that string out automatically with b-roll based on the tags it added on ingest. The editor will essentially start working from a rough cut.

Editing is the next literacy. You heard it here first.

What have you noticed in running EditStock about the industry and the short submissions/student editing?

While scenes don’t have an exact “right” and “wrong” way of being edited, they certainly do have many “righter” and “wronger” ways.

Editing is similar to watching rock climbers go up a mountain route. They will all struggle on the same parts, and there are a few accurate ways to solve those parts.

In all the projects I watch many students get tripped up in the same spots.

LaCie Short Film Competition

One of the reason’s I got in touch with Misha was to ask him for some advice on judging short film competitions, as I’m about to judge one myself!

I’m fortunate enough to be on the judging panel for LaCie’s new short film competition, PushPlay, which has a grand prize of a film production and post production suite worth over £10,000/$12,000.

That prize includes the following goodies, along with 2 day mentoring session with Oscar winning cinematographer, Michael Paleodimos. Michael shot the short film, Stutterer, which you can see the trailer for, above.

  • Blackmagic Video Assist 7″
  • Zoom H6 Portable Audio Recorder with Interchangeable Capsules
  • LaCie 6big 24TB
  • LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt3 SSD 1TB
  • DJI Phantom 4 Pro
  • MacBook Pro 15 inch TouchBar Quad i7 2.6GHz 16GB 256GB Pro 450 Silver
  • Blackmagic 4k Production Camera
  • DaVinci Resolve Studio

All you have to do is enter your short film (no longer than 20 minutes) before the 1st of May 2017. The judges will then curate a short list of the best 20 films, which will then be put to a public vote.

Find out more and enter your short film at pushplay.lacie.com.

If you’re a resident of the US I’m afraid you’re not eligible to enter

Premium Beat $5000 Prize Giveaway

So it turns out the PushPlay competition isn’t open to US residents, but PremiumBeat.com are giving away $5,000 worth of prizes including a Panasonic Lumix GH5 and some sweet looking Rokinon Cine-style lenses.

This competition is open to participants ‘worldwide’ and is much easier to take part in, as all you have to do is pop your email in the box before April 24th 2017 and you’re in it to win it!

Join the PremiumBeat.com Giveaway

Tips on Editing Short Films

What are you tips on creating short films?

The short answer to your question is: 

Good Movies Have: 

  1. A beginning, middle, and end (this is my #1 factor). 
  2. Camera angles and moves more interesting then just being on a tripod
  3. Interesting costumes, locations, VFX, sound design, and so on

Bad Movies Have:

  1. Lots of narration
  2. Cliche story lines
  3. Poor production value, like two people in an apartment or house which clearly belongs to the crew. 

Do short films require a specific approach to editing?

Efficiency, efficiency,  efficiency.

When editing a short film constantly remind yourself that you’ve only got between 5 and 10 minutes before your movie needs to be over. If the scene, shot, moment, isn’t great, get it OUT.

Another form of efficiency is the story arc. Make sure that every story line pays off, meaning if you suggest something it needs to come back again sometime during the film in a changed way.

Should there be a twist at the end, to make the film live on past it’s duration?

I think what you are really asking is “should I leave the viewer with something memorable.” The answer is absolutely yes, but that’s not easy to do.

The most impactful moments on your audience’s memory will be the first and last shots. Make sure those are some of the best shots in your project.  A twist is certainly not required.

What are your Do’s and Dont’s for short films?

When shooting a short film start with these basic rules:

  • Do not shoot anything in your apartment.
  • Do look for more interesting locations.
  • Do not use voice over.
  • Do Tell your exposition with creative shots.
  • Do not keep the camera static.
  • Make sure the camera moves. In today’s world of cheap camera gear there is no reason to shoot everything on a tripod.
  • Be more creative with your storytelling.

Tips for Short film Competitions


Short film competitions – are they worth it? 

The first thing a filmmaker should ask themselves before entering a short film competition is, “how do I define success?” Here are some common goals filmmakers have for joining a competition along with my best advice.

Goal 1: Use the festival deadline to push you to complete a film.

Yes, festivals are well worth it. By the way, I think this is a terrific reason to even enter a festival. This is honest, personal,
and goal oriented. Even if you don’t get in you’ll have succeeded, and learned.

Goal 2: Sell your short film and make money.

