Do You Want to Build a Snowman?

This blog post is not about building a snowman. This blog post is about the value and power of editing, overlay, and music in video-making. That doesn’t sound quite as ‘sexy’ does it, but the process is actually not entirely dissimilar to making a snowperson. The below sections highlight the steps I recently took to make a short video about surveillance. I had an overall plan in mind from the beginning, but of course some things changed along the way as I got creative – just as they should!

Phase 1: Raw footage

As with any good snow creature, you need to start with the foundation. Good video-making relies on planning and pre-production too – which in the snowman scenario would involve making sure you have enough snow, collecting the snow, and deciding on a suitable site to build – but let’s assume that’s already done for our purposes here. In the case of the following footage I shot, it took me a while to ‘collect the snow’…

Filming the above clip was a bit of a nightmare. The wind outside meant that the only convenient security camera I could film near with decent audio was a few meters away from a frequently-used lift. Just when I was finally getting things right with my performance, the lift kept opening and closing with loud chimes. The door behind me in the background got a bit of a workout too, and there were other passersby in between. In short, I could have found a better location and maybe even given up on my desire to make use of a security camera, but like an tenacious/arrogant child from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, I was going to film near this one!

You’ll notice that while I started with adequate framing that conformed to the rule-of-thirds, I soon drifted toward the middle of screen as the video progresses. Gravity was winning the battle with my tired arm by this stage, but I knew I could cover up a lot of that with some overlay later on. My repeating of certain lines could also be fixed with some editing, which I was already starting to think about while recording. Even setting aside those issues, the above footage was far from perfect.

Usually I would record a video of that length in more than one shot and although I held the camera steadily enough, I would generally rely on a more stable surface (I don’t carry my tripod around with me every day #sorrynotsorry). Nonetheless, I was able to deliver the key messages I wanted while engaging directly with the camera and this is what I needed for the purposes of highlighting…

Phase 2: The Power of Editing

Editing is where you start to reshape your raw pile of snow in a way that helps it make sense and makes it more enjoyable to look at (i.e. makes it more likely to be looked at for longer). Let’s start with the first stage of this process: cutting. Take a look at the revised footage below and see what a little editing can do…

On the surface, not much has changed. I’ve cut the awkward moments where I needed to pause, gather my thoughts, and repeat certain things. As I’ve been editing videos for some years now, this doesn’t take me very long to do; however, if you’re new to using an editing program make sure you get familiar with it by getting some practice in early. Check out this video by Dylan Hornsby for some handy tips on editing basics:

To spell out some key advice I always give in relation to editing:

  1. Editing always takes longer than you think it will
  2. Learning how to edit is always a matter of learning by doing
  3. What editing program you use is not important; as long as it lets you do the basics, it’s all about how you use it

The edited version of my surveillance video is better than me awkwardly repeating my lines on screen, but the changes have resulted in a series of slightly less awkward ‘jump cuts’, which need to be covered up with some strategically placed overlay footage…

Phase 3: The Power of Overlay

Whenever I’m on a holiday or a day trip with family, I have a habit of stopping at particularly scenic points and making some random video footage. My family members used to wait for me in the early days; now they just keep walking…

That’s okay, because from doing this I now have a computer full of potentially useful overlay footage that I can draw on whenever I need it. As Dylan’s next video reveals, two great (legal and ethical) strategies for using ovrelay is to make your own overlay or to use Creative Commons licensed material. Check out Dylan’s example of quokkas below – and not just because they’re so damn cute!!

In my case, I’m fortunate that I had some footage lying around that I could draw on, but I still needed to go to Flickr to locate a few extra images to use. The images below show a few parts of this editing phase where I identified several sections that could best incorporate relevant and useful overlay – even if I didn’t know exactly what it would be yet in all cases.

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I flagged the sections requiring overlay with some coloured placeholders while moving the associated video segments to the audio track. Next, I began locating and integrating the overlay footage to replace the coloured boxes. I don’t always use this method when I’m editing, but it gives you a better sense of the process and it does sometimes help me see the bigger picture of what is needed.

Have a look at how the video is now shaping up…

The disadvantage of uploading a more complex video like this to Twitter is that I can’t easily acknowledge the Creative Commons material I’ve used in the one tweet, so as you can see above, I’ve included links to the original sources in the tweet attached to it.

Phase 4: The Power of Music

To wrap things up, I added a little intro sequence with music, as well a bit of a music track over the end credits. These elements might be thought of as the finishing touches on the snowman (carrot nose, stick arms, and dog poo eyes… is that just me?). You can view the final product here:

As you can see, I’ve uploaded my final output to YouTube, as this gives me the opportunity to expand my video beyond the 2 minutes and 20 second maximum length currently allowed by Twitter. I’ve drawn on some ideas from a previous surveillance-related video I made to expand my reflection on the concept of ‘social sorting’. You can hear the difference when audio if recorded in different settings, which is something to keep in mind when gathering footage – consistency in place and time of day can be just as crucial for sound as it is for lighting. Moving to YouTube had the added benefit of being able to include the links in the video’s description box. Click on the title of the video embedded above and see what I’ve done there. You can find some extra tips on integrating music in the video below:

That’s more than enough from me on the power of editing, overlay, and music. The only thing left to emphasise is that the more you make videos, the better you will get at it – and, just as importantly, the more you’ll enjoy it!

You may well find yourself enjoying it so much that you just want to keep making them.

Snowmen by Emma Line.jpg
Snowmen by Emma Line (CC BY-ND 2.0)


Featured image: Snowman by Judit Klein (CC BY-ND 2.0)

10 Comments Add yours

  1. Great blog. Thanks Adam!

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