Editing Primitives

Transitioning Scenes

Telegraph The Cut

The easiest approach is to telegraph the cut with the story, the dialogue. Sitcoms use this approach frequently in order to save costs on filming - they often go without establishing shots when they just need quick bit of exposition. A character could say "They must be at the docks!" right before we cut and immediately hear the sounds of seagulls and creaking boats. Where are we? The docks. Usually, the method comes down to mentioning a location in the line or two of dialogue before a cut. Of course, this approach even at it's most subtle is... well, not subtle. It is effective and can be used when appropriate. If the story is clearly moving to a location, then the cut to that location does not need to be jarring. Line up the architectural vanishing point and try to also connect the character positions or direction of movement, if one can, and there you go.

The guiding principle behind this tool isn't so much to be obvious with where the new cut is, but to give the audience "no other options". They are at the docks, because where else could they be?

How about a story about high schoolers, who end a scene talking about the talent show tonight by walking off camera, which slowly zooms into a poster for the talent show. We cut, and it's suddenly light time, students file into an auditorium and where are we? The talent show: Where else could we be? There is no other location that makes sense because we are not at a location that the audience is aware of. It's not an established location, like a character's apartment, it's the only unestablished location, it's the only 'new' location the audience is aware of. Because it's the only new location the audience aware of, when we cut to somewhere new, it must be this one.

Edit With Patterns

A more tactful approach is to edit with patterns. Cut between locations in the same order, or frequently cut from one location to the same other location. Audiences will understand - not necessarily consciously - where they are when the cut happens all the faster. These cuts can be used to jump forward in time as well as change location. If this narrative mechanic is being used consistently, like in a classic "training montage" scene, cutting between the same few locations (with progressive improvement), and consistently forwards in time. Jump cuts in the same location can even be used, after the first 2 or 3, the audience will understand how the story is being told. One also gains the ability to break this pattern for narrative emphasis or comedic effect.

Edit With The Character

Another way to familiarize the audience with edits is to edit with the same character, to follow them from scene to scene. If an audience doesn't follow the intended eye-trace and misses the character when "landing" in the new scene, they can trust all they have to do is look around to find that character and they will be back on track, there won't be an edit that they are unprepared for so long as they are aware of this character.

Emphasizing the edits with character actions - going through a door, grabbing a pair of car keys, or any bit of expression that informs the audience what is happening in the character's head - it doesn't have to be as blunt as grabbing car keys. They could simply stand up, or just react to whatever information is indicating their transition of locations. This is similar to simply telegraphing the cut because it is! We can achieve subtlety with the technique by remaining consistent with the character we follow, buying more allowance from the audience on how or where we end up in the new locations.

Label The Scene

Blunt, but effective. Especially when starting a story. Not only does adding an overlay (or clever diegetic title) literally tell the audience where we are now, but it primes the audience to start thinking about the story. We give them something to read, a location in the frame to direct their attention, and can begin expositing some degree of tension. "St. Louis" the audience may think. "I was there once, I remember...". It gets the audience thinking about the location, and not the edit. It's perhaps the bluntest way to manipulate what the audience is thinking. There's a reason many stories start with overlay location the date - it can cover a lot of narratives and establishing ground in a short amount of time.

Of course, the location must play a part in the story. A road trip movie can land somewhere if something happens there, but if the characters are just stopping to get gas, then labeling the town they happen to be in is nonsensical and gives attention and weight to things that don't matter. Labeling the town tells the audience it's important, to anticipate something happening there.

Sit Facing Forwards

See Is your Video toilet-ready?.

A powerful strategy that helps editing is to give the audience a home base around which the action usually takes place. Forwards, when the audience is sitting down/starting the scene. If we establish a pattern that the edit will take place around there, we can make most cuts less jarring if the audience is looking elsewhere - they know exactly where to go (just untwist their neck/body) to pick up on the new scene.

Of course, why film in 360 if we don't take advantage of it? More on how to best "take advantage" of spherical video as it's own unique element will be discussed elsewhere. The short version is to not overwhelm our viewers, taking advantage of spherical video is more about taking advantage of the audience making choices than it is about presenting information all around the frame. If there is no dramatic tension to be had, why make our audiences turn back and forth constantly just to follow a scene?

Locate Thematic Elements Consistently

This is a parallel of 'sit facing forwards' in that it relies on the audience's ability to place themselves in a scene. If we consistently put the good guys on the left, going right; and the bad guys on the right, going left; not only does the audience's own head movement support the progress of the character's. but every time we edit (from 'good guy' to 'bad guy'), the audience already has a clue of where to look.

Even though characters take place in different environments, any character that we return to multiple times we can give a unique angle around the viewers head, a sort of "home base" for them, allowing the audience to accept a scene transition edit faster.