Make Great Video Transitions
Okay, another thing that is hugely important in video is transitions and how to get from one situation to another. The thing that I always like to say is the reason in a film or in a video or in a TV show that you see a car pulling into a driveway, you see that shot, the reason you see that is not because it's a beautiful shot. It's because, like, your audience needs to see that happening. They need to see someone, like, getting into a car and pulling away or getting into a car and pulling up to a house. And you see that type of thing all of the time, and it's because you need it. In photography, I would never take that. If it's not beautiful, and I can't, like, justify some, like, gorgeous thing, I would never take a shot of a car pulling into a driveway or someone walking out of it, maybe walking out of a door, but not, like, walking down a hallway. I just wouldn't do it. In video, you can't just do this thing where, like, you're in a field, and then you're at a home, and then you're...
in a thing. Like, you need to kind of show your characters moving through space, and the goal is to do that in an interesting way and actually maybe even, like, make little scenes out of it. But it's incredibly, you know, important part that your editor will need. It's like, how did we get in here? That same thing that I was saying about that workshop. We didn't just land into that workshop after the introduction of The Pearl where they're doing the voice exercises. See people milling around in the hallway. You see some cars pulling up, and then you're inside. So transitions, getting from one place to another, are really important, and sometimes they're opportunities to, like, flesh out some story a little bit more. So I'm gonna show you a thing that's kind of somewhere in between a transition and a scene from a short film about child marriage that I did with the organization Too Young to Wed, which is tooyoungtowed.org, which is founded by Stephanie Sinclair. It's about child marriage globally, and we did a story in Ethiopia about a young woman named Destaye who was married very young, had a child by the time she was 15 years old. And we had a lot of stuff of her at home with her baby. She had already been married at that point. She had dropped out of school because she now had a child, and so there's a lot of stuff about her kind of being stuck at home. But there's also this other part of her life, which is that her husband and her are both farmers, and they spend a lot of time in the field with their baby, farming to kind of make ends meet. Part of the childhood marriage story is that, like, by taking young women out of school and ending their education early, you're also cutting off economic opportunities for these young families and for these young women. And so part of it was that we needed to be able to show the way that they make money, you know, how kind of hand-to-mouth their income can be, the type of environment that they're living in. And so, it kind of was posing two problems or two challenges. One, how do we get her out of the house, just into the field? Are we just gonna drop her in there? But also, as I was saying with that story earlier about the millet, that like, it's also an opportunity to really expand time and show that, like, she's not just in the home one second, and then she's out in the field farming the other second. It's like, it's a real process for her to get to this farm. It requires walking long distances early in the morning. And so this transition helps us get from one place to another, but it also adds to a story beat. And so these are things that are not to be ignored. Often, without even really realizing it, they're incredibly rich and important story elements that, like, the more we kind of embrace them and think about them, the more they can help us tell the story. (trudging footsteps) (animal howling) (baby coughing) (man speaking in foreign language) (baby squealing) (man speaking in foreign language)
So two things. One is that, like, to get her to the field, we, like, traveled with her in the field. We traveled with her through space. We watch her walking. But the other is that like now these are kind of starting to be building blocks. Not only am I incorporating a transition but I'm incorporating a transition also using coverage. So it's not just that I get behind her or it's not just that I back off and I watch her crossing through the space, which would totally have worked. Here we are, the way to get her to the farm is that we're going to be pulled back and she's going to walk through this frame. That would have worked. But instead it was like well how do I add some coverage to keep this thing moving? So sometimes I'm right behind her, sometimes I'm looking at her feet, sometimes I'm next to her as she's kind of walking, sometimes I'm walking with her and then I stop and she continues to go out of the frame. It's like even in these transitions you're thinking about changing things up so that there's a kind of a variety of ways to show this one moment. So I'm gonna show it one more time with that in mind. (trudging footsteps) (animal howling) (baby coughing) (man speaking in foreign language) (baby squealing) (man speaking in foreign language)
So you see what I mean, like you're switching it up, again, you can do it one way, but, hey, it's fun. You know like after so long doing something in one way with photography it's really interesting to experiment with how to do this and like offer your editor these different opportunities. But also, it just makes, you know video requires just a lot of time behind the lens and a lot of time with your finger on that record button. So like if you're only doing it from that one angle, it also, it can get a little boring. Part of this is like it's fun to kind of get like all right, how can I do this? I can be at her feet, I can look at what she's looking at. There are additional things that I could have done, so like I, if I were, you know that was an earlier video, if I were to do it again now, I could have added a bunch of other things. I could have, sometimes when you're watching a film or a narrative, when a character is walking through the room or coming into to like let's say a hospital, it's not even that you see the character coming into the hospital doors, it's like you, like as the lens, come in, and that is achieved