What can a music video with over a BILLION views teach us about video editing?
As of this writing, the music video for “Uptown Funk” (Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars) is the 7th most watched video on Youtube of all time.
The song spent 14 consecutive weeks at #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100.
In January 2015, “Uptown Funk” streamed a record 2.34 million times in a single week in the UK.
Back across the pond, it set a new record for the highest number of streams in one week in the US – 4.8 million of them.
In a week.
If you haven’t both heard the song and seen the video, stop whatever you’re doing and watch it here, right now.
If it’s been a while since you’ve seen it, watch it again.
You know you want to.
Now that the song’s hook has firmly embedded itself in your brain, here are some thoughts on the video’s editorial style that you can apply to your own editing.
Wanna watch the video again?
Yes, you should do that. I’ll wait here.
And we’re back.
Before we get into it, avoid the trap of thinking “this stuff only applies to music videos,” because these ideas have direct application to everything from the driest, most clinical corporate video to the most lavishly budgeted, self-loving-auteur-driven feature film.
Check it out:
1. PRACTICE FUNCTIONAL VS. BEAT-DRIVEN CUT POINTS
FUNCTIONAL: The video’s cutting leans heavily on the classic functional music vid style – snappy yet invisible cuts that are driven by the actions within the shots themselves.
Most times on the Functional end, cut points do NOT hit on specific beats of the music. If they do, it’s usually coincidence and that’s it.
Wide shot at 0:25, guys take a couple steps and sing “Stylin…”
CUT to medium closeup of Bruno Mars singing “…winin’, livin’ it up in the…”
CUT to wide shot of all the guys just before they raise their arms to point towards the sky, singing “…city.”
Over and over again, the cut point is not The Thing – it’s the guys strutting, then Mars’ lyrics and choreography, then the group’s single choreographed motion.
The on-screen content is The Thing, and the cut points get the heck outta the way to showcase it.
BEAT-DRIVEN: Then at specific points, the cut points step up the pace.
And put themselves more in your face.
Puttin’ a billion viewers in their place.
(Sorry, I’ve watched the video too many times – at some point you can’t help but lapsing into rhyme.)
From 0:58-1:05, the cut points speed up and start hitting directly on the beats – first on the quarter notes (one, two, three, four), then after a measure it switches to eighth notes (one-and two-and three-and four-and).
But there’s a very specific reason the cuts move to being “in your face on the beat” where they hadn’t been before – the drums and sound effects in the music drive that rhythm, and the visual cut points follow.
Many younger editors will try some fancy flashy cuts that don’t exist in the sequence for any obvious reason.
“They look cool, but why don’t they feel right?”
Everything’s gotta have a legitimate reason to be there, my friend. If there’s something specific driving them, those flashy cuts can land a real punch to the viewer.
For example, at 0:58, there’s a rising synthesized siren sorta thing that signals the beginning and end of the rhythm build. It’s the same drum build you hear every single time in every dance track ever released these days. Build build build, the drums add hand claps on the eighth notes, and then they drop out, leaving a sonic hole:
Mars sweeps his arms out at 1:05: “Don’t believe me? Just watch.”
Check it out though – at that very moment of the word “don’t”, the cut point moves back to the Functional mode, because it comes before the downbeat, beat one.
What lands on the downbeat?
Mars’ arm movement, NOT the edit point.
And we’re back to Functional cutting, letting the action in the frame strut its stuff.
2. AVOID “ONE OF THESE THINGS IS NOT LIKE THE OTHER…”
The video has another couple instances of Beat-Driven cutting, though they’re actually sections of flicker cuts.
At both 0:15 and 4:25, Producer/Co-Writer Mark Ronson yells into the camera – as motivated by the yell in the music track.
Those are the only two times that the visual edit pulls me out of the moment.
Ok, actually three: there’s one moment at 2:37 where the camera spins on the Z-axis and then shifts back before the end of the shot. For as tight and precise as everything else in the cut is, that ending camera movement is sloppy.
It bumps at me every time I see it.
Back to the flicker cuts on Ronson’s closeups at 0:15 and 4:25.
Candidly, were I cutting the video, I would have recommended doing something else than those flicker cuts, and here’s why:
Flicker cuts are too modern a technique for what’s been set up here musically or visually.
If you’re cutting to a sliced-up dubstep track where the bass is wobbling all over the place, flicker cut away.
But not here.
The instrumentation of the song and the production design of the video is set firmly in the 1980’s – fuzzy synthesizers and vocalized bass line in the music track, with sonic homage to the 1970’s and ‘60s via the James Brown-like horn section and stupidly funky slap bass.
The visuals feature polyester suits, a decidedly old-school white stretch limo, and a hair salon with posters of flattop hairdos that would make Vanilla Ice weep in happiness.
Even the camera motion at places like 1:09 and 1:27 evokes vinyl spinning on a turntable.
The flicker cuts don’t fit in this wide-lapeled world that would never have dreamed of performing that many one-frame edits in its analog, 1” CMX-driven editing suites.
(If you’ve never used that thing called video tape in your editing, you won’t get that last sentence.)
3. MAKE VISUAL ELEMENTS POP WITH SOUND DESIGN.
So now that I’ve bagged on the flicker cuts, there are a couple elements in them worth pointing out.
On the tail end of both sets of flicker cuts, there’s a whip pan layered underneath Ronson’s flickering closeup at the very end.
If you look at the cut with no sound, the whip pan is very subtle.
Turn the sound back on, and the whip pan helps the transition land smack-dab on beat four of the musical measure where Ronson does his yell.
Listen to the instrumentation of the song at that point – specifically at 0:16 on beats three and four, there’s a reversed snare drum that lands right on beat four with the whip pan.
It’s a perfect example of a visual element being bolstered by a strong sound effect that fits right into the music.
ANY project with an otherwise bland transitional element can get an instant shot in the editorial arm by pairing it with the right sound design.
4. EVERYBODY LOVES A BOOKEND.
Here’s the other thing that anchors those flicker cuts in the cut anyway: the fact that they’re used as transitional elements, bookending the start and end of the piece.
And that will go a long, long way to enhance the impact of your editing – using a specific music cue or visual element at both the beginning and the end of a piece will tie everything together like a ribbon on a birthday present.
The audience either sees or feels something to the effect of “Oh, I recognize that. I’ve been here before.”
Bookending of elements is a great way to bring closure to your edit, and who doesn’t like that?
And at the end of the day, this song has so many crazy good things going for it, I’ll happily live with the flicker cuts.
And so will all those other folks who viewed this video over a Billion-with-a-B times.
Crazy good stuff for you to put to use in your projects.
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Jeff Bartsch is the founder of The Power Edit and teaches and edits television in Los Angeles. His editing clients include ABC, NBC, Universal, Disney, ESPN, MTV, and many others. His book Edit Better: Hollywood-Tested Strategies for Powerful Video Editing is available worldwide on Amazon, Audible, Kindle, and iTunes. His commentary has been featured in TIME Magazine, USA Today, and the Associated Press.