Working on a short video celebrating the contribution Planning Director Amanda Burden makes to the City of New York has me thinking about space in more ways than one. I’ve been editing and interweaving the comments of five people (architects, planners, innovators, etc) describing the impact she’s made on the city. I organized their dialogue thematically, added pauses between their thoughts and selected music to bind everything together and create an emotional arc. I’ve found that designing video this way makes it easier to absorb their thoughts. So all of this had to be accomplished before adding images of a revitalized New York.
And while they’re all talking about Amanda Burden, creating a livable city, urban design, space and sustainability, I’m thinking about how to create a different kind of space within the boundaries of this short three to four minute video.
First, some background:
Editing what people say is quite a different experience than editing their words on paper. Most people tend to speak quickly; their thoughts tumble out a melange of phrases, repetitions, with stops, restarts, stutters and an often twisted sentence structure. Reading allows you to stop and consider. But video keeps on rollin’ by, so if you’re not careful with the words, music and images, it’s easy to bombard, overwhelm or simply bore your audience. So how one fills up the space in a three to four minute video is the difference between ho hum and wow.
And what makes it more complicated is this:
When we speak face-to-face we can usually decode what someone is saying by paying attention to their tone of voice, emotional cues, hand gestures, facial expression and body language. But making a video, we usually try to avoid “talking heads,” so all those comprehension cues get thrown out the window as we cover up their visual insights with images. Which makes the ability to carefully edit and place spoken comments all the more important.
And you have to do it invisibly, making it seem and sound like the words weren’t edited at all.
Once you’ve mastered that skill, you need to orchestrate how the words are delivered for maximum impact. Any seasoned public speaker knows that timing is the riverbed through which the words flow. It’s what comedians and actors live for: Timing. And that’s also crucial when editing and structuring someone’s words.
And no, I don’t change their meaning. I use editing to enhance what they’re saying, making their remarks succinct and crystal clear. And then I surgically add space between the phrases, sometimes even adding full stops, to create, with the music, an internal rhythm. Giving greater weight and impact to the words that remain. And giving the viewer the space to process what’s being said.
It’s a little like a poem,
where the visual space
on the page
gives the words
Ultimately, it’s more like designing than editing, with each moment constructed as a brief embrace and then sending them on to the next.