Editing as Punctuation revisited

I recently came across this interesting video essay, Editing as Punctuation:  How ‘Punctuation Marks’ in Film Have Innovated Storytelling.

It is a worthy watch for anyone editing film or video.

I have applied the logic of punctuation a bit differently in blog posts right here on the Edit Foundry.

In this post It Went Viral!  But did the editing help?  I explain how I use completions of thoughts to help make edit decisions.

In this post The Logic of Natural Sound in a News Package I go into how natural sound in stories can be used as punctuation.

When you make your cut and move on to the next shot there are so many reasons to consider.  Ask yourself these questions as you make decisions.

1. Did someone complete a thought?

If you apply thought completions to your edit decisions you will be amazed how it changes your editing.

READ THIS – It Went Viral!  But did the editing help?

2. Am I continuing a rhythm (pacing) with this edit-decision?

Often turning off the sound and tapping a pencil on your desk every time you see an edit will help you discover pacing problems.

3. Am I disrupting the rhythm of the story with this cut and is there a reason to do that?

This is fun!  Make a cut (or don’t) at a moment that creates a feeling that you want to convey to the audience like surprise, sadness, anger.  Make your audience feel something because of your edit.

4. Am I cutting because the value of the shot is over?

Sometimes it’s really this simple.  Don’t be afraid to make a cut simply because the value of the shot is complete.

5. Am I cutting for match-action?

I sometimes will make a decision about an edit for match-action reason and that will override other logic.

6. Does this cut, at the moment I choose advance my story?

This should override everything really.  Did it advance the story?  If it doesn’t advance the story then is should be for another reason like rhythm.

7. What if I don’t make a cut at this moment? Sometime the best edit is one you don’t make.

Lastly, how about you DON’T make a edit.  What does this do to your story if you simply don’t make an edit at this point.  Does this decision NOT to make a cut make your story better?

Thank you for reading.

Shawn Montano



It takes time to figure out how to use Music in Video Editing

I love using music.  I use music whenever I can.  I use it improperly.  I abuse the use of music.  I use the wrong type of music.  I force music into a edit just because.  You should be doing this too.  You read that right.  Force it, use the wrong music, use it as a bad.   Use music as much as you can.  It takes time to figure out how to really make music work for a story.  Pay attention to how you hear it in film, commercials, documentaries and television shows. When an edit adds music it can change so much about the feeling of a story.

Practice, mess up, practice, get it right, practice, change your mind about what you got right and what you messed up and then practice some more.  You’ll get it, but it’s going to take time.  Crafting a good edit is one thing, adding music and making it work for the edit is a whole other set of skills.

The story for this post is Journey of Hope Pt. 4

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I won an Emmy for this documentary.  Journey of Hope is a story of a man with Parkinson’s disease.  Scott Orr decides to undergo a life changing brain surgery to help control the tremors associated with parkinsons.  I’m just going to use part 4 for this post.

When I edited this documentary I worked where real music is allowed.   I used the soundtrack to Erin Brockovich.  This is the only soundtrack I used for the entire documentary.  By using the same music from the same source and same composer the entire documentary felt connected.

Don’t have the ability to use real music?  Search HARD through your library to find music that works.  I edited another documentary for the Discovery Channel called After Obesity, The Final Cut

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I found a disc with music from one composer that had an extremely similar feel to the Erin Brockovich soundtrack.  I created a feel for this documentary as well using one composer.

If you can use popular music I recommend using something that’s not too mainstream or current.  I’ll use popular music that you don’t recognize immediately.  The reason I do this is music usually attaches itself to people on some emotional level.  I don’t want people to come into one of my stories with a pre-convinced emotion.  I want them to gain their own emotional attachment to my story.

  • Music can help the pace of a story
  • Music can add an emotional draw
  • Music can help reveal a moment in a story
  • Music can help with transitions between story elements

Journey of Hope Part 4  begins with music up full.  It’s rather serious in tone.  My music selection is helping set the tone in this section of the story.

Operating room

This section of the documentary begins on a medium shot of the operating room.

Dr. McVicker

The next shot is that of Dr. McVicker [:04] looking down seriously.

At [:07] the narration begins, We all know in life there are risks.  That’s followed by a soundbite by Dr. Kumar asking Scott a question.  The combination or music and selected soundbites gives the viewer the sense of something wrong during the surgery.  So at this point the music is the establish-er of the mood and the soundbites and narration are secondary.  I keep the music volume low so you can hear the narration and soundbites.  How low you ask?  Each story you edit will be different.  There is no magical number that will work.  You really have to understand the logic of audio.  

