Follow-up on my recent editing post…why I hate dissolves

I try not to use a lot of special effects in my work. I don’t need to generally, because most of what I do is narrative in nature and I find that effects just tend to be distracting to the subject matter. In my younger days yes, I relied on effects to jazz things up, but not so much anymore. Nowadays I prefer lots of cuts in my work even to the point of cutting from black to titles and from titles to black and then cutting to actual video. I like, when I can, to cut out of a sequence, go to black then cut back into the next sequence, which is generally a new thought or transition in content. I like the energy you get when cuts are used…not real fast cutting necessarily, but one image changing to another, to another…

If I’m picking and trimming the clips that I’m editing together just so, the whole sequence moves along with the narrative aiding and abetting the audio part of the production. If the cuts aren’t working, then it almost always comes down to I need to shoot more material, so I schedule another shoot. For me, it seems to work out that I never shoot exactly what I need the first time out. That’s because during editing, when I’m actually creating the story, I start having ideas for shots – and I don’t deny myself when it comes to shooting more and not settling for less, meaning what I have on hand. That’s why I’m returning to New York City in a couple of weeks to pick up shots I’ve been adding to my list while editing my new film, “From Talking To Playing”. I’m not wild about a 7 hour bus ride and the whole lot of gear I’ll need to manhandle and drag around once I get there, but it’s got to be done. I don’t even carry a clothes bag on these trips. My clothes are packed in spaces between my microphones, lights, etc.

I’m digressing.

So what does this have to do with hating dissolves? Well, if I were to rationalize and say, well I can probably use this OK shot if I blend (dissolve) from it to another OK shot, maybe bring up the music and just stretch the footage as much as I can, maybe even freeze the last frame of a clip to stretch it out more, well, yeah, I’ve covered my audio but it’s dull, dull, dull. And any god fearing fellow filmmaker would laugh at the hack moves I was laying on them. They’d know it was just illustrating. So for me, using dissolves this way is the way of the lazy, maybe even the way of the coward… It’s so easy to be swayed by the siren call of dissolves to smooth out the bad cutting. And even worse, I’ve found that once you start dissolving from clip to clip in a sequence, it becomes difficult to return to cuts. So now you’re stuck in the gauzy visual equivalent of elevator music. Lotus eaters.

I don’t really hate dissolves. I just think they can be overused or used inappropriately. If there’s a strong reason to use them, one that amplifies the narrative great. Or to signal a sense that time has passed, well double-great. But if all you’re doing is smearing video together to “cover” your audio, grab your camera and head out for some fresh air, and fresh ideas.

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