The Art and the Craft of Cutting Docs Told Through Timeline Tuesday

By in Timeline Tuesday, Video Editing

As soon as I read the first #TimelineTuesday I knew I was going jump in. To me the timeline is the most illustrious and informative description of a sequence. So important that more of my Composer Monitor is taken up by the timeline then any other tool on that screen.

Timeline of award-winning PBS FRONTLINE documentary 'Bush's War'

I think of the Media Composer’s timeline as the EDL of non-linear editing. Back in the days of GVG and CMX I read EDLs and would see the program in my mind, now I do the same with a sequence. I strongly believe cutting is an art and it is important to share the editor’s craft with others—especially within the Avid Media Composer community. So presented here is my story with #TimelineTuesday.

Just look at any timeline and one can see the pace, the rhythms and the problems. If the tracks of audio and video are consistent, one can see things like—when there is too much narration or too little. (Can there ever be too little narration?)

In the image on the left my narration is on track four. You can see how there is a frequency to that—and all other tracks. On the right, there’s a close up of how I lay out my tracks.

When I started posting I didn’t have a focus to my tweets, and occasionally I’d just post a Vine video or I posted finished timelines, or timelines that I thought would have some visual impact.

Later, I felt that the shots did not portray the full dynamic quality of a timeline. Timelines grow and change. I wanted to capture that, so started to post different images.

In some I illustrated a progression…

…and in others a comparison.

Sometimes I would tweet a particular element of my cutting style, like an “audio-fugue.”

Then I got into this whole crazy idea of showing timelines in stacks.

I quickly went to more complicated stacks. The goal was to share how my cuts build.

I wanted to start a conversation with these posts. I like to think of myself as part of the #TuesdayTimeline crowd, and I enjoy the community of editors willing to share.  In fact I am always surprised how many of my posts are commented on and re-tweeted. And on Facebook they frequently cause opportunities for discussion.

However I must confess that many weeks I am too busy to post – even though I’d like to. The pressure of a FRONTLINE deadline can sidetrack tweeting.

Sometimes I go “old-school” and show timelines in person (while teaching documentary story structure and the use of visual and aural systems in the narrative).

Eventually I started sharing time-lapses of the timeline.

Posting a time-lapse really shows the progression of a building timeline. I enjoy these and plan to make more of them. Maybe with audio commentary added to put them in a better context.

In the end it doesn’t matter how complex or simple the timeline is, share what you have and we can all learn from each other’s examples.

Let’s grow #TimelineTuesday. If you have any questions about my documentary work or my timelines, please leave a comment below or hit me up on twitter @stevecutsdocs. And let’s have some fun along the way. See you all on twitter.

All cool cats love things that tweet.

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Steve Audette, ACE has been making documentaries for over 20 years. With more than 60 film credits, his work has contributed to many Emmy Award-winning documentaries, as well as Peabody, Polk and DuPont Columbia Award-winning programs. In 2016 Steve was nominated for an Eddie Award from American Cinema Editors, in the category of Best Documentary Television Editor for the Frontline documentary “The Choice.” In 2015 the FRONTLINE documentary Steve edited “United States of Secrets” won overall Best Documentary at the News and Documentary Emmy’s.