Let’s continue with the post.  

The music stays low until [:24]. The narration is, When something appeared terribly wrong.

It’s at this point when you see Scott open his eyes and look to his right.

Scott Orr

The music comes up full and I let the shot breathe letting the viewers understand the gravity of the moment.  It’s just a small moment.  It’s a reinforcement moment.  A moment to grasp the possible seriousness of everything that’s come so far.

Now listen closely.  From [:34] to [:38] the music fade down.  It’s very subtle and takes a full 4 seconds to fade away. The moment has passed. The minor scare is no longer an issue.  I want the music to fade away, but I don’t want the viewer to notice it fading away.  I want them to just focus on the story.

At [1:20] I cut out of the operating room and into the waiting room.

A few emotional moments are about to happen.  Earlier I used the music to set the tone.  Now I’m going to do the opposite.  The soundbites and emotion in the frame set the tone.  The music just supports it.  Everyone is happy the surgery went well.  These are positive soundbites.  I call this a feel of relief.  Everyone’s relieved the surgery went well.  The music helps convey everyone’s sense of relief.

At [1:24] the music starts midway through Scott’s fathers soundbite.  I’m using the soundbite to help bury the start of the music.  You don’t really realize the music is there right away.  The less the viewer notices the better editor you are.

I carry the ‘relief’ music underneath this whole section of Scott’s parents, his wife, and his best friend in the waiting room.

At [1:44] I bring the music up full.

Scott Calm

There is a shot of Scott lying there calm. I’ll bet he’s relieved the surgery went well too.  I’m conveying that feeling.

Scott's Hand

At [1:43] I bring the music up full to [1:45]. There are two shots.  One of Scott’s head and one of his hand.  His hand isn’t moving.  That shot is the reason for the entire surgery.  The tremors have stopped. Very poignant moment don’t you think?  Guess what?  Music full and a moment for the viewer to take it in.

If you are not familiar with Parkinson’s Disease, go here for a good explanation.

At [1:57] to [1:59] the music ends with a small moment.  That part of the story ends as well. Coincendence?  No.  I back timed the music to end right there.

  • I use music to help tell the viewer understand that this is the end of this part of the story.

I’ve used two different pieces of music now. I’m not using it constantly.  I’m only trying to use it when I want to help reinforce the emotion of the moment.  The most important aspect of using music may be when you don’t use it.  I don’t use music again until [2:53]

At [2:52] Scott’s about to test the Pacemaker for the Brain he’s had implanted to help control the trembling in his hand.

  • This is reason for the surgery.
  • It’s a very important moment in the story.

Well based on those two bullets points and everything I’ve done so far with the story It say time for some more music.  I chose something light and not overpowering.  I start the music up first and then the scene’s narration.

At [3:07] is the first time Scott sees his hand not tremble after the activation of the Pacemaker for the brain.

Scott's Hand Calm

I let the shot breath with the music up.  Agian, I’m allowing the viewer to take in the moment for just a little bit longer.

At [3:18] I let the music come up again.  Scott says, “Wow, haven’t seen that in a long time.”

Scott looking down at his hand

Another moment I want to just let breath for an extra second.

  • Each time a moment or something poignant is said or seen music comes up full in this section of the documentary.

At [3:25] Scott twitches his fingers as he’s looking down.  I let that moment breath as well.  It’s also the end of that piece of music.  Again, I’m telling the viewer that’s the end of this part of the story.    Again I back-time the music so the score ends right as this section of the story ends.

At [3:50] I start the music up again.  You have to listen very closely.  I bring it up subtly.  As you can hear I like bring up music subtly.

  • I don’t like music all of a sudden there.

At [4:09] I bring the music up full again. The narration is, There is no cure for Parkinson’s or it’s symptoms.

It’s not a moment but it’s poignant statement.  I decide to bring up the music because is poignant.

At [4:26] I change the music.  They are about to take the go kart on the track  I wanted something upbeat and fun but something that still fit with the rest of the music.  I use this piece of music for the rest of the story.

At [4:54] the music ends as our story ends.  Agian, I back timed the music to make this happen.

I hardly ever use the music as it was originally constructed. I’ll use bit and pieces and rework the music to fit my story.  I strive hard to make cuts the viewer won’t notice.

