Cut!: How to Edit Home Movies

Last time on our blog, we were discussing how to ensure your home movies have a professional polish. In that, we discussed the importance of varying your shots. The general rule is to open with an establishing shot – that’s the shot that lets your audience know where the action’s taking place. You’ll notice it in movies and TV shows all the time, usually as we cut to an exterior shot of, say, Frasier’s apartment or Gotham City.

Then there’s the long shot, which allows you to capture a group or location in one frame. The medium shot allows a slightly closer look at a subject. If the birthday girl or boy is showing off the new football kit they’ve been given, you’d want a medium shot. It gives your viewers both facial expressions and body language. A close-up puts focus on, say, a subject’s face, or the birthday cake, and nothing else.

So how do you put all of those together to tell a story?

Even before you start shooting your home movie, you’ve got to have one eye on the editing process. Part of this comes with what you film – capturing literally every single moment of little Sarah’s West Ham-themed birthday party isn’t going to hook your audience, which means a little in-camera editing. So, for that birthday party, you’d shoot the action (blowing out the candles, say), stop recording, shoot a close-up of the birthday girl, pause, shoot the reactions of the party-goers.

But that’s just the beginning. So let’s take a look at a few tips and tricks for editing your home movies, and giving your audience something to really look at.

Don’t Go Cut-Crazy

A major danger, especially for first-time editors, is to cut-cut-cut, edit-edit-edit. If you’re editing together some wacky drug-like scene, that’s fine. But it’s no good for your cousin’s wedding. It will produce a dizzying and incoherent mess of a home movie. And it’s just plain tiring.

Don’t Hang on a Long Shot

There’s nothing more boring for viewers than a single long shot. That’s because we’re visual creatures, so we want to be visually stimulated. Another problem with long shots is that they can have too much going on – giving the viewer little clue as to what’s supposed to be the focus. Vary your shots, with an emphasis on medium and close-ups. Let’s see those reactions properly!

Cut on Actions and Words

You may not have noticed, but this is a classic editor’s trick. Say your subject waves – rather than capturing it in one shot, cut mid-wave and follow it through in another shot. This is obviously easier if you have two or more cameras recording, but with a little creativity, it’s not impossible to pull off on a single-camera set-up.

Capture Cutaways

You know when you’re watching an interview with, say, Roger Moore, and we cut to the interviewer nodding? Well, chances are, that nod was filmed at a different time. Grabbing cutaway shots are essential to mask an edit without resorting to a jump cut. It also adds to the movie’s atmosphere. So film anything that might be useful for a cutaway, like party bags and reactions of guests.

Keep It Continuous

Continuity is vital in any type of film. If there’s a really incongruous continuity error, your audience will stop focussing on the film and start worrying about why Grandad Bobby’s hat keeps disappearing and reappearing on his head with every shot change. Remember things like positions of subjects and the type of lighting and when it comes to editing.

Walking Equals Wipe

There’s a scene in Jaws where Brody’s watching the beach for the shark. As people walk past the camera, Spielberg cuts to ever-closer shots of the police chief. And you can do the same. You’re not on a film set, so whether it’s a wedding or birthday, people are likely to be walking past the camera. Use that to your advantage and cut to a new shot.

Be Creative

The beauty of editing is, even if Auntie Marjory arrived at the event after Uncle Roy, you can change all of that – especially if it makes for better story-telling. So long as you keep a master copy of all the footage, you can play around with the back-ups and see what works best for your vision without fear.

You’re Not There

Remember how, in our last blog, we discussed how the movie-maker should capture the action, rather than inserting themselves into it? Well, the same is true of editing. It should be seamless and invisible. Don’t draw attention to your editing, because it takes focus away from what’s really important – the subjects of the film.

Do It Digitally

It is possible to edit old-school style, from VCR to VCR. But if you’re looking to give your home movie a real sheen, you’ll want to look at digital editing software. Of course, that might mean you’ll have to transfer Super8 to DVD to get it onto your computer, but we can help you out with that. You’ll have a lot more control over your film doing it this way.

So, ready to stitch together your masterpiece? Simply contact us on 0800 592 433 and we’ll be delighted to assist with your film format conversions to create memories worth watching.