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Video Editing

How to make better videos at any skill level.

Unedited video is not for public consumption. Anyone who has ever endured the pain of viewing unedited, amateur video in any kind of group setting (who hasn't?) will instantly recognize the truth of that statement. And if you were the camera operator of that PDAV (Public Display of Amateur Video), go ahead and double your own personal pain factor. What seemed so fascinating while videotaping suddenly appears so amateurish (to put it mildly).

In the worst cases of unedited video, all manner of seemingly endless and constantly shaking scenes convulse across the screen, not to mention the hopeless segments where the camera continues recording as the camera operator roams about. Add the much-too-loud comments from our rogue Spielberg and you have all the ingredients of a truly forgettable presentation. Hopefully, we are all aware of the folly of serving up raw footage in public without first preparing (editing) such digital dishes.

Assemble the Essentials

For those looking to take the first steps into digital video editing, here are some suggestions for getting yourself prepared. Since you'll be editing your video on a computer, you'll need a computer (desktop or laptop) adequately outfitted for the CPU-intensive task of crunching video. Minimum hardware requirements include a 2.5-GHz processor, a 120-gigabyte, 7200-RPM hard drive, 512 megabytes of RAM, a FireWire port, a video capture card, a DVD burner, and a 17-inch monitor.

Entry-level, low, or no-cost software video editing solutions for PC users include (among many choices) Adobe Premier Elements ($99, adobe.com), Pinnacle 10.5 Studio Version ($49 to $99, pinnaclesys.com), and Microsoft MovieMaker (free with WindowsXP Pro).

For the MAC, iMovie comes free with OSX and is very easy to use. Final Cut Express ($299, apple.com) is a popular program with some very powerful features.

There are dozens of video editing programs covering a wide price range, so a little research goes a long way toward finding the one right for you, your budget, and your video production needs. One of the best ways to find other video editing tools is with the Google web search engine (google.com). Initiate a search for "digital video editing software," or similar phrases, and you will end up with that "more-than-I-wanted-to-know" feeling.

If the finished video will be projected onto a large video screen or displayed on a TV, make sure you invest in software designed for big-screen, full-frame displays. Many people attempt to use software and hardware designed to prepare and compress video for the small screen (e-mail, portable media players, cell phones, and the Web) and find a world of hurt awaiting them when they attempt to output their masterpiece to DVD. This past weekend I received what could be called a "digital 9-1-1" phone call from a family in our church whose teenage son had created a beautiful 200-picture, 23-minute photo montage for a cousin's wedding, but he couldn't get it off the computer and onto a DVD. It turns out he was using media presentation software designed to produce media for everything but the big screen. A house call was definitely in order, and the patient (the production) survived.

Videomaker Magazine (video-maker.com) and eventDV Magazine (eventDV.net) are two very helpful publications for keeping up with ever-changing technologies and improving your media/video skills. Watch for training events designed to help video editors improve their skills and expand the use of media in ministry.

Once you have access to basic video editing technology, start with a very simple, low-risk, ministry-related production—not your pastor's daughter's wedding! Perhaps your church's youth or children's ministry has a small amount of video footage (less than an hour or two) or pictures that need to be edited into a short video presentation for an upcoming service.

Tell a Story

If you are already editing ministry videos, you're probably aware of the creative potential and power involved in the editing process. Most people who've edited video at any level have experienced the satisfaction and surprise of creating something not only "watchable" but also memorable and, if not life-changing, at least life-influencing. Through editing, they've transformed an otherwise "unwatchable" collection of sights and sounds (raw footage) into something meaningful. They've told a story.

Using media/video in ministry is all about storytelling. When editing video, you are attempting to tell a story. Hopefully, it's a story that means something to you and your intended audience.

Remember, using media/video in ministry is all about storytelling. When editing video, you are attempting to tell a story. Hopefully, it's a story that means something to you and your intended audience. A story has a beginning, middle, climax, and ending. Video editing can't cure everything that's wrong with your footage (especially out-of-focus, dark, shaky images, and poor audio), but it's amazing how learning a few simple video editing techniques can cover a multitude of videotaping sins.

Tips for Every Skill Level

If you are involved in editing video for ministry but don't consider yourself an "advanced broadcast quality" editor yet (i.e., Willow Creek hasn't e-mailed you lately requesting your demo reel), there are several things to keep in mind while editing. These tips can help move your finished videos, as author Jim Collins says, from "good to great." Let's begin by identifying the top ten video editing missteps and their solutions.

