The Bully commercial is a perfect early lesson in editing. With 61 minutes of total footage it isn't an overwhelming challenge. The story is pretty straight forward too. Still, there is a lot of work to do. Editors will need to create a mean Bully character using only one line of dialog. Editors will also need to build a Monster using only sound effects.
Let’s take a look at some of the common places where people struggle with editing this commercial. We’ll also give you some advice on how we think this commercial can be improved from the official cut.
Billy is playing with his favorite toy car outside when the Bully pulls up in a BMW. Billy’s mom calls him in for dinner. As he runs inside, the Bully takes the opportunity to run over Billy’s toy car - just for fun. Not nice! Billy seems helpless. Then a monster shows up and settles the score. Justice has been served!
A shot will evolve during filming. As directors shoot multiple takes they get a clearer picture in their mind of what is being recorded. A good editor works hard to understand the way a director intends a scene to be cut together.
When your director gives you takes 4,5, and 6 it's important to ask yourself, “what has changed between take 1 and take 6?” The answer is usually:
In takes 1A-1 and 1A-2 we don’t have a tilt down. It was added only in takes 3-6. This is a strong indication that the director saw the tilt down as an improvement over a static wide shot.
Almost nobody uses that tilt down, and you don't have to either. The camera move is too slow for a commercial. Even the director didn’t use it! Still, as an editor you have to notice these kinds of details. Later on we'll show you a spot that most editors miss on the first pass.
Editors learn early on that a cut looks smoother and is more invisible if you cut on action. For example if you cut in the middle of someone standing up, or sitting down, the cut will be smoother than if you cut while they are sitting still.
When transitioning between scenes there is another type of cut which also hides the edit. This type of edit is called a match cut. Two shots can be “matched” together based on something they have in common, like for example:
Match cuts are a difficult skill to master because they require out of the box thinking. In Bully editors have a great opportunity for a match cut when the BMW shows up. Billy’s toy car can match the Bully’s real one.
Sometimes editors need to think with their ears! When you have no dialog to work with music and sound effects become more important to telling the story.
When the Bully pulls up in his BMW you’ve got a great opportunity to give him a personality based on what music he is listening to in the car. This is called diegetic music because it'll sound like it is coming out of his radio. We think of Snoop Dog in this spot because of the Bully’s license plate, “BIGDOG”.
In this example we added the cue Peer Gynt by Grieg (classical music) over Billy’s shots. Contradiction is funny!
Other sounds matter in this scene too. Adding car revving, and toy crunches will do a lot to show how badly the Bully wants to run over Billy’s toy car.
There are story points that need to happen in order for your cut to make sense:
Your job as the editor is to figure out which of these story points is the most fun, and then make a meal out of it. “Make a meal out of it” is an industry phrase which means taking a small story point and turning it into a big one. Like taking an appetizer and turning it into the main course.
Sometimes that means more reaction shots after a joke, drama, action, or a scare. Sometimes it means adding sound effects. When a director says “make a meal out of that” they are telling you to build up a moment.
In the list above the director might tell you to “make a meal out of the Bully deciding to run over the toy.”
Finally, let's to come back to this idea of how to watch dailies. The most common mistake we see is editors not using this shot of Billy turning around and seeing the monster. This shot is at the end of camera set up S. The shot is important because this is our first interaction with the monster. Don't forget to add it in!
Each time metal is boiled down it gets stronger. So called slag, made up of waste and imperfections, gets boiled out. The metal that remains is more pure, stronger, and smaller in quantity. So it goes with editing a commercial.
Producers often edit a commercial in to a few different durations. For example, they’ll make a 0:30, 1:00, 1:30 out of the same material.
The Bully commercial was shot to be about 1:30. If your cut is longer than that, it’s not a bad idea to try and get it down to 1:30.
If you want a little bit more of a challenge a good exercise is to try and cut it down to a 60 second spot. You’ll be amazed just how much can be boiled out.
Some places you can consider cutting are:
How do you fit in that monster head turn? By compressing the walk up the stairs. This is the only way.
If you enjoyed editing Bully I encourage you to see how others have cut the scene. You can also upload your cut to be reviewed by a professional editor.
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