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Art vs. Air: Knowing the difference and striking a balance

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BY KRIS MILLGATE
I made air for 10 years. I’ve made art for nine. Let me explain. One TV station or another owned me and my content as an employee for 10 years. I’ve owned me and my content as a freelancer for nine years.
Before starting Tight Line Media as a freelance journalist in 2006, I cranked out two to five TV news stories a day, five to six days a week. I made my living making air. My stories were solid and held to a high standard, but they were quick turn-around packages. I learned storytelling basics in a hurry through quantity not quality.
I knew I wanted more than air when a videographer and I were fighting over a sequence of shots three minutes before an ABC newscast. He said, “We don’t make art. We make air.”
I want to make both and I believe you can. Just keep in mind what is appropriate for one outlet, might be different for another. What flies well in a documentary doesn’t always sit well in a newscast. Keep these tips in mind when deciding when to use what in your videos:
Edits
Air:
Use straight cuts (a one-frame change from one shot to another) when editing video for a news story. Avoid dissolves or fades between shots unless you are demonstrating a time change. For example, going back in time for historical perspective or when someone’s sound bite refers to the past.
Art:
Straight cuts work outside of news, but so do dissolves and fades depending on the feeling you are trying to portray in the video. It’s okay to deviate from straight cuts as needed, but with purpose. The purpose sometimes develops on its own in the field rather than by you in the editing bay. A natural transition of the camera going into the water works better than trying to force an effect on the shot in the edit bay.
Effects
Air:
You are better off keeping the effects folder closed when working on a news story. You don’t need whistles and bells when straight cuts dominate the video.
Art:
Just because you have whistles and bells in an editing program, doesn’t mean you should blow and ring them all. Effects must be useful. They are useless when they are distracting. Strobe effects, zig-zag wipes and exploding transitions can easily turn your professional production into a home video disaster. More effects do not equal better art.
Music
Air:
Music is sometimes used in a news story, but rarely. It can work well in a montage of scenic shots or photos when there is no voice over the footage.
Art:
Music is a powerful tool in a non-news video. The overall tone of a documentary can be set by music. The style of edits used in that documentary can also be set by the music. A hard drum beat calls for a straight cut. A chiming melody calls for a soft dissolve. But be careful with how much music you use. The river’s current and the elk’s bugle shouldn’t be buried by music unless you’re making a music video. Whether you are making air, art or, both, always keep your audience in mind. Everything you do to your video in the edit bay should be done for the viewer’s benefit.
Ask yourself this question several times throughout the video editing process: What can I do to this video to convey the intended message in the most accurate and effective way possible?
In most cases, less bells and whistles deliver more bang. ♦
 
–Kris Millgate investigates outdoor and environmental issues for TV and the Web. She serves on OWAA’s board of directors. See her work at www.tightlinemedia.com.
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