Cutaways Versus Insert Shots

Cutaways and insert shots are two film editing techniques that are used to connect scenes, provide context, and/or to add visual interest to a video. For example, an interview featuring a person talking for several minutes can be pretty boring. One or more cutaways, however, can be used to show what the interviewee is talking about, adding visual interest to the film. A cutaway might feature a plant, animal, landscape, map, animation, instrument or some other object or process being described during the interview.

Insert shots are also used to provide context in a video, often showing some additional detail in a scene. For example, a medium shot might show a scientist working in the laboratory and pipetting a liquid into vials. An insert shot showing a closeup of the scientist’s hands or the pipette tip would be filmed separately and inserted into the main footage. Such edits can enhance a video by providing a new perspective or additional detail not apparent in the main footage.

The scientist videographer must plan ahead for cutaways and insert shots by filming “b-roll” footage along with the main footage. Such preparation may take a bit more time during filming and some effort during editing but is well worth it in the end.

In the following tutorial, I describe these two techniques and show how to use them in iMovie to edit video footage.

Who Should Make Videos for the Scientist?

In the video embedded below, I continue my conversation with Eric Brennan, a researcher with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service, who recently published a paper in Frontiers in Communication called “Why Should Scientists Be On YouTube? It’s All About Bamboo, Oil, and Ice Cream“.

That paper inspired us to join forces and initiate a video series to answer questions that science professionals may have about making videos. Each video focuses on a different question. In this one, we discuss who should make videos for scientists.

In case you missed it, here is the first video in the series: Why Should Scientists Use Video as a Communication Tool?

Why Should Scientists Be on YouTube?

Eric Brennan, a researcher with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service, recently published a paper in Frontiers in Communication called “Why Should Scientists Be On YouTube? It’s All About Bamboo, Oil, and Ice Cream“. Eric and I began corresponding about eight years ago, sharing our experiences making videos and encouraging other scientists to use video to communicate their work. When I saw his paper, I contacted him and suggested we collaborate on a video project.

We’ve decided to initiate a joint video series to answer questions that science professionals may have about making videos. Each video will focus on a different question. This is the first video in the series and focuses on the question of why scientists should be using video as a communication tool. Future videos will address other questions listed in Eric’s paper (Table 1).

Use Video To Tell Interesting Stories About How Science Works

When I first began making videos in 2008 about my scientific research (published on the U.S. Geological Survey’s YouTube Channel), my objective was to more widely report the findings of my projects and to help advertise my journal articles. For example, the video “Chasing the Mud” was designed to explain how I and colleagues studied the effects of the historic 2011 Mississippi River flood and to summarize the results of our paper published in Nature Geoscience. When I was interviewed by a news agency about the paper, I provided the link to the video, which the journalist then embedded in the news article. The video, which has had almost 12,000 views, thus served to augment the academic article in a format that was more accessible to the general public.

However, beyond reporting the results of our study, that video also featured the unique wetlands we visited during our sampling surveys and showed how we used a helicopter to access remote study sites in the Mississippi River Delta Complex. In later videos, such as this one about a study conducted in mangrove forests in Belize, I often emphasized my experiences doing fieldwork and the methods required. In other words, these videos showed the viewer how science gets done and some of the interesting places where scientists work.

Since those early videos, I’ve tried to encourage colleagues to make videos highlighting interesting aspects of their work and to avoid boring the viewer with a lot of data. Another point is that you can make a video about your work even before the final results are in or before you publish the paper. For example, you can make a video about why your research is important to society, to describe your field of research, obstacles you’ve overcome, your unique research setting or methods, or to overturn stereotypes about scientists. All such videos can be done without research results and are likely to be more interesting to the average viewer.

A recent essay and video illustrate my point nicely. Adrian Smith, who studies ants, filmed himself being bitten. In the video (see below), he basically answered the question as to whether it would hurt to be bitten by a trap-jaw ant, which can shut its jaws “faster than almost any other recorded animal movement”. In the essay, Smith said that this experience changed his outlook on communicating science. He realized that, by mainly focusing on conveying the results of scientific endeavors, he had missed opportunities to tell more compelling stories about his experiences doing science. By emphasizing a fascinating observation or answering a question that viewers might have, it’s possible to reach a wider audience and interest them in your research topic. His video below shows an example of this approach.

You, too, can take advantage of this approach and make a video about an interesting or inspiring aspect of your scientific research. Below, I repeat a list of suggested topics to use as the focus of a brief video.

  • Share your joy about doing science.
  • Describe what you like most about being a scientist or your particular science discipline.
  • Talk about a challenge that you faced and how you overcame it.
  • Describe a failure and what you learned from it.
  • Show where you work (laboratory or field) and explain what you like about it.
  • Demonstrate your passion for your scientific topic and why you think it is important.
  • Describe how your curiosity led you to a discovery.
  • Talk about scientific integrity and how you strive to avoid bias.
  • Point out the challenge of finding sufficient funding to conduct your research.
  • Show how your research is helping a local community cope with a health or environmental issue.
  • Have citizens, resource managers, farmers, doctors, or other end users of science information describe the importance of your research to them.

Metafact

There is a new fact-checking platform for science questions being developed called Metafact. This effort is designed to make valid science information readily accessible to the average citizen. To accomplish this objective, the platform matches verified scientists and experts to questions posed by users. So far, Metafact has verified 11,398 experts in 389 specialties from 555 institutions.

I visited the founder, Ben McNeil, at the University of New South Wales in 2015. At the time, Ben had just initiated a program called Thinkable to help researchers find funding. I was in Australia to attend a conference and made time to visit Ben to give a talk and to discuss science communication (see this post for more details).

To find out more about this new effort and to support it, check out Metafact’s Kickstarter page. To sign up as an expert, go here.