No. This is a bad reason to go to a festival. With short films, 99.99% of them will earn no money, even those that win the festival. Some companies will buy shorts for a paltry sum of $20-50 per minute of finished content and they often request exclusive contracts for years. Hardly a return on investment.

The best way to earn your money back is to sell it on EditStock 🙂 –  I’m serious about that.

Goal 3: Critical acclaim.

Yes. Festivals are basically your only route for critic review. Judges, and journalists flock to film festivals. If your film is in it, you will get some press.

Goal 4: Get an agent, or job out of it.

Probably no, but it is possible.

Film festivals certainly will raise the profile of a filmmaker. While your chances of gaining an agent through a festival are basically none at a small festival, they are significant better (though still not likely) at a major festival.

Major festivals like Sundance have become a sort of draft pool of talent for agencies. If you do get into a big festival and don’t get an agent or job out of it immediately don’t panic. Getting into the festival will help you for a few years.

This is only worth doing if you are also pursuing other avenues for agents and jobs including cold calls, handing out resumes, and asking friends.

How do you make sure your film stands out?

You need to have at least one shot or moment which makes the whole theatre say WOW or EW, or HAHAHA!

I once watched a short where a man is strapped to a chair while another man’s butt is lowered onto his face… for the whole 3 minute film. That was it. One gag.

It was in the festival and getting laughs.

Is there an art to editing a strong short film as a calling card to a feature (e.g Whiplash)?

This is like asking where the holy grail is buried. I have no idea. Sorry.

What have you noticed in judging short film competitions?

The most common mistake people make is not watching their cuts down before sending them in. I can’t tell you how many projects I’ve seen where lines go out of sync, there is a black hole where a VFX shot should be, or the aspect ratio is wrong in the export.

You’ve got to get the ‘gimme points’ that the judges are giving out.

Follow directions, do quality technical work (white balance and focus) and you’re already ahead of half the pack.

Are short films getting better as the tools/skills become more accessible?

Short films are getting way better. Most of the improvement I’ve noticed is in visual effects. Tools from companies like Video CoPilot raise the bar in terms of what the average filmmaker is capable of, and expected to make.

Also, there is no excuse at this point to not have quality score from a stock music company like PremiumBeat.com, and title graphics from any number of templates available for sale (check out Rocketstock.com). This is not cheating. Use these resources.

*Side note: EditStock footage cannot be submitted to festivals or be used in a movie which is being submitted to a festival. We are not a traditional stock footage company.

Shot lists and EDLs (Edit Decision List) are long standing tools of post-production. Shot lists and edit decision lists keep the editor’s footage in order. They allow the editor to know what to keep and what to clear out, and more than anything, they keep the edit together as it passes through multiple hands in the post-production pipeline.

Once upon a time, in the land of acetate and silver halide crystals, a bin was a bin, film was real. It was a giant canvas bucket filled with a spaghetti sea of film. The tangled mass was all workprint, copies of the source footage, cut into individual takes. The only way to make sense of it all was to label each strip of film and have it marked in a corresponding log on paper. During production each camera take was noted in a shot list. There were no databases filled with metadata, enabling the editor to bring up whatever shot the director called for. There were only lists written down on paper. The more accurate the shot list, and the more information it contained, the easier it was for the editor to pull the needed footage.

This might have seemed a tedious process but it was safeguarded from computer crashes, hard drive failures, and data dumps. It was a guiding force in post-production. The film editor would take detailed notes about which clips were used, down to the frame level accuracy. They wrote these notes into an EDL. This way, when it came time to make a final cut on the original footage they would get exactly the same film as the one they had cut to pieces in their bin.

The Birth of EDLs

In its infancy, video production adopted the practice of offline editing from the film world. Video editors would not work with the original source tapes, they would work off copies. This protected the source footage from being corrupted or damaged. It’s known as offline editing, a process that’s still used in larger post-production facilities and digital productions working with data-intensive video formats.

In the tape-based workflow of the past, editors would create their edit by playing one tape and recording the desired shot onto another tape. When that clip was recorded they would cue up the next tape to the shot they wanted and record that clip. As the edit progressed, the editor would keep a detailed log of every clip used. The log would contain information about which tape, or reel, the clip came from and the timecode of the footage that was used. It would also denote any transitions between clips and overlap, for example the audio from one clip being used underneath the imagery of another. This log mirrored the linear order of the edit. It was a long process and one that demanded great attention to detail from the editor. The completed list is known as an EDL. The editor would use it, along with the source footage, to put together the finished production.