by basically I could have gone back that following morning and just did the walk with the camera on my shoulder. So that like you, as the audience, for a moment or two, it doesn't need to be this whole thing, you could have started this journey by like almost being in her shoes. You don't ever need to see her, but it's like you as the camera are her. So you're walking through space as her. You can do things like tracking, which is getting behind her and, you know, showing her moving through the space. Within that tracking you can think about perspective. Sometimes I like to shoot very wide open, especially because I shoot a lot at night, which means that my depth of field is very shallow. So what is in focus is very shallow. I can be focused on the back of her head which kind of to your audience indicates like being, you know, this is, you're pointing towards her, you're thinking about like, you're telling your audience this is about her and her world and you kind of want to like get into her mindset and head space. You can also set your focus to infinity, which means that her head in that case will kind of be this like morphous blob, you know it won't be super sharp, but the things out there in the world will be super sharp, which kind of gives you the sense that like instead of getting inside of her head, you like are almost becoming her, you're seeing what she's seeing. So even in this tracking type of shot, changing perspective can kind of change the emotion that you bring to the material. Like what are details that express movement? I mean in this case it's her feet. I could have gotten low and allowed her just feet to walk through. Sometimes I was kind of tracking her by following her feet. I could have gotten low and allowed her to walk towards me, I could have gotten low and allowed her to walk away. I could have done just like weird things by maybe she was carrying a water can, maybe I just want to like stay with this one watering can that she's carrying from one place to another and just get in on some detail. That like we don't even see her, and yet we're kind of moving through space in a strange way by just following one object. There's this beautiful, beautiful film, called "Working Man's Death" which is four short films kind of about labor, like as in working labor, not giving birth labor, all throughout the world. And one of them is these like cattle markets of Nigeria, and one of the ways that the directors brings us into this crazy scene where there's like, you know, animals getting hacked up, and heads being sold, and blood and guts everywhere and lots of things burning, is that like to get into the scene, we just kind of focus on this one head of cattle, with big horns that's being like carried by someone through this market, and we just stay on these horns as we move through the space. It achieves something, which is that it gets us into this world, but it does it in this like beautiful, beautiful way. And this is the idea, too, that like I start off with the idea of the car pulling into the driveway, because the point is that we need that car pulling into the driveway but we don't need to make it look like a car pulling into a driveway. We can think about these things in creative, weird ways. You know, following some kind of small detail, or you know, having things very skewed in your framing. So maybe if it's a mountain and you want to see someone crossing it, maybe the entire frame is filled with the mountain and kind of dark space, and you just see this little figure moving across. I mean there are so many ways to make these transitional moments that you need to get from one spot to another, really kind of beautiful and elevated. Any questions? Sure.
A question about this particular clip and bit, is from Erin Phillips, who's asking about language and language barriers. So does a language barrier make developing a story more difficult? Is the translating of the language something that is done in post processing, or do you usually have a translator accompanying you? What are the challenges that you encounter in that regard?
That's a great question. I, I mean I love working overseas, because it's so fun, and you know, crossing kind of cultural boundaries, is always really thrilling. But I personally like working at home and domestically a lot, because I do find that like that added thing of not being able to speak the same language sometimes for the type of closeness that I want to achieve is just one step too many. However, in those situations, I'm almost always working with a translator. You don't want to be in a situation where like if you guys need to communicate in the room and you can't. Just because there's a translator there doesn't mean they've got to be hovering around and watching everything, that's kind of the worst feeling in the world, like when there's this third kind of awkward person. What I tend to do with a translator is come into a situation, describe what I want to do, make sure it's okay with that person, spend a little time kind of shooting and small talking, so in that situation, especially where there's a kid, I might have the translator in the room, I might shoot a little, I might not even be shooting, I might just have my camera up, just kind of like getting used to the idea of the camera. And like make a little small talk, "Oh you're baby is so cute." when it does this thing. "Oh like what words does the baby know?" You know, just make a little small talk through that translator. "Oh, that reminds me of something. Do they want to see a picture something from my home?" A little bit of like trust building while the translator's in the room. And then I might say to the translator, "I see that you're about to give your baby a bath, would you mind asking her if it's okay, and I'm just gonna film this whole process, if that's okay with her, she can just go about her business and pretend I'm not there, and you can even step out of the room." So I kind of try to pace it out so that like, we know that there's someone there to help her and help me if anything gets awkward or we really need to communicate something, but also to like use it as a way of saying, "Now we're not gonna talk, can you translate that concept to this woman or to this couple or whatever?" That we're not going to be talking for a little bit and then it allows me to do that much more observational thing.
