Don’t Be Afraid of Black
Watch virtually any movie trailer and you’re going to see a whole lot of nothing. That is to say, you’re going to see a black screen pretty frequently. It’s used to set a tempo, a mood, gain narrative distance between shots and is a generally useful tool, especially in short form editing. Yet literally every time I’ve cut to black in the middle of a piece, a producer or client fought me on it. Hard. Part of it might be their initial instinct that it was simply a missing shot in a rough cut, but the majority of clients’ aversion to using black is the exact reason I like to use it:
Nothing quite gets an audience’s attention like… well, nothing. It’s a statement whether or not you intend it to be (and considering you’re supposed to be the one deciding which statements to make, you should probably intend it to be). The sad fact is that statements seem risky to producers and clients, especially in corporate and advertising, and anything bold or unique flies in the face of the moderate, ass-covering instincts of anyone in a position to be blamed for your creative choices.
But I am, right now, officially declaring cutting or fading to black as an established, if powerful, technique that doesn’t just belong at the end of a scene or video. If it’s used correctly it shouldn’t cause any raised eyebrows or clutched pearls. It can be used for openings (analogous to a slow pan or dolly onto a subject), to dramatically separate contextually similar but disparate shots in a montage (as is used in movie trailers so often), to be a big mic drop in a high energy short form piece, or in a multitude of other ways. It can be used to create distance, mystery, or a stomach drop of a moment. It may take some editing instincts to know where to best use these techniques, but the actual execution is so simple that even a novice can’t screw it up. It’s a lot of oomph in an easy to use package.
In the end it isn’t even about the specific technique. You shouldn’t be afraid of black because you shouldn’t be afraid of anything. Great editors are the ones willing to take big swings. In post production we have the luxury of getting multiple chances to get it right, so there is no need to worry that big swings sometimes turn into big whiffs. Boldness is how new styles emerge, new techniques get noticed, and the progress of art marches on.