What to Keep, What to Cut

Sometimes your best work as an editor is in deciding what NOT to keep in a video. It can be very difficult to identify those bits and pieces of video and audio that add nothing to your narrative, and it can be even harder to make the decision to leave them out.

In editing terms, we call it “Killing the Baby”. (Horrible name, isn’t it?) We use this term to describe the process because it is the hardest thing you will do as an editor. You will become emotionally attached to a certain turn of phrase within a scene, or the way the light hits, and you will ignore that it is completely superfluous. This is where it is good to let a second and third person watch the video and see if they can spot what doesn’t need to be there.

If you have ever watched a DVD Movie that has a section called “Deleted Scenes” then you have seen little bits of baby that were removed from the project because they added nothing to the story.

Let’s use an obvious example:

You are interviewing the CEO about the brand new Widget rollout that will be happening next week. This video will be posted online as both an internal communication and a personal message from the CEO to your newsletter subscribers. You ask the CEO a number of questions, and find that he has described the  Widget in 3 different ways, that are oddly similar. When you cut the video together it goes something like this:

1. The Widget is new and improved to help keep the sub-widgets in order.

2. The new and improved Widget will keep the old sub-widgets in order.

3. We found that the sub-widgets needed a device to keep them ordered, and have developed a New and Improved Widget for that purpose.

For obvious reasons, you would not use all three of these statements in your video. So Two of them have to go. They must be cut. Even though you shot #1 overlooking the ocean, #2 from the high powered office with the twinkling lights of the city in the background, and #3 from the floor of the widget production facility. You can’t keep them all. You have to decide.

How do you make the decision? Which one should be cut?

Take a look at the video edits surrounding the clips in question. What clip statement will cut best with the overall project?  Or, if you are feeling creative and it works with your project, you can see if you can get the sentence said by cutting together the three statements into one, using location jump cuts. This  can be a cool way to keep the baby alive, while eliminating the superfluous content.

Another example, a little less obvious:

Your actor goes to the coffee shop, interacts with the barista, leaves, walks down the street with the coffee cup and gets into a car at the same time as the actress, where the actor spills the coffee on the actress, they commence to bicker, and he asks her for a date.

What can be removed from this? Do we really need to see him buying his coffee? What does it add? Why not start with him flagging and catching the cab. It is okay for him to already have the coffee in his hand. Unless he is returning to the coffee shop, and the barista is integral to the story in some way, it doesn’t need to be there. It needs to go.

While you edit, you must constantly ask yourself, “Does this need to be here? What purpose does it serve? What does it add?” When you can do this, and make the hard decisions about what to keep and what to cut, you will see an immediate improvement to any editing project that you undertake!

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