So, I may use the beginning of a piece of music, cut to the middle piece I like to bring up full, then make another cut to help with my backtiming to the end.

Thanks for continuing to read The Edit Foundry.  Don’t forget to like The Edit Foundry on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @shawnmontano



Adding frames of silence in video editing adds more than just silence

Adding frames of silence in video editing adds more than just silence – say what?  By adding a few frames of silence you can enhance a story.

Ever edit a story with little video?  That’s a rhetorical question by the way.  This happens every day to an editor somewhere.  This story has very little video.  Video is not important, especially if you have emotion.  Anytime I get a chance to edit a story that has emotion I’m all over it.  What do I do to help the story?  What emotion can I help display with editing?  How will my edit decisions impact the story?  Are there edits I’m not going to make that are important?  Lets see if I can answer some of those questions.

The story for this post is Karen

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It’s my job as an editor is to make you laugh, or to make you cry.  Sometimes the material we are given makes that a little easier than other times.

This story is about a women is almost a victim of a serial rape suspect.  In the interview she is very emotional.  My job as an editor is make sure her emotional state comes through in the story.

My job is to also stay out of the way.  What do I mean by that?  Sometimes an editor needs to not make an edit.

  • Those non-edits may be the most important edits you ever make.

At [:06] Karen sniffles and the story pauses slightly.  I am introducing her emotional state.  I’m grabbing the viewer as quickly as possible.  There is a full 2 seconds of silence after the first narration before she sniffles.  Let your viewers in.  Give them time to feel.  So many stories I see the emotion goes by so fast the viewer doesn’t have time to feel it.

  • The #1 rule of editing is emotion.  Always cut into it and never cut away from it.

The pace is slow.  I’m going to maintain that pace as best I can.  Here are a few tricks.

  • There is at least 10 frames of silence between the narration and any soundbite.

Watch the story again.  Just listen to it this time.  If you listen closely you can here all the pauses in between narration and soundbites.  This is a subtle trick.  It also a very effective trick.  The beauty of it is it won’t cost you but a few more seconds.  If your in a world that requires short running times this is huge.

At [:11] is her first soundbite. “I just kept thinking if Shawn hadn’t of come home with me, I just know what would of been happening.” After that soundbite she looks at Shawn (her boyfriend not me) and then turns her head and takes a deep breath. 


Upon revisiting this story I think I left this moment just a bit too soon.  I think I could of held this for at least 15 more frames. Would 15 more frames have made any difference in the overall story?  No, but it’s important to understand how just changing a few frames in an edit can create such a different edit in the end.

After the soundbite is a slow 80 Frame dissolve to a car going by and I put a slow zoom in on the shot.

  • Another simple editing trick for emotion, put a slow zoom on static shots to help pull the viewer into the story.

There wasn’t much video to work with on this story.  The only way to have more video would of been to shoot a re-enactment.  This is not the type a story you would ever ask anyone to re-enact.  I use generic video at several points.  Do I care? Nope.  The story’s got emotion.  Viewers won’t remember these shots the next day.  They will remember Karen crying though.

Karen didn’t want her house identifiable in the story.   I used this tight shots that could be from any house in any neighborhood.  Notice I put a slow zoom on each of these shots.  I hate static shots.

I am a fan of movement.  This is a visual medium of motion.  I like to have as much motion in every story as possible.

At [:45]  her soundbite is  “It was the first thing that popped into my mind, that it was him.”

There is a full second (30 frames) of silence before the narration starts.  I’m giving the viewer that extra time to feel and see her.

  • Sometimes nothing is more powerful than something.

At [2:16] is the final section of narration in this story.  9 seconds go by and then she sniffles.  The story ends.  This is a powerful moment with no narration and no sound from her.  She is simply emotional on camera.  You can feel how fortunate she feels not to be a victim.  You can feel how terrified she still is.  Simply amazing what 9 seconds of silence does for a story.

About the Dissolves

I dissolve mostly by feel.  Feel is impossible to teach.  Let me try and rationalize these dissolves with some logic.  In this story most of the dissolves represent a transition in space. Dissolving from inside the house to outside.  Dissolving from a sketch to Karen. The 3 shots of the exterior starting at [:22] are cut together because they are all outside shots.

As for the dissolves from Karen wide to Karen medium or Karen tight, I simply don’t like cutaways in this type of story.  Karen is the story. Her emotion is the story. Cutaways of her hands, of a lamp, or anything else won’t add to the story.

