How video editors use psychology

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Video editing psychology in film is often used to send subconscious messages to the viewer, giving them a better understanding of the story. The same techniques can also be utilised in commercial video to make content more engaging.

Here are some of my favourite techniques to use in all my video projects:

The first reaction 🎥

As an editor, you will watch your footage hundreds of times, so it’s important to know how you felt the first time you saw it, as that is how the audience will feel when they first see it.

When you first review footage, sit down and watch a clip all the way through, then write down how it made you feel. When you watch through a second time, take more comprehensive notes about the actors, scenery, cinematography, or anything that stands out to you.

These notes will come in super handy further down the line, so remember to keep them organised too!

Edit speed 💨

To get the viewer on the edge of their seat, you edit a scene to be fast and frantic, not giving them a chance to think ahead of the action. If you want them to feel calm and cool, you edit it slowly and smoothly.

For example, a nature documentary about a mother and a baby bird could be slow and peaceful, which feels safe and calm. Then a snake springs out of nowhere and the edit is quick, frantic and jarring creating that sense of danger and anxiety for the viewer.

A common technique in horror and thriller is the slow edit speed before a jump scare or reveal. The viewer can feel as if they are the one slowly tip toeing down the corridor, in anticipation of something scary lurking around the corner.

Blinking 👀

Blinking is a good indicator of how long your mind spends on one thought. As an editor, you need to give the viewer enough time to take in the information.

If a person in your scene has just heard some good news, their thought process could be: shocked — blink — taking in the information — blink — thinking of the consequences — blink.

If you want your audience to stay shocked, you cut before they have time to take it all in.

If there are no people in your scene, watch each bit of footage and see where you naturally blink.

Always watch over your work with fresh eyes, whether it be the next day, week or month. If you can, get someone else to watch too and pay attention to their reactions and timings, often there will be reactions that you never expected.

J cuts 👂

J cuts refer to when the audio starts before the visual does.

This is a particularly good technique to use in conversations. You see one person talking, then you hear the next person but take a moment to actually show them speaking. This makes the viewer feel like they’re the third person in the conversation, as if they’ve taken a moment to turn their head after hearing the words.

This technique is used to prepare the viewer for what’s about to come next. For example, imagine a beautiful forest, then you start to hear a kettle whistling. You’re not going to be surprised when the next shot is of a kettle!

J cuts are also great for misleading the audience. Imagine that instead of the kettle whistling, you hear big slow booming sounds like a dinosaur walking… but the next shot is actually a toddler running in slow motion, ice lolly in hand and an exhausted parent following scrambling behind.

Eye tracking 🎯

This technique is when the subject of each shot lines up with the subject of the next shot. Meaning the viewer doesn’t have to move their eyes across to find the next piece of action.

A great example of this are the first 25 seconds of the Altered Carbon Season 1 Trailer. They use the technique throughout the show which makes it feel cinematic and futuristic.

Breaking rules 🚫

Rules like continuity editing and match cuts are often used to make a scene feel smooth or natural.

Films like Pulp Fiction that are not presented in chronological order, will always be a prime example of how to break the continuity rule.

In scenes with conversations, the camera will stay on one side of the characters, not crossing the invisible 180 degree line. However because this is the norm, breaking the rule creates tension in the audience, and they anticipate that something bad has happened/is going to happen.

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