Misstep #1: Poor Soundtrack
One of the first mistakes beginning editors make has nothing to do with the image. The soundtrack often makes or breaks a video production. No amount of excellent video can overcome a poor soundtrack.

Even the most basic video editing programs provide at least some means of audio editing, volume control, and equalization. Use them. For videotaped interviews where the person is heard but not seen, edit out distracting "uhs," "ums," and other audio "fluff," including awkward pauses. This technique applies when supporting images or footage (called "B" roll material) is displayed while the person talks. This helps the person interviewed appear to be a better communicator than they actually are, and will improve your video and shorten your program (a good thing). A sure sign of a beginning editor is an ignored soundtrack.

Misstep #2: Wrong Music Selection
Music moves people. The wrong music (or no music at all) can move people to tears—of boredom. Take the time to seek out or create the music that will literally underscore your program. When mixing music with narration or interviews, be sure the music complements the spoken words in style, tempo, and volume.

Misstep #3: Poor Organization
Every video editing software program offers some means of organizing the elements of your video: titles, audio, video clips, pictures, sound effects, etc. The organizing tools include digital folders, sub-folders, clip bin icon display options, and file naming/renaming features. Master their use. Decide not to allow yourself onto the timeline until all your raw material is well organized and easy to locate. If you know you have the perfect shot or picture somewhere but can't find it, then you really don't have it. And don't even think of leaving unlabeled videotapes lying around. An unlabeled videotape is crying out, "Erase me, please!"

Misstep #4: Too Long
Everyone, without exception, during the early stages of their video editing journey creates scenes and video programs that could be improved—sometimes dramatically—by simply making them shorter, tighter, and more concise. Keep only the essentials. Shorten, shorten again, then shorten some more. "When it doubt, cut it out" is the video editor's eternal chant. The over-used phrase "less is more" is never truer than when editing video. Edit mercilessly (but remain merciful).

Misstep #5: Weak Start, Weak Finish
Spend three to five times as much time on your opening and closing 60 seconds as you do on any other portion of your video. Like every good book, movie, or message, the importance of your video's opening and conclusion is impossible to overstate. Pull out all the stops for your start. That doesn't mean going on "visual overload" with all manner of purposeless digital transitions, over-the-top soundtrack, in-your-face computer graphics, and 70s-music-video special effects. It means you have thought long and hard about how you are going to grab your viewer's attention for what's coming next. Simplicity can be very dramatic.

Misstep #6: Overused Special Effects
Only the few, the brave, the strong, and the wise avoid the trap of sprinkling all manner of special effects throughout their videos. Sure, your editing software (not to mention your video camera) has dozens, even hundreds, of ways to manipulate your titles, pictures, and video clips. Flips, spins, tumbles, squeezes, zips, zooms, and fly-a-ways are only a few of the usual suspects. Then there are the video fillers like strobe, monochrome, motion blur, old movie, sepia, etc. Arrest them. Ignore them 95 percent of the time. They can be appropriate and downright fun in a few (a very few) youth ministry videos, but you would do well to avoid them for the vast majority of your ministry video productions. Don't be seduced!

Misstep #7: Overused Fonts
You can smell this miscue coming. Like the aforementioned overuse of special effects, beginning editors too often fall into "fontmania." Not only does misuse of onscreen text distract viewers from your message and your story, it is a sure sign of a production without a purpose, or at least an editor without a purpose. Use one or two different, easy-to-read fonts for your well-designed, onscreen text. Maintain consistency in color, size, screen placement, drop shadows, and motion. Sans serif fonts such as Eras Bold, Impact, and Franklin Gothic are much easier to read on-screen than serif fonts such as Times Roman, FreeStyle Script, and Bodini MT.

Misstep #8: Wrong Tempo
The pacing of a video must fit the purpose. A memorial tribute video is going to have a very different pace than a youth ministry summer camp highlight video. The wise video editor determines, then controls, the pace of the video from start to finish. This doesn't mean the pace never changes. Changing pace throughout a video program serves to renew the viewer's attention, refreshing their interest. The video editor has several primary tools for controlling the pace of any video production, including:

  • Music tempo, style, and volume—and also it's absence.
  • Duration of scenes and individual shots.
  • Transitions from scene to scene.

