The picture edit – Part 13: How to make a (good) promotional film
This is the latest instalment in our How To Make A (Good) Promotional Film series. If you missed previous posts or want to go right back to the beginning and find out what it’s all about, click here. New instalments will be released every Friday. Click here to have them emailed straight to your inbox the moment they go live.
Use a professional editor
It is essential that you use a professional editor.
The edit makes the film, and a good professional editor knows exactly what they’re doing. Your film will NOT look good without one. Even if you’ve got quite savvy at Movie Maker or iMovie, it still won’t be good enough. I’ve spent a lot of time editing personal projects and I still don’t edit professional films.
Point made? Ok, moving on.
Finding a good editor
Now that we’ve agreed that you need a professional, you need to find a good editor. This isn’t easy. Editors vary in quality. It’s an art form, which means however much experience someone has, it isn’t guaranteed they are ‘good’.
Look at an editor’s previous work, do you like the style? You also want someone who is easy to work with. Editors can be a very special breed. Talk to them about your project and what you’re trying to achieve. Do they ‘get’ it? Do they make you feel confident and at ease?
Then let them tell you their day rate and how many days they need, and don’t argue with them. I have never had an editor try to overcharge me. Editors are notoriously underpaid for the skill of what they do. Don’t try and negotiate them down to less days – unless you’re willing to change what you’re asking for.
What your editor will need
- A hard drive with all the footage on
- All the sound files
- Your original interview transcripts with highlighted selections
- The paper edit (including time codes)
- Your original filming brief – gives them a record of what you were trying to achieve before you started
- Notes on what you want and your edit ideas (see below)
- A shortlist of music choices (I’ll cover this next week)
- Logos, branding guidelines, font styles etc for any graphics or titles (again, we’ll cover this next week)
- Examples of other work you’ve produced, links to your website, examples of other films you want to emulate. Don’t go overboard, but it all helps shape their impression of what you want.
Communicating with your editor
With some films, I have a very set idea of how the visual narrative will run. Once we’ve fixed the paper edit, I’ll usually share a version of it with my notes for visuals.
Our company was founded in 1945
[external shot and people walking in]
We’re focused on the energy sector
[Engineers arriving and putting on their safety gear]
Other times, I’m less fixed and am open to the editor’s own interpretation. You’ll have the paper edit set, so the storyline is agreed between you. You’ll have an original shot list worked out and filmed mini-sequences based on it – so, again, your editor is working with set material. Often that’s enough to guide them, and it’s best to let them interpret exactly how that all comes together in their own way.
It helps to share with your editor details about the client/project; the overall impression you want to give; why you’re making this film; who the audience is; how long you need it to be; where you’re going to use it… etc. It’s easy to forget that they haven’t been with you up until this point, and they don’t know all this background stuff! The more they can understand what you want to achieve, the more chance the first cut you get back will be close to what you’re looking for.
These are things that a good editor will look to do naturally, but it doesn’t help to have this coming from you – the Director – also.
1. Narrative arc
You want your whole film to have a story arc. It should have a beginning, a middle and an end. This makes it satisfactory viewing. The shots and the music create this overall feel.
What shot does it open with? What’s the final closing shot? What overall story are the visuals telling? You will have worked this out before you started shooting, so this should be clear. Communicate these things to your editor before you start.
E.g. We see a resident in their own home, talking about the damp issues they’ve faced. We then follow the installation of the new passive heat recovery system. And at the end, we return to the resident all happy now that the problem is fixed.
This happens to be the story of our Ventive case study. Take a look…
Within the overall narrative arc, you want to work with mini-sequences. Too many lazy promotional films just collate all the relevant shots and move through them. That isn’t storytelling.
You have your overall narrative story, but within that, there is the opportunity to tell lots of mini stories. Each new subject or area you cover should ideally be told in a narrative sequence.
In the Ventive film above, we don’t just see a random selection of shots of the building process or the finished installed product; we see the product being installed in sequence. This type of narrative storytelling is much more engaging for a viewer. We’re hardwired to engage in stories, so we’re much more likely to stick with something if it feels like a story.
An editor can provide great external objectivity. They often won’t have been on the shoot, so all they know of the client and the site is what they can see in the footage. So whilst you might feel it’s very important to show a close up of the new type of screw being used, they may rightfully point out that – to an outsider (which will include your viewers) – it doesn’t look like anything interesting.
There are plenty of instances in our films where the footage might be implying that what you are seeing is what’s being talked about. Often it’s not. The interviewee may talk about one element of their R&D process, and visually we see two engineers working at a station. Now you may know that actually they’re working on something totally unrelated, but that doesn’t matter.
As we say in PR: don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story!
Once you’ve got your picture edit to a point that you’re happy, this is again a good point to share it for approval. Again, be clear about what has or hasn’t happened yet. So if you are still to add titles, do the sound edit, or finalise the music – let this be known, so all your feedback doesn’t come back obsessing about these missing elements.
The first picture edit is the most magical part of making a film. You pass over all your hard work, hoping it all makes sense the way you thought it would, and then you get back an actual film! And there it all is, telling your story. I never get tired of it.
Once you’ve agreed a final cut it’s time to start polishing it. Up next – Part 14: Finishing touches
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