You're welcome. Okay, so there's also a thing where sound is a really great opportunity to help you with transitions and we're gonna talk a lot about sound tomorrow, but sound can often be this indicator that like while you're in one situation and you're being brought into another, that the sound is there to like pull you in. From that workshop scene that I showed you earlier there was, we saw people pulling into the driveway, milling about in the hallway, then we're at this open door, and we hear the class before we ever see it. In real life, I just shot an empty door. I shot the empty door of that very classroom, but like two days later. That sound wasn't happening at the moment of the shot, but the sound is like used from the workshop to bridge a way of seeing that opened door and pulling someone into the room, and that's a thing your editor will do all the time. And that's really kind of up to the editor. But it's helpful when you're out there to be thinking about this. Of like, you know, shooting video is not just about capturing what's through your lens, although that's a huge part of it, but it's also about having your ears open. Like let's say it's about walking to a waterfall. Like, think about, oh, I'm gonna show these people walking to the waterfall, but also the sound of the waterfall is something that I can like help kind of draw this journey out and draw people into this. And so sounds can be a really great transition. Okay. Let's talk about like driving transitions. And I pulled together some options, just of some driving stuff, just off of some of the clips that I've shown you, this is not an exhaustive list, there are so many other ways to do this, but the point is that like even something basic like driving you can still think about a whole bunch of different ways. Look at the people that are driving. Look out of the windshield as though you are the person that's driving. Look at the weird light things that are happening so that you can show that you're moving through some space but you're doing it really beautifully. Look at like weird reflections that might happen. I mean the great thing about cars is that they've got a few mirrors and a bunch of glass, so there's always opportunities for like reflections and montages, visual kind of montages and all of this stuff to kind of help you make again, this kind of like necessary thing. They left the house and now they're going to the doctor's office. I need to like get them there. How can you do that in a way that's still kind of visually engaging? (electronic music) Okay, so just like, you know, and again, not an exhaustive list, this was just like, I was going through videos last night and I was like all right, why don't we just focus on one thing, driving. And this is just examples of different ways of tackle driving in a couple of videos that I've showed you. But there are, you know, and it's not just about driving, but like moving through space, how to do it in a way that's not boring. Yes?
Do you have two shooters in the back of the car sometimes?
No, that's a great question. I do have, I'll show that clip one more time, because it's a good demonstration. We don't necessarily have two shooters in the back of the car, but what we do do is sometimes a shooter in the back of the car and a follow car. So there's a moment, and these were really meant to go like side by side in a scene, so there's a moment when we're in the car and there's like two people kind of passing yogurt back and forth, and the very next cut is that we're seeing that car move through space and that's because one shooter is in the car and one's in the follow car. So we'll watch it one more time. (electronic music) Um, you saw what I meant? Yeah?
Question about transitions that people try but barely ever work? So are there any sort of bad transitions or bad things to try?
No, I think that's a great question. I think in some ways that's like why I've spent a lot of time in the segment is that like we all kind of need them and they kind of suck, except that they don't have to suck. It's like the only thing that would really make them really kind of terrible is if they were just kind of mundane and boring. The transition that we hate is like "Welcome to Miami", a sign that says welcome to Miami. That transition into a place, that one kind of sucks. But like, you know, a feeling of like palm trees and all of a sudden white white white lights and like a montage of like shot after shot after shot of certain buildings, or a weird kind of slow, creepy vibe as you like get some sunset, and some people. All of those types of things are great. So I think the only transitions that people try and don't work are the ones that they don't work hard enough. In addition to what I just showed you, there are lots of other things you can do. You can mount a camera using a suction mount to a car, so you can like drive through streets, you can be looking back at the drivers as you do that, so you can see them arriving into a place. Or you can see the place that they're driving into. You can do that stuff at regular speed, or slow motion. You can do that with wide lenses so you're seeing everything, you can do it with long lenses so you're only seeing like little limited bits, I mean there are so many ways, you know, you can mount if off the side of a car so you're seeing what's going by, again, regular speed or slow motion. You can do quick montages, so you do lots of them so that like, to get into a place, it's not that you have just one establishing shot, but you have like, let's say we're entering into L.A. you've got like 15 kind of images, still in video, but quick, like two second, two second, two second, that all kind of say "L.A.", they like really speak L.A. and you run them together back to back. That's something your editor will do, but you being out on the field and being like "I know how I want to do this" you have to go out there and then collect that stuff and then you can like help your editor make these kind of great situations where it's like, we were in South Dakota, now we're in L.A. And woo, look at what L.A. feels like, you can do those things. And that makes it a lot more interesting than just a sign that says "Welcome to Los Angeles" which is kind of the boring way to do it.