No, the title doesn’t have a typo; to parse means “to examine closely.” Isn’t that what we do when we edit videos, messages or stories? Sometimes we sit in dimly lit rooms or coffee shops, sifting through the same material over and over just hoping the content might stir us. In most cases we leave with a rather strong desire to pass out.
Where to begin?
This question is haunting. It usually pounds over and over through our heads as countless hours are wasted digging through mounds of raw content. I have been here many times. My hope for this article is to equip you with a few tips I have leaned heavily on and that have proven most helpful in crafting stories. By no means do I know every technique or trick, but these have served me well.
Let the Premise Guide
If you spent the upfront time developing a premise and used that as a lens when shooting, you should have a fair idea of where to begin. Even if that is not the case, you could start to look at your content in light of your premise. Everything should be prioritized as to how well it sticks with or supports the premise. Many cool shots, pictures, stories, and interviews I might choose as favorites have been discarded in my quest to align with my premise. If something goes out of bounds of my premise, however awesome, a sacrifice must be made for a cleaner, richer story. Bottom line: if it doesn’t fit the premise and move you emotionally, cull it.
Learn to “Audio Chunk”
Making sense of interviews takes some experimentation. Most of my interviews are 40 minutes long and I need to have a final product, emotionally compelling with key content, just 3–5 minutes in length. With some projects, like my recent video of a serve trip to the Dominican Republic, multiple subjects ( in this case) are interviewed ranging from 20-40 minutes each! My end goal does not change and I still need to tell a compelling story in five minutes. With audio, the key is to listen to it entirely before you begin.
Before I learned to Audio Chunk I tried transcribing and logging every interview, yet it always felt like a massive waste of time. So I started to develop my own method of making sense of lengthy interviews. My “chunking” process looks something like this:
- Remember the premise!
- Get familiar with the questions asked and focus on the questions/responses that are closest to your premise.
- Open the file into a sequence.
- Start at the beginning. Right from the get-go I select my cutting tool and start to cut. First thing will be to cut away all of the silence and the filler words such as um, like, or ah.
- Cut chunks and label them individually. A good example: “When I started coming to church, wow… God did a number on me!” I would label this “Pivot point.” Chunks can be as large as a story the interviewee is recalling, or as small as people introducing themselves.
- Once you have chunked and labeled everything, you should add a new empty audio track in the same sequence.
- Start dragging and dropping the premise-building chunks into a new order on the audio track. The new order may look nothing like the original interview, but this is where the magic happens.
- Now listen to your new 4-5 minute compilation of chunks. If something doesn’t work, drag it off, move it around or bring in other chunks. Do this until you have something that really matches your premise and has an emotional pull to it. The finer nuances like breathing and space are left up to you.
If you are anything like me, a light bulb might have just gone off in your head as you realize how simple this technique makes editing interviews. It suddenly becomes tactile and easy to work with. When the next video project comes your way and you discover interviews will serve as a key component, instead of passing out from exhaustion, you may have some fun employing these new techniques.
If you’ve found a technique for parsing a ton of interview footage that has worked well with you, why not share it below in the comments?
Sloan Inns is a filmmaker for Keystone Community Church and for Boy Meets Girl Visuals. In addition to filmmaking, Sloan leads worship and is constantly explaining that his accent comes from South Africa, not Australia. You can find more of his work on his Vimeo Channel.