Madbunny's "How to make a basic action video 101"

You need: Song, patience.


One of the first things that I notice when reviewing videos produced by new editors is that their videos are usually less sophisticated than those made by the guys who have been around for a while.  They "feel" raw and rough around the edges; they lack the polish and smoothness that we come to expect of a superior video.  When reviewing videos submitted to this page I have noticed that what separates a beginner's video from a more sophisticated one is most commonly the lack of coherent narrative.  Many people may find themselves scratching their heads after watching a video that ignores the internal structure of the song.  Just like a driver will follow the pattern of traffic lights as they change from green to yellow to red and back to green, as listener and viewer you will naturally expect a video to support the flow of the music's own patterns.
The purpose of this guide is to help beginner music video editors better understand musical structure.

As complicated as this sounds, you don't need to have a strong background in music theory to be able to find the flow and rhythms of a piece of music; finding the structure of a song is actually a very simple thing to do, most of us do it unconsciously anyway.  If you follow a few simple steps you will be able to add a great deal of quality to your video compositions.

During the first part of this guide I will focus on the major structure of lyrical music.  Later on I can get into some of the more comprehensive details of how to find beat patterns, symmetry, and sub-harmonies.  Instrumental music can be defined using the same principals, but lyrical music gives us an easier place to start because it has a built in story.  Lyrical music saves the beginner much time and energy, because the songwriter has already done the job of setting the story, breaking it into coherent parts and timing the music to fit the narrative.  How nice of them!

Timeline terminology

Introduction or Prelude:

The introduction, or prelude would be those very first notes in the song, before the lyrics begin; often these notes make the song instantly recognizable, the part where you go "YEAH! Turn it up!" when you hear them on the radio.  Older rock songs made a point using short preludes, but they seem less common with more modern groups.  Think of the classic rock song “Start Me Up” by the Rolling Stones, or the guitar stings that start off most ACDC songs.

If you listen to live music, you will notice that as soon as a band starts to play the distinctive notes to a popular song that is when the crowd begins to cheer, obviously they've recognized the intro.

The Bridge:

The bridge is a short section of  music that connects one part of the song to the next. Not all songs have an obvious bridges, but there is almost always a key note, or series of notes.  My theory is that this lets the rest of the band know when it’s time to start playing new stuff for the song in concert.  I could be wrong.  Typically bridges occur between major points in the lyrics, so you can always use the transition from one chorus of lyrics to the next.

Use the bridge is used for you to make your transitions from beginning, to middle, to end, and possibly a coda.

The beginning:

The beginning is when you set the stage and tone of your video.  You need to spend time building your video; it’s environment, characters and whatnot.  This structure is very important in order to give an appropriate flavor to your video. Just like many people have a difficult time appreciating non-functional art, or Phillip Glass, many people will have a difficult time with your video if you skip the structure.  If you video does not have a beginning, and just jumps right into whatever main theme you have chosen, then you risk confusing the viewer.  Don’t confuse your viewer accidentally.


Consider the middle as the meat of your video.  For most songs the middle portion is the longest, and this is when the story of your song, and video are given a chance to play out.  Some songs will actually have another bridge to extend this 'middle' section of the video, so be aware of that. You can think of it as two 'middles' if you like, and perhaps use it as a chance to focus on two characters for example.

End or Finale:

This is the end, my friend...exactly like what it sounds like.  This should be when everyone dies, gets the girl, wins, blows up the enemy, or whatever.  This will also mostly likely be the loudest, most dramatic part of your song as well. The finale may not necessarily come at the end of your song.

Not to be confused with the climax, which is the part that peaks musically, this is the end segment.

The climax should be in this segment, although for some songs it won't be.  If the 'climax' is in this segment then use it like it was meant to be, if it occurred earlier in the song (examples would include stairway to heaven - Led Zeppelin, and King of pain- Sting) where there is a climax, nowhere near the end of the song) then be creative and use the end to wind down your video.


