Tricks For Editing A Long Speech

The problem:

    – different takes: you have footage of someone saying a long speech, but for whatever reason you don’t have a completely usable take with the entire speech. This could be because the actor dropped a line, or stumbled over part of a line, someone could jostled the camera, or another camera issue, or there could be a technical issue with the sound, like a dog barking in the background or a sampling problem where the sound cuts out. You have to stitch together two takes. But how?
    – speech too long: you have a good take, maybe only one, but the speech as written is just too long. The audience may lose focus when they watch the scene. You may or may not need to cut some of the middle of the speech. But how can you integrate the two or more pieces of the take left over?


Use Multiple Angles:
Your basic editing, you’re cutting between cameras for the same speech. If you only had one camera, it will of course be for a different take – with a consistent performance from the actor you can cut the sound from one single take into another if you have to in order to avoid differences in sound quality. This obviously requires some advanced planning since you’d need to have shot this when on location in the first place!

Cutaways: while the speaker’s audio continues, cut to:

  • a reaction shot of the listener. This is pretty much covered under “multiple angles”: the footage you took of the other actor, listening while the person is speaking. Since their mouth is not moving, it could well be from another take and they could therefore be reacting to a different line, so be careful it makes sense! Reporters do this all the time; sometimes faking the reaction footage of themselves after the interview, as famously depicted by William Hurt in the film “Broadcast News.”
  • a photo of the thing the person is talking about (especially for documentaries – like the “Ken Burns Effect”)
  • an object in the same venue as the speaker – for example, the dialog is in a cafe; you show the napkin dispenser… or one that could plausibly be there, if you didn’t film it originally (pickup shot road trip!). Good for developing atmosphere.
  • a totally random other shot – this has to do with Eisensteinian theory of continuity, but basically you pick something that the audience can relate on some metaphorical level to the situation or dialog or character

If none of that is going to work, you’re stuck with a shot of the speaker. So we’re down to:

Dissolve into same shot:
Cut for sound, omitting some footage between two takes — that is cut the dialog so it sounds good, and then adjust the video. The simplest non-jarring transition is a dissolve between the two takes. Popular in documentaries.

Mirror the shot on the next take:
This is similar to the dissolve except it lets you cut between two takes of the same shot. I saw this in The Aristocrats (2005), directed by and I think edited by Paul Provenza. He took a shot of a comedian talking, and cut directly to the same shot that had been flipped on the vertical axis, so left is right. If the shot is done slightly lopsided, or especially if you mirror AND zoom the shot a little, it looks like a different camera.