“Yes, but” is what my mentor, Bill Jersey, told me should be asked when making editing decisions. I had no idea what he was talking about. So the next time I saw him I asked him what exactly “Yes, but” means. It still didn’t make sense to me…I just wasn’t getting his point. On the third attempt to understand his editing philosophy I asked him to write it down and he did. And then he went on to explain that when connecting scenes in a documentary it is important to follow a scene with a scene that says “But” and shows a point of view that is contrasting to the scene that precedes it.
For example – let’s take a scene that may have a baseball player hit a home run to win the game. The scene ends with the team meeting him at home plate to celebrate his game winning hit. That scene could be followed by him receiving divorce papers from his wife. We see a person who is a winner on the ball field but a loser with his family. That’s a “Yes, but” edit. This kind of editing holds a viewers interest while shaking up the emotional theme of the story with a element of surprise combined with curiosity.
I started using this rule of thumb for connecting scenes in my documentaries. I soon found that it not only added tension and surprise to the sequences, but it also gave me, as the editor, a recipe to follow as I formed multiple stories throughout the story arc. There is one other option when you don’t have a “Yes, but” to connect the scene. That is “Therefore.” Connecting a scene with a “Therefore” is an option that moves a story with more information while holding your viewer’s interest to see a segment unfold. If you can transform out of the “Therefore” scene with a “Yes, but” you will have a great scene change.
The last two parts of the editing process that I use for documentaries I learned from this video below. Never use the word “And” or “And Then” when connecting scenes. This is explained very well in this video by Tony Zhou and is also what Bill Jersey meant when he taught me to always use “Yes, but” and never use “And.” The other important rule of thumb to follow comes from Alfred Hitchcock theory of “Meanwhile…back at the ranch.” Watch this video to see how this all works together and use this technique as a guide when editing your DIY documentary.