Every once in a while you will have a song that very definitely ends, yet continues to play on.  Usually these songs are just repeating lyrics, or some section of the song over and over until it fades into silence.  If you have one of these, then this is the time to basically "compile" your story.  I recommend flashbacks, or similar devices for songs with this structure.  You can also use these to begin fading into your end credits if you so desire.

Setting up your music/Section breakdown:

First find a song that you feel tells a story that is interesting. You might consider picking something that is not "played out"; if you get sick of it after a few hours of editing, I guarantee everyone else will get sick of it too.  You might hear it on the radio, and say, “hey, that gives me an idea for a video", or you might deliberately pick it to match a video theme.  It doesn’t matter if you aren't sure about your video source yet, you need to work with the song BEFORE you work with the video.

Listen to the song and identify the breaks in the music.  I don’t mean the beats, I mean the parts where the song separates into audible sections, for instance: beginning, middle and end.  Virtually all popular songs are set up on this simple format. Next, find the parts where the music goes from one section to the next.  The little musical blurts between sections (but not really part of them) are called bridges, and are your main markers for your video.

As an example, I have sectioned  "Summer of ’69", by Bryan Adams. Look at this and you can see very clear markers for building a video.
(Numbers are for “Summer of ’69", by Bryan Adams)
0-:05 Intro - <some guitar stings. >
:05 <song starts>

:49 - begin bridge
:56 - end bridge

1:27 - begin bridge
1:41 - end bridge

1:55 - begin bridge
2:08 - end bridge
2:40 - begin end epilogue
3:20 - end end epilogue

Song repeats down into silence finally ending 

Lyric breakdown

0-:05 Intro - <some guitar stings. >
:05 <song starts>
I got my first real six-string

Bought it at the five-and-dime

Played it til my fingers bled

It was the summer of '69
:18 -19 <very distinctive transition note>
Me and some guys from school

Had a band and we tried real hard

Jimmy quit and Jody got married

I shoulda known we'd never get far
:30 - :33 <transitional note>
Oh when I look back now

That summer seemed to last forever

And if I had the choice

Ya - I'd always wanna be there

Those were the best days of my life
:49 - :56  <bridge>
Ain't no use in complainin'

When you got a job to do

Spent my evenin's down at the drive-in

And that's when I met you

Standin' on your Mama's porch

You told me that you'd wait forever

Oh and when you held my hand

I knew that it was now or never

Those were the best days of my life
1:27 begin bridge
Back in the summer of '69
1:41 End bridge
 Man we were killin' time

We were young and restless

We needed to unwind

I guess nothin' can last forever - forever, no
1:55 - 2:08 <bridge>
And now the times are changin'

Look at everything that's come and gone

Sometimes when I play that old six-string

I think about ya wonder what went wrong

Standin' on your Mama's porch

You told me it would last forever

Oh the way you held my hand

I knew that it was now or never

Those were the best days of my life

Back in the summer of '69
2:40 <end sequence>

Song repeats down into silence finally ending at 3:20

Notes and tips:

If you did your breakdown correctly, and it's not hard to do; then you should have your song ready to receive footage. Many experienced editors fall into the trap of ripping tons of footage, and trying to figure out what to do with it all.  By actually thinking about what you want to do you've already made the most important step toward the creation of a decent video.

All of the above steps do not require any sort of fancy editing anything.  As long as you can play the music and take notes then you can do a song breakdown.

Once you have all of this, then you need to decide how you want to interpret the song to your anime.  For this song as an example, say I choose to use Trigun.
Six string guitar = Vash's gun.

His girl = Meryl

Jimmy (quit) = Wolfwood

Jody (got married)= Milly

Your moma's porch = the episode with the farmers that won't sell.

"the best days of my life" - Footage from young Vash
Simple enough so far.  Now find the key sequences that you want to tie it all together with.  Perhaps, it is Vash walking through the desert, maybe one of the many times he's eating vast quantities of food, or being chased by a crowd of people.  The idea is that once you've established a theme for your video, then it will be internally consistent, and therefore easier to watch.

At this point, what you want to do is to sequence your timing to the individual beats and harmonies within the song.  I'll cover some of that next time.

There are also a multitude of guides that cover that very topic on the .org so feel free to check them out.