Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sorry for the absence, I've been working a lot lately but I'll have some more posts soon that I'm very excited about.  In the meantime, check out this very good article from CNN.

What does it take to make a good reality show?

What do you think?

Monday, October 3, 2011

THE PERFECT STRINGOUT by Steven Friedland


“The Perfect Stringout”
A blog by Steven Friedland

So, what is a stringout?  Simply put, a stringout is a sequence of shots that a Story Producer assembles and gives to an Editor to serve two purposes; 1) to give the Editor a “head start” on getting through the raw material that has been shot, and, 2) to give the Editor a “road map” on what the story of a specific scene should be.  Very often, the raw material of a reality show is random and unfocused, and decisions need to be made early on as to what the focus of scene should be.  The Story Producer will look at all the material for an episode and, together with the Supervising Story Producer/Co-Executive Producer, create a story arc of the episode.  The Story Producer will then sort through the raw footage and start creating sequences from the raw material that reinforce the central story arc to the episode.

Just so you know, I am writing this blog from the point of view of an Editor talking to a Story Producer.  Every production company handles story and stringouts in different fashions.  Often, a Story Producer will have to submit their stringouts to a Supervising Story Producer and get notes on them before an Editor ever sees them.  Other production companies prefer the Editor to watch ALL the raw and it is the job of the Story Producer to only pull interview bites for the Editor.  There are no “hard and fast rules” to the stringout, so if you are called upon to create one, use your best judgement.  And know, a stringout should be treated as an expression of your creativity.

So, what goes into “the perfect stringout”?  Well, that can be a bit tricky.  As an Editor, I prefer my stringouts to include any, and all, footage that could possibly be included in the final sequence, but at the same time, I prefer only “the best of the best”.  That would include all the best moments of reality, the best b-roll, interview bites and insert shots.  But only “the best of the best” – meaning, use your taste and select the best takes of interview bites (especially if there are multiple takes), and the moments that best express the story in the MOST CONCISE WAY.  Be selective.  Analyze performance and nuance.  Look for reaction shots that are provocative and telling.  This is YOUR opportunity to express your storytelling skills, so be brave and assert yourself.  But also, you don’t want to overwhelm the editor with options, otherwise the editor could just look at the raw material on their own.  Your stringout DOES NOT need to be an edit.  It is simply a series of shots in a timeline.  Don’t feel you need to make it look like an edited sequence ready for television. And DON’T ADD MUSIC TO YOUR STRINGOUT - !!  it is a waste of your time.

On average, a “scene” in a typical show runs between 2-3 minutes in length.  The raw material for a scene could be 1-2 hours in length, possibly even longer.  So, I don’t think a stringout in the 15-25 minute range is outrageous.  Of course, it needs to be the right 15-25 minutes of material.    If a conversation goes off on multiple threads/tangents, select the most pertainent conversation/s to the story.  Include any conversation that you feel is pertinent to the story/theme of the episode, but  DO NOT INCLUDE every conversation.  Make choices.  Also, make sure you include ALL entrances and exits of major characters, and any greetings and goodbyes of major characters.  Though, it will ultimately be up to the editor on whether these will be included, it can be a chore to have to scour through the footage to find these moments.

But most importantly, a stringout is the foundation for a scene; the basis for what the story of the scene will ultimately be.  It will go through multiple renditions before it makes it way to the television screen or the cutting room floor.  It can be and should be used as a tool to start conversations on what is the story of a scene.  Above all, any stringout that is prepared with insight and consideration, I consider to be a perfect stringout.


 --Steven Friedland is an Avid/Final Cut Pro editor for television and feature films.  Some of his current credits include "Real Housewives of the OC," "Modern Marvels," "Life on a Wire," and the upcoming feature film "Donner Pass."