Thanks for reading.

You can follow me on Twitter @Shawnmontano

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One of my top 5 video edits of my career

Have you edited a story that gets people talking?  Does it impacts lives, win awards, or do people just watch it over and over to learn?  This entry is about that type of story.  If I were to rank edits I did over the past 20 years, this is in the top five.

This emotional story challenged me as a video editor.

Please watch Ryan Gave Chad the Gift of Life on my Youtube Channel.

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The story begins with a slow zoom in on the Arnold family in the waiting room.

Adding a slow zoom in the edit process pulls the viewer into the story.  The next five shots are simply a series of shots showing the Arnold family in the waiting area.  As I was looking through the raw I was simply looking for shot variety.  I start with a wide shot, then went to a medium shot, to another medium shot, and then to a tight shot.  The last three shot are all intimate.   I want to keep the viewer intimate with the family.

  • I’m not going to force an edit element if it won’t work

Notice at [:08] the music starts.  The music doesn’t swell until [:13].  I want to bring in music, but I want to make it subtle.  I like transition shots.  For this story I didn’t like anything shot for transition elements.   I’m not going to force an editing element if it won’t work.  I chose to use music for transition.

The music full at [:13] and the four shots in pre-op set up several story elements.  The music sets up the feeling of concern; at least that’s what I hope I’m doing with this particular piece of music.  I use two shots of Ryan and two shots of Chad. The music and shot selections tell the viewer a lot about the story.  No need for redundant narration.  This is a good example of just visuals and music working together to tell a part of the story.

This is an incredible story.  I don’t want any distractions. So, I did some color correction.  The video shot during pre-op was a bit on the yellow side as you can see in this screen-grab.

Here is my color corrected version.

  • I like to use all the tools I have at my fingertips

I know the walls are yellow, but with a minimal effort I greatly reduce the overall amount of yellow in the shot, I bring out the flesh tones of Ryan and his wife.  I like to use all the tools I have at my fingertips to make a great story.

After the four shot montage there are seven edits that all have dissolves. Do these shots cut together?  Yes they do.

This is a creative and emotional call.  I think the dissolves help reinforce emotion.  The final dissolve leads into the first soundbite from Chad.  You can still hear my music underneath this soundbite.

As the emotion of the soundbite increase, the level of the music decreases.  Listen when you watch the story again

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I don’t want any distractions.  Chad has enough emotion in his voice.  The music isn’t necessary here.

At [1:41] I start a second piece of music.  Using the same technique as before, the music comes up underneath the story a few seconds before I bring the music up full.  I’m using music as my transition element again, this time to move into surgery.

The second soundbite at [1:56] follows the routine I did with the first soundbite.  The music decreases as the emotion in the soundbite increases.

At [2:09] is the part of the story where they are in surgery.  I have several shot to choose from.  I have many great shots of Ryan’s liver.  I choose not to be overly graphic with surgery video for one main reason, Chad dies.  This story contains some of the last video of him alive.  His wife will watch this story.  His children may watch when they become older.  These are elements of editing you don’t necessary think about in the edit bay, but I think you should.

At [2:53] is another selection of music.  I use the music here differently.  I bring it up full immediately after the second doctor soundbite.  I’ve established throughout the story when music comes full there is a change in the story.  This time it’s not a location change, it’s the final part of our story. The sad part of our story.  I have a series of pictures of Ryan with his family.  All the pictures have motion on them.  At [3:08] the reporter track tells the viewer Ryan dies.

I have the music up full for four seconds.  I’m allowing the viewer the take in what the reporter narrates.  Ryan dies.  The cliche is fade to black.  I don’t like editing cliches, especially in this piece. I want to do something simple while still visually telling of Ryan’s death.  A slow fade to black and white with this picture did the trick.  The next three picture are still in black and white while the reporter talks about Ryan.  I think keeping the pictures black and white are a clever look and help with feel here.  I do however return to color on the final picture of Ryan and his family.

After this section of the story Chad talks about life without his brother Ryan.  He is very emotional.  I don’t need music and I don’t put any music in until the end of the story.  Chad stops talking and is trying to hold back his tears.  Lots of emotion but no sound here.  I decide to bring up the music to fill the sound-void.  It’s very subtle here.  I’m trying very hard not to have the music overpower his emotion.  I want to keep all editing distractions to a minimum.

