Editing a short drama film is different to editing a corporate film in lots of ways. The biggest difference is the amount of pre-production and scripting that goes into a short drama film. There’s much more planning for a drama, which in some ways makes the editing process a lot easier. A good script supervisor on set will give the video editor detailed notes on the best takes, an efficient DIT will make sure the footage is offloaded correctly and an assistant editor will get all the clips labelled up and ready to go. Simple!
But moreover, the subject matter and execution of a drama film is much more emotive than a corporate video documentary. This gives the editor a broader palette to work from when it comes to stylistic choices for the visuals and audio.
Recently I was Director of Photography and Avid Video Editor on a wonderful short film in Derby directed by Rebecca Lawson and produced by XO Digital in collaboration with my company, Boxset Media. As well as approaching the camerawork, editing and colour grade completely differently to usual, it was the sound design that I felt allowed me to help tell the story in far greater depth than ever before.
Clean capture of dialogue
As a video editor, the only audio I care about coming back from the set of a drama is dialogue. Whatever the principal actors say on or off screen are priority and sound effects and or other noises within a scene are not.
Time is money on a film set and recreating dialogue through ADR is not often within a clients budget! So I will ask the sound recordist to capture wildtracks of locations to help mix the dialogue for when there are inconsistencies in background noise. But sound effects such as ambience, footsteps, impact sounds or prop noises not essential. All these things can easily be recorded as foley or sourced from a sound effects bank.
Use layers to build an emotive depiction
Working with Avid Media Composer to edit, I get 64 audio tracks to work with. Although I have never needed this many, it gives me the chance to build up a complex wall of sound for each film. Each audio track is assigned with a certain type of audio (ambience, footsteps, prop sounds etc) allowing me to easily tweak each component. Some sounds I’ve used recently include
• Tree branches snapping
• Heavy exhaling
• Rustling of an anorak
• Crackling of a bonfire
• Muddy footsteps
Most of these I recorded myself back in Nottingham, usually in between edit sessions with my Zoom H4n portable recorder and Sennheiser MK-6 shotgun microphone. Where it’s not feasible to re-record a sound using foley, I rely on a sound effects library. Over my years as a video editor, I’ve amassed a huge library of premium sound effects. Some more obscure than others. These allow me to easily access a range of complex and precise sounds that it would have been too difficult for me to create myself. Woman in high heels walking on gravel? Indoor tennis rally between two players? Single horse galloping on dirt? I’ve got them all!
Refine intricacies to help tell the story
The sound design and the sound mix overall have to help to tell the story, not just mirror what is on screen. Refining the volume, intensity, stereo panning and reverb of a sound are just a few tools used to shape the audio and help the story be accurately reflected in the soundtrack.
These scenes show a comparison between the original camera audio (dialogue only), the recreated sound without dialogue (foley, sound effects etc) and the final audio mix. You’ll see what a huge difference the sound design makes to a scene and how plain and unemotional the scene is without it.
Remembering to keep sound design subtle is important too. Adding in understated yet strong ‘shoe scuff’ sounds to the parent entering the scene by the car for example gives the viewer an uneasy jolt without being overly dramatic. Also, note the sound of the football being caught is the sound of me catching a leather handbag!
Blend with a beautiful music score
Music for this film was composed and recorded by the talented Steve Baker, based in Leicester. It was vital that his score was not drowned out with the layers of sound effects, nor should the soundtrack drown out the dialogue. Instead of simply laying the music over the sound design, weaving the two elements together through gently raising the music at points, pulling back on ambience and adjusting EQ all help the sound fit together.
Suspension of disbelief is broken if a sound is out of place or an edit doesn’t fit together. So making all these elements – the music, foley, dialogue, sound effects – fit together without drawing attention to themselves is the sign of a superb drama edit.