The Magic Behind Music Videos: An Insightful Q&A on Editing with Spencer Hord

August 16, 2023 Carlos

The Magic Behind Music Videos: An Insightful Q&A on Editing with Spencer Hord

Jim Ellis and Spencer Hord sitting on a couch after the Industry Insights podcast

Creativity has no boundaries – this is the core message behind any successful film project or music video. From conception to execution, putting together a compelling project requires ambition, time, creativity, and the editing prowess to pull it off. 

Spencer Hord is a distinguished director, editor, and digital media content producer who has worked with major corporations, including the Hyatt Hotel, Atlantic Records, and Interscope. He’s also worked on music videos with notable artists such as Wiz Khalifa, Kodak Black, Galantis, OneRepublic, and more! Spencer knows firsthand what goes into creating captivating pieces for any kind of audience and client. 

Drawing from his wealth of knowledge and experience in the creative arts field, he shares with us helpful and actionable tips to help others improve their editing. Whether you are an indie filmmaker, content creator, or film student eager to learn more about the magic of music video and film editing, continue reading and consider listening to our podcast for additional details and information (link below).

Question 1: How do you approach storytelling through editing?

The approach is simple – you must understand that you’re writing with visuals and moving images. And that there’s a developing syntax to this.

There’s a developed language that can only easily be vocalized and understood once you’re extremely familiar with how these things move and what puts them together. But the critical element that goes under-discussed with the layman and people just picking up editing is that these things should be invisible.

A good edit, a good scene may have a lot of cuts, but you don’t notice them because the flow of things – the blocking of the actors, the general directing of the scene, and the camera placement all feel natural to the moment. It needs to feel so natural to the moment that you’re never taken out of it.

You’ll find little tricks that work as you become a better editor. You can’t describe why. You just trust your gut that it’s working and know to cut. Sometimes it’s the difference between one or two frames, stepping left or right in the timeline.

I recommend you read Walter Merch. That’s all you have to read on editing. He’s edited Apocalypse Now. Francis Ford Coppola also has great books on this subject.

Question 2: What common editing techniques should every filmmaker master?

Non-invisible editing is a skill one must master. Notice editing techniques that manipulate time within the footage. 

When you consider modern techniques, you have to lean more towards motion graphics and understand that workflow because you’ll often be on a smaller team. You’ll need to know why a shot needs to be stabilized and learn what you can do with stabilizers.

In After Effects or whatever program you are using, when you’re speed ramping and stabilizing, know that that will add a layer of “alienness” to the shot specifically that adjacent shots won’t have – it will throw people out of it.

You don’t want to do that. So what you’re going to want to do after that is bring it back into that world referencing adjacent shots and how to make that throughline work and make it invisible. You can add motion blur, film grain, and compositing different things together.

That’s very important. To help bring an aesthetic into a shot that won’t distract your viewer.

Question 3: When and how should one effectively use B-roll in an edit?

Let’s talk specifically about documentaries here – or like your general branded content or interview.

B-roll should be relied upon, but it should be used sparingly. A lot of B-roll is to show and tell when someone is talking about something. You show it and get more into the mind of who’s talking. 

If your subject is walking, sitting in a chair, or if they’re doing anything action-wise, you have to understand the motivations behind why they are performing these actions. You have to find that moment in their dialogue where they looked at or thought about that specific thing or subject.

That’s when you cut to B-roll. You don’t cut right to B-roll when they say the thing or subject. Show that B-roll and get more poetic with it. Shots have their own visual language in themselves. They have their own movement, framing, and color. It’s more than just the subject matter of what your subject’s talking about.

The images and the scenes are talking, too. Listen to what the images are saying as well. Because that can direct you to the next cut that might not be as obvious. That’s what makes any director or editor worth their weight.

Question 4: What are some tips and tricks for making imperfect shots work in an edit?

That goes back to the speed ramping and stabilization and all that. I often see myself and other people trying to get a specific shot to work, to become more invisbile and cohesive, but this it just falls apart.  Sometimes, it’s just not going to happen.

If you have the creative leeway, which on some projects you just don’t, but when you do, go ahead and completely mess it up. Throw something crazy at your footage. Make it black and white, make it stand out however you can. The end result becomes a new choice to consider. 

And then you can make an aesthetic choice throughout the piece. And it might become better for it. I mean, black and white is just the first thing that comes to mind, but go crazy with it. Find a creative direction that speaks to you, especially on your more personal passion projects.

