HIKI NŌ: What's Working and Why
The Use of Cutaways to Avoid Jump-Cuts - by Robert Pennybacker
I remember in the first day of editing class at USC Cinema the teacher asked us "what is the one and only reason to make a cut?"
We came up with fancy answers like changing the pace of the scene, creating rhythm, grabbing the audience's attention. He shook his head. "No, you're all wrong. The only legitimate reason to make a cut is to show something new."
This gem of knowledge has stayed with me to this day. It also explains what a jump cut is. When you edit from one shot to an almost identical second shot, it creates a jump cut because you haven't shown us anything new. To make an edit work you need the second shot to be from a different angle that shows us something new.
Jumpcuts often arise when you try to shoot a process and you do it all from one angle. To move from one step in the process to the next, you have to edit out the excess time. But when you edit to a shot that is from the exact same angle, a jump occurs because of the "sameness" of the two shots. Such was the case with one of the early drafts of Molokai High School's "How To Make A Paper Airplane" franchise piece. They did a good job of covering some of the process from different angles, but some of it was shot from just one angle and, thus, jumpcuts occurred.
One way to avoid jumpcuts is to film "cutaway" shots and insert them in places where there were jumpcuts. An excellent cutaway to shoot for a process piece is a close-up of the person who is performing the process. I suggested this to Molokai High teacher Perry Buchalter. His students tried it and found that they were able to avoid the jumpcuts. Check out the "before" and "after" versions of their franchise piece and you'll see what an excellent job they did. And the next time you film a process, make sure to cover it from a variety of angles and shoot a cutaway close-up of the person performing the process. Your editor will thank you.
New Beginning by Damien
Damien had a strong HIKI NŌ debut with this story about their school going co-ed. What really impressed me was their use of imaginative, thought-provoking visuals to accompany their opening reporter track: "People may accept change willingly and others may not. The community at one of Hawaii's few all-boys schools is taking on a monumental change that stirs up many mixed emotions." While we hear these words we are seeing static, well-composed shots of a locker room and shower sign, the inside of an empty locker room, the Gentlemen sign outside a restroom, and the interior of the restroom (complete with urinals). This juxtaposition of words and images adds layers of meaning to the story's open and, thus, draws the viewer in. The reporter mentions change but doesn't reveal what specific change he is talking about. We see images of signs and places on Damien campus that have so far only needed to accommodate one gender. When the school goes co-ed, new accommodations will have to be made for girls. Without yet mentioning that the school will soon accept girls, and without showing images of boys or girls, Damien's HIKI NŌ crew has subtly, yet powerfully, stated the premise of its story. This is an excellent example of how b-roll shouldn't just literally illustrate what is being said on the voice track. The interaction and juxtaposition between words and images can be more effective, and imaginative, than a mere visual representation of what is being said.
Military by Kainalu Elementary
This is such a wonderful story on so many different levels. I don't think that a reporter on a traditional "adult" news program could have achieved the same level of honesty about what it's like to be the child of a deployed soldier. The children seemed very open about sharing their experiences with children reporters. Perhaps this is yet another strength inherent to HIKI NŌ that can't be found in other media outlets.
I'd especially like to compliment the maturity and restraint demonstrated in the writing. Even for professional reporters, it is difficult to resist sentimentalizing or overdramatizing stories with high emotional content like this one. These reporters just stuck to the facts and gave us pertinent information that set the interviews in the correct context.
At first I was skeptical about the 4-reporter format, but even that worked, because the reporters didn't make themselves the stars. They simply presented that facts that we needed to know in order to follow the story. Very, very professional.
Football by Kapaa
This story demonstrates the most effective way of cutting to an interview soundbite. At :32 seconds into the story, we hear the beginning of a female student's soundbite, but we are seeing a b-roll shot. A few seconds later we cut to the student's talking head. In other words, the audio precedes the video. The reason this feels natural is because in real life sound usually precedes the visual. Someone yells to catch your attention. You hear him first and then turn to look at him. You hear a car's brakes squeal, then look to see it ram into the car in front of it.
This style of editing happens again at :52 seconds into the story. We hear the former principal begin to talk, but we are seeing b-roll of football practice. A few seconds later we cut to the interview shot.
Try this when you can. It will be much smoother than cutting to the audio and video of an interview soundbite on the very same frame.
Samoan Fire Knife Dancer by Maui High School
I wanted to point out the excellent editing in this story. The students at Maui High School have employed what was called "motion continuum" editing back at the USC Cinema School (where I was a student eons ago). Motion continuum editing is when you break down a continuous, repeated motion into a series of shots. In this case the motion is the spinning fire knife. The continuous motion of the lit knife rotating in the same direction helps to make the edits to different angles feel seamless. The mesmerizing, hypnotic motion of the fire is the driving force that connects the shots, even though the individual shots may have been filmed at different times during his act. It doesn't matter if we've jumped backwards or forwards in time when we cut; the spinning motion makes the action seem continuous. This sort editing can be done when presenting any activity that has a continuous motion to it - dancing, surfing, spinning a basketball on ones fingertip. It can add a powerful momentum to your story.
Oopu by Kapolei High School
I wanted to single out this HIKI NŌ story because the students broke one of our rules in a way that really made the story a success. We've always said that students should use a tripod and not employ a lot camera moves. In this story, the students' use of the handheld camera brought the fish sculptures to life! One way to instill movement and energy into an inanimate object is through camera movement, but the movement must be done with a purpose - with an end result in mind. I have a feeling that even though these shots were handheld, they were carefully designed and choreographed. I also thought that what made the moving shots work was that regardless of the movement the center of attention was always on the fish sculpture. It was never movement for movement's sake, and when there is something for the viewer to focus on, somewhat shaky movements aren't as noticeable or objectionable.
So, if you want to break a HIKI NŌ rule (or commit a HIKI NO DON'T), argue your case to us. You should have a well-thought-plan for how you are going to employ an unusual technique to achieve the desired effect. The onus will be on you and your students to make it work. If it makes the difference between an average and a great story, the risk is worth it.