This final image I leave the viewer with is one of the final images of them together.  I took a freeze-frame of Ryan and Chad hugging before surgery.  I turn it black and white and have a slow zoom out.  I have a slow zoom in to begin the story and a slow zoom out to end the story.


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Using Midmotion in video editing to your advantage

After Sex Offender is a story on my 2011 NPPA Editor of the Year entry.

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This general news story I edited in just over an hour. The photographer was invited to follow the Adam Walsh Task Force rounding up sex offenders.

Marking an In on your clip midmotion practically helps every edit you will ever make.

Our story starts with a medium shot of a Marshall knocking on a door.

The 2nd shot [:03] of the story is this a shot of a resident and the marshall opening the screen door.  Notice,  I wait until the Marshall has already started opening the door.  You are going to see edits taken midmotion A LOT throughout this story.  I’m a big fan of midmotion

Starting an edit midmotion does several things.  When you edit midmotion the feeling the viewer gets is they are watching something un-staged.  If we start the edit and then he opens the door the act feels more staged.  Like someone saying action and then it happening.

You want edits to hide as much of any staging a possible (None of this story was staged and I never want the viewer to even remotely think that).  Speaking of staging, watch reality TV for a real good example of this.  Most of you reading this already understand nearly all of reality TV isn’t all that real.  How else could the camera be in the right places unless they knew what was going to happen.  It’s the editing that makes reality TV seem so, well real.  Editing midmotion, starting the edit after an action has started, hides (which is what editing is supposed to do) a lot.

The third shot [:05] we’ve move inside a residence.  I use a J cut to help with the transition inside.  The sound of the marshall before the video of the marshall inside blends the edits together better.

The 4th shot [:08] is also inside.  I don’t let movement stop in the previous shot (they are walking in and the photographer following them is moving).  I take the edit on this 4th shot just before the photographer walks into this bedroom.  I use the movement of the photographer to help with my edit.

Notice a theme here.

There is movement/motion at the beginning of each shot.  Something I also pay attention to is eye trace and eye movement.  Notice the last frame of shot 3 and the first frame of shot 4 (previous two stills) the Marshalls are in the center of the frame.  I’m placing the viewer’s eye exactly where I want it; in this case in the center of the frame.

  • There is movement/motion at the beginning of each shot

Here is the last frame of shot 4.

Here is the first frame [:12] of the next shot I chose.

Both gentlemen are in the frame at the exact same spot.  That’s no accident.  When I get an opportunity to place the viewer’s eye exactly where I want them to be I do it in an edit.

Again in this shot I’m taking the edit midmotion.

This is a, I think it’s cool edit. I take the edit midmotion just like I done before.  I chose to start the edit on this frame not because of eye movement but because the Marshall looks ‘cool.’  Coming out of the vehicle he’s got this drivin look on his face.  He looks around while putting a piece of paper in his pocket.  I think he just looks cool.

The next shot [:17] taken midmotion and I utilize a J-cut here.  Why?  If we were following we wouldn’t be constantly looking at him. Once we heard him say something we would turn our heads and look at him.  The J-cut imitates that (imitate the eye).

The next 7 edits are all taken midmotion.  I don’t do that on this shot [:44] however.

Why?  Well he have a caught criminal.  He is just sitting there.  The action of him sitting in handcuffs would draw your eye alone.

Another J-cut [:46] here.  Why?  Well you would be looking at the arrested individuals wouldn’t you.  You would hear the Marshall speak and then turn to look at him.  That’s why a J-cut is here.

For this edit [:50] notice I time the edit so that he puts head down just as the Marshall is saying they admitted to being here illegally.

The next 4 shots there is not much going on so my emphasis on movement isn’t as important.  The Marshall is also doing some interviewing so I let those shots play out.

The final six shots there isn’t an emphasis on movement as well.  The Marshalls have wrapped up todays work.  I’m simply looking for shot to help convey that as much as possible.  I’m also looking for shots that look ‘cool.’  I particularly like this one.

I like the rack focus [1:05] from the back of the vest to the Marshall.
It really is the simple things that make you a better editor.


This blogs primary focus is on the editing of stories.  I would like to point out a few things about the videography.

1.  The photographer stayed with either a medium or wide shot whenever an opportunity to catch an apprehension on camera.  A very good idea.

2. Only when the environment was under control, like after an apprehension did the photographer shoot tight shots or try to get sequences.

Thanks for reading.