Find that aesthetic that speaks to you and make it loud, in these spec situations specifically. And things like music videos are very colorful and have that extra playfulness. You can definitely play around with your shots.

Question 5: What roles do sound design and music play in your editing process, and how do you use them to enhance the storytelling?

Sound design is often ignored till the end, and that’s okay because you can create sounds almost out of nothing. Taking a microphone out and getting some background noise and other noises you need is a budget-friendly option.

But that being said, I see a lot of people not, taking the time on set to shut off the AC or the refrigerator that’s getting that buzz in it, and you’re just gonna mess everything up. Once you get everyone off set, take two to three minutes to capture the room tone. 

During a recording, while you are in the moment, make note of when someone misspoke or stutters.  This will make it easy to remember when you need ADR (Automated or Additional Dialog Replacement). You’re not always going to have a script supervisor first AD, so you’re going to have to be alert and pay close attention to what people are saying. 

Try to have a good relationship with your boom operator or just have a mic handy so you can grab these recordings before leaving the set.

And you want to give them those recordings early enough to ensure they have the bandwidth to do interesting things and surprise you. 

Sound is cool because you can create stuff out of nothing. It’s like 3D rendering – 24 frames a second. It’s just such a different world, for sound designers. So try to understand and help them.

Question 6: What is most important regarding color grading? And do you have any advice for filmmakers on effectively approaching it?

Get a good monitor so you can see colors. Go outside, let your eyes adjust, come back, look at your screen. Save money in your budget for a top-quality monitor, especially for someone who’s an expert.

If you want something that’s shot on an excellent camera, go the distance and get a color  grade on it before sharing with potential clients. The second part of that is something I learned later on – you’re going to have to know a little bit about color theory and how it works, so when you’re talking with the client, you can bring these points up. You don’t want to send off a final cut to one of them, and you get back something you do not like. And then, The budget’s blown or you don’t know how to talk to them about getting what you want.

Question 7: How do you select the right pacing and rhythm for your edits?

With music videos, I don’t select it. This comes from the aether, my muse or whatever you want to call it. God. Trust your creative instincts like.

That being said, there are music videos where you have to go with the rhythm of a song. My challenge to people in that situation and myself is to break the rhythm, and if it works, you’ve found something special. And a lot of people cut on certain commonalities like snare drums and high hats. Those types of cuts are very expected and they can often take you out of it, especially if you cut on lower kick drums.

Question 8: What common mistakes do filmmakers make in post-production? How can they be avoided?

Not separating your assistant editor’s brain from your editor’s brain. Not everyone has an assistant editor; sometime you need to fill the role of both editor and assistant editor. I always do both, for instance. I don’t think I’ve ever had an assistant editor.

Keep yourself organized. If you have to conform and transcode everything, just know that that’s not you as an editor; that’s you as an assistant editor, you have to separate those two people in the process to set yourself up as the editor into a mode where you can write effectively and can play around with things, and know where they’re located and you know what the end goal is.

And you can keep the bigger picture in mind and be as creative as possible. That’s probably the biggest mistake in not being organized enough to get to a point where, oh, all of a sudden, you do have a budget for a color grade. They can’t even work with the stuff because it’s so unorganized, and you might be behind schedule because it’s just not organized.

So do yourself a favor and save time by separating those two personalities and processes.

Question 9: What advice would you give aspiring filmmakers on building a network and creating opportunities in the industry? 

Networking events are cool and fine, but that’s not your network. Your network is who you’ve worked with the most after like five to 10 years. You know, finding people who are working hard, delivering, and not flaking.

That whole networking buzzword is a lie. It’s not your network. Maybe one in a hundred people finds a good network contact at those things. That’s great. But usually, what it does is it leads to a job, and you get to work with these people for years, and then they have your back in the future.

That’s your network. Build solid relationships with these types of people. Go off to another company or start your own thing. Keep relationships with these people. Maybe they’ll hire you as a freelancer or whatever, but never drop the ball. And if they don’t do the same, that’s your network. You only need 10 people.

That’s a lot of people. You only need two or three, to be honest. If you have a lot of skills. But yeah, don’t try and think of your network as just a hundred to 500, you know, Facebook group or whatever. If it’s 10 people you’ve worked with for a decade, then that’s all you need, and that’s how you should be looking at it.

For more information on Spencer Hord, be sure to listen to Industry Insights, where he shares additional information and details about his career and personal life.


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