Offline Editing Today

EDLs and offline editing are still used today, and are a lot more advanced than a listing of timecode on paper.

EDLs are now digital and most video editing applications are able to output an EDL, or a more detailed digital format, for use in other applications. The two formats that are most widely recognized today are Extensible Markup Language, XML and Advanced Authoring Format. These formats allow an editor to move an editing project from one editing application into another. For instance, Final Cut Pro 7 can generate an XML file that can be read by Adobe Premiere Pro. An editor working in Final Cut Pro 7 can edit a production and send his or her edited project, through the use of XML, to an editor working in Premiere Pro to finish it. The real power of these output formats lie in the interaction of conforming edits to a suite of task specific applications. Edits and timelines are commonly transferred to color grading applications, visual effects suites, and audio editing workstations. This allows the project to be worked on in task-specific applications and transferred back to the video editing application for final output and archiving purposes.

Shot lists

An EDL is a great tool and often overlooked on one man crew productions, but a similar organizational tool that works great on any size production is the shot list. There are three common shot lists that are helpful to any production. All three have their place and are useful to the editor in post-production.

The first shot list is the one created from breaking down the script in pre-production. Often times this is referred to as the shot breakdown. This is the list the director and director of photography work from when shooting during production. It tells them exactly what shots were planned and what they need to get on camera. It may seem irrelevant to the post-production workflow, but having it on hand can help the editor to know what to look for and cue up what the director is looking for in a particular scene.

In the early days of film and video editing, the editor would keep a detailed log of every reel, clip, timecode and transition used. It was a long process and one that demanded great attention to detail.

The second shot list is the shot log from production. There should be a record in the production shot list for every take that the camera rolled on. Each record should include the reel number (reel being the tape, card, or whatever recording media is being used), date, scene, shot number, take, and timecode. It helps if this list includes annotations about each take, noting whether it was a good or bad take, or any information that would be helpful. This list is of great value to the editor. It can save hours of scrubbing through footage by helping the editor quickly locate shots. Today’s video editing applications have the ability to use metadata, information that’s associated with each individual clip. The information collected on the shot list from production can be entered in with the corresponding footage during the ingest.

The third shot list is the one generated in post-production. It’s the record made by the editor to detail what clips, and how much of each clip, was used in the edit. It can serve as a guide to anyone who joins into the post-production process and it can help the editor rebuild the edit if something catastrophic happens to the edit bay.

Telling stories with the moving image is a collaborative art and as such, it gets messy.

The tools have changed over time, even the format of the medium has changed, but the purpose and intent behind the tools is still the same. There’s no reason to wallow in the mess, the long standing practices of EDLs and making shot lists have helped to keep productions organized for years. There’s no reason to abandon the practice either. Instead, embrace it and find the peace that comes with knowing everything is in its proper place.

SIDEBAR

5 Tips on Keeping an Accurate Shot List

Keeping an accurate shot list during production creates an incredibly useful resource for post-production. Here are five tips on how to set up a useful shot list to be used in post.

1. Slate Each Take

During production, use a clapboard and be sure to fill it out with detailed information; the production’s name, reel or card number, scene name, shot number, take number, and the date. Make sure it’s in the shot every time the camera begins recording, and place it at the tail of each shot after the scene is complete. An easy way to discern the head and tail of each clip is if the clapboard is inserted upside down into the frame at the end of each shot.

2. Prepare Ahead of the Shoot

Prepare a paper shot log before the shoot. Use a spreadsheet to chart out all the information that is recorded on the slate as well as timecode. Make sure to have plenty of copies on hand, multiple takes will happen. Commit someone on set to taking accurate records throughout the shoot, matching up the slate with the shot log. Use this list for notes on each take as well.

3. Make Copies

After the shoot make several copies of the shot list. Think of this as a backup to any unforeseen losses that might occur to the original shot list.

4. Create Metadata

Most video editing applications today use metadata, information and data that accompanies each clip. Use the shot list and slate information as metadata, entered into the video editing application on the footage ingest.

5. Use It

Use the metadata to set up bins and folders inside the video editing application. The recorded information will make it easy to find any clip, from any scene in the production. It’s an organizational tool and will help anyone involved in the post-production process.

 

Contributing editor Chris “Ace” Gates is an Emmy Award-winning writer and editor.