Faster-paced programs may have little or no visual transition between different scenes. Slower-paced productions often incorporate a slow fade-to-black or cross-dissolve between scenes and segments with accompanying change in music.

The pause is the editor's "invisible tool." A pause is nothing. No thing. Yet it can prove to be a powerful tool for communicating when properly used. There is no way to teach the "magic of the pause" in an article such as this. Not unlike most of life, the learning arrives through the doing. You might want to pause and think about that.

Misstep #9: No Speed Changes
Overlooking the power of changing the speed of a clip is a common misstep among beginning editors. Just because our raw footage is all real time doesn't mean it has to stay that way. We've all been powerfully moved by a video editor's artful combination of music, close-up imagery, and slow motion. On the flip side, we've all laughed out loud at the comedic effect of high-speed video. Granted, the editor may not have control over how close-up an image appears (although the ability to zoom-in on high definition footage without noticeable loss of quality has overcome even this limitation), but the speed at which a video clip is played is under the editor's control.

Misstep #10: Unnecessary Commentary
Video is a powerful medium because of its ability to combine images, music, and sound. Although text and the spoken word can be part of a video, those elements do not play to video's strengths. Good editors assume viewers are smart—they honor the audience's ability to interpret scenes, expressions, and sounds without spoon feeding information through the unnecessary use of titles and commentary ("Here we are at the swimming pool!"). Honor your viewers, and give them the satisfaction of discovering the nuances of your program. But make sure the nuances are present.

Advanced Editing Tips

The following video editing tips are designed for those of you looking for something beyond the basics, who want to take the impact of your videos to the next level. These tips will also help you discover your unique editing style.

Tip#1: Use Video Layers
Video layering is a technique that elevated the quality of my own video productions more than anything else I've learned. Only the most basic editing programs do not allow for at least some degree of video layering. Master the art of blending multiple layers of images, text, and graphics—not just because you can, but because it enhances a particular segment of your video story. I find myself using this technique predominantly in openings and closings, but it is appropriate in a variety of program segments—especially when combined with slow motion and well-designed graphic elements. Sure, it takes a lot more time and much more computer power—but it's worth it.

Tip#2: Avoid Squares
Avoid hard-edged graphic and video elements like square and rectangular PIPS (picture-in-picture), photographs, and lower-third name plates. Instead, use soft-edged graphics and layered video. Of course, your editing software may place limits on your ability to create these types of soft-edge effects. On the PC side, check out Canopus Corps. EDIUS Pro 4 ($599, canopus.com) or Premier Pro ($599, adobe.com). On the Mac, Final Cut Pro ($899, apple.com) provides a bundle of editing power. For producing eye-catching non-square photos and images, check out PhotoGraphic Edges by AutoFX ($179, autofx.com). This software operates as an Adobe Photoshop plug-in or as a stand-alone program.

Tip#3: Use Sound Effects
Almost all my video productions improved after one long editing session with a Christian producer (now friend) who is "King of the Stinger." He is an expert at enhancing on-screen motions with audio effects. "Sweepers" and "stingers" are those audio effects that accompany visual motion effects like title fly-ins and outs, transition effects, and a wide variety of graphics effects. These subtle and sometimes in-your-face audio elements can make a huge difference in the overall impact of your video.

You can make your own stinger effects with a microphone or an audio sampler. Better yet, purchase professionally produced sweepers and stingers from a growing number of buy-out music libraries. One of the best buy-out sound effects libraries is Digital Juice's Sound F/X Library ($599, digitaljuice.com). It includes hundreds of synthesized electronic and real-world sounds. If you don't need that many sound effects, Flash Music Loops (flashmusictracks.com) has a large volume of reasonably priced ($12.95 to $19.95) collections of MP3 sound effects and stingers for use on the web or in your video productions.

Master the Craft

If you want to become a master storyteller through today's media and video technology, I know of no better training ground than editing video. Become a student of visual communication. Examine, frame by frame, the shortest onscreen stories on the planet—30-second commercials. Don't allow your low media budget to diminish your high ministry calling. Combine the truth of the Holy Word with the techniques of Hollywood. The body of Christ is in desperate need of "digital disciples" who know how use today's timelines to tell yesterday's truth.

There's a new breed of storytellers at church.

They're called video editors.

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