How to Cut A Musical

I’m sorry…what is this article about?

Yes, yes, yes…I know what you’re saying –

“Jeff, I’m an editor. I work on testimonial videos, commercials for products or events, or maybe (if I’m lucky and have an unrelenting desire to work on a single project for 9 to 12 months) a movie. I don’t DO musicals. That’s…that’s not even a thing, is it?”

Well, I’d like to answer your question with another question: Do you not DO musicals because they don’t come up or you’re unsure of how to go about editing one?

Good question Jeff.

Thank you hypothetical audience/internal Jeff. The honest truth is yes, you’re right, a musical related video might seem like a daunting task. Whether it’s in the style of classic showtune musicals (like our 2017 Christmas Video, which you can watch HERE) or a more modern music video (which I don’t have a link for but…honestly do I need to?), having a producer hand you a stack of takes, B-Roll, and a music track might make you apprehensive. How do you go about assembling this mass of content in a coherent, high energy, entertaining way?

The truth is: the same way you’d edit any other video.

Make it fast, make it fun, and make it well edited…oh and there’s singing…don’t forget that.

What? Are you serious? That’s what you were leading to?

It might seem like the “easy answer” to say you approach it the same way you’d handle any other video project, but honestly it’s true. When we decided to make a musical for our Christmas video this year, I was very apprehensive. I knew there’d be multiple takes of the performer lip syncing to their pre-recorded vocal track (yeah, no “Hugh Jackman Les Mis Live Singing” type malarkey here!), and these takes would run the normal filming gambit of wides, mediums and close-ups.

Also, I knew there’d be reaction shots from the other characters around those who are singing, cuts in the takes where a single-long take wasn’t possible but was attempted, and then the normal color/grade/audio mix/vfx needed to complete the look (yeah, there’s VFX in our Christmas Video…go back and watch and comment if you know where they are).

I sat staring at my screen for a good long minute, trying to figure out how I was going to bring this all together in a way that wouldn’t be an absolute disaster. That’s when it dawned on me: just start editing like it was an interview.

The pre-recorded music tracks became my boom/lapel mic track and the takes became my normal multi-cam setups. I took all the footage associated with a particular song, synchronized them together (grateful the cameras were recorded their on-board mic audio to aid in synchronizing), and started picking and choosing my takes like one would pick between a medium and a close-up.

Boom! Easy.

I sometimes question the things I happily agree to do.

Boom, goes the dynamite.

Once I realized I was seriously overthinking the whole process, the entire video came together very quickly and quite well considering the fast turnaround time. I used the knowledge and processes of what I do on a daily basis and adapted it to a project style I’ve rarely worked in.

I do realize however, if you work regularly cutting 30-second commercials, an attempt at cutting a suspense thriller might not be as easy as syncing your footage and choosing your angles. But for me, it was the starting point I needed in order to get going in the right direction and maybe it’ll work for you on your next project.