Lots of Edits for a “Little Mix” — Martin Craswell Crafts Long-Form Music Shows

By in Timeline Tuesday, Video Editing

I was a senior editor at a small London-based production company. We specialized in music TV: live shows and documentaries. Editing a concert video for British girl group Little Mix turned out being the last project I worked on before the company fell into liquidation.

Over my five years at the company, I worked on every type of music content imaginable. After studying film at university and starting as an assistant editor, then I became a well-qualified and well-versed editor. Essentially, I was given the opportunity to practice every varying technique of music TV editing in Avid, Premiere and Final Cut.

This lead me to the way I now cut live music. Avid is the only platform I feel truly comfortable with, like an old friend. It’s relaxing to know how intuitive and natural the system is and the stability it offers.

We shot the Little Mix show on Sony FS7/F55s at 50fps for the option of slow-motion when we needed it. I was DIT for the shoot, too — I like to go down to the shoot in some capacity or another to feel the vibe and understand things better for the transcoding/syncing process.

Avid transcoded everything down to DNxHD 36 for the offline, and the AutoSequence option sunk the cameras by time-of-day timecode. I sunk all the cameras myself and organized the project the way I like — when I have the time to do this, I find it immeasurably more useful to know exactly where everything is and how I want it.

My edits are all derived from a single sync map — so no multigroups. All cameras are stacked on top of each other, with a few empty tracks below for the edit. I section every song individually and, before cutting anything, I watch every single angle and add markers for moments I like or know I’m going to use — the higher the concentration of markers, the more I like that moment.

Once everything’s been viewed, the edit begins. I’ll start by building things around the moments I like, and over the course of a few hours, the song comes together.

You may ask why I use Avid for this. The way I edit isn’t specifically attuned to a particular NLE. But I’d say that makes the choice even more important. Since I don’t use any overriding software feature, it has to be about the platform and where I’m most relaxed.

Watching every camera angle always takes the most time. But for me, it’s absolutely necessary. For example, before the Little Mix show, I’d been editing the MTV show Live Lockdown, which uses only eight cameras, meaning this pre-edit watch is a shorter process. But for Little Mix, we had 20 cameras, so a lot of time was spent just watching. And I can confidently say I’ve watched every single angle — more than 32 hours of footage.

On a basic level, this means I definitely find all the little gems of a show. But beyond that, it gives me the ability to think about every cut. For me, I’m considering everything in a cinematic way — I almost come to it with a feature-film frame of mind: introducing characters, creating a narrative, steering emotion, or controlling tension and pace. With live music there’s less control had during the shoot, as compared to a live-action film or TV drama. But I don’t feel like that’s any reason why the edit shouldn’t be any less considered.

Multigroup editing offers a great way to make instant decisions and tweak them after. In my five years at a production company, I saw freelancers come and go, and it struck me that the majority of live music was cut on what looks good, with less consideration given to the why or the when (usually because of budgets). But I’m always wanting to push things further.

Let’s have a shot/reaction-shot of the crowd to really feel the mood; let’s go to a close-up because the story behind the song demands it; let’s hold back from introducing a new camera angle until it’s absolutely necessary because its meaning is connected to a change in the protagonist’s dominance. Such things don’t always apply, but such things should certainly be considered.

And what naturally seems to happen is that you know where the edit is going. The thought process has lead to that moment so you immediately know what shot you’ll need next: “Right, I need a long shot to break the tension. This jib camera has a marker and its wide, cut that in.” And it seems that Avid is set up in the perfect way to necessitate the way I work and make it equally as streamlined.

By the end of an edit, I always revel in letting Avid take control. Relinking back to the rushes is always an instantaneous process because of its organization during the transcoding, so I rarely worry that anything has changed in my edit. Recently, Da Vinci Resolve has become a more prominent feature in our finishing workflow, and the AAF into that system seems to work like a dream. I’ve many times witnessed an assistant editor recoil in fear when trying to match back to rushes in Resolve from a project cut using Premiere.

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Martin Craswell is a freelance editor based in London specialising in music content for TV and online, from multi-camera live shows to documentary series. Working for major broadcasters such as MTV and Channel 4, along with major music labels such as Universal, Sony and Warners.