February 4, 2019 - Robert John Hadfield

Letting Go of Rules

How Olan Rogers Taught Me To Ignore Traditional Ideas


In 1998 , several years after receiving my Bachelor’s Degree in Advertising, I came to a realization that the world had left me behind. I had spent several years after college pursuing a career as a professional musician. Of course it was a one-in-a-million crazy dream, but I knew I would regret it my entire life if I didn’t try. By the time I realized I needed to start thinking about a career in the “real” world, society had moved on.

From 1994-1998 the world had been taken over by computers and the entire world was driving headlong into the era of the internet. Other than being able to say I had a Bachelor’s degree, my education seemed almost completely worthless. I decided to take a major leap of faith and pursue a career in audio and video production; it seemed like a natural fit with my degree. And as I mentioned in a recent blog, I bought a Macintosh and a bunch of software and started teaching myself the ropes.

Not only did I study software, read books and do hundreds of tutorials, I started paying close attention to audio and video production around me. Movies and TV shows took on a new life. I began paying as much attention to the editing in shows as I did the stories. I even started paying close attention to things like TV advertisements and movie trailers. I became keenly aware of visuals, camera angles, music, sound effects, lighting, shadows and much more.

There were hundreds of things to notice and I was invigorated by all of it. I realized that telling the story in a visual presentation was as much about the editing as it was about the story itself. I spent hundreds of hours experimenting, and over time it developed into a skill that I was proud of, and I absolutely loved doing it!

Like many skills, there are rules to success. Rules can provide safety. Rules can provide boundaries that keep you on course. Rules can help keep groups and organizations together. But rules can also slow you down and even paralyze you. And I had to learn this lesson.

I have always seen myself as something of a renegade. I tend to question almost everything in my life. I find myself asking “why?” and looking for alternative viewpoints in almost everything I do. I often drive people crazy in conversations because I don’t accept things at face value. But like many of us, I sometimes forget who I think I am in the most simple situations.

One of the unwritten rules I learned as I studied video editing was that, if you make a cut in a video, you should make it from one camera to another. For example, if the person on camera makes a mistake that you need to remove, you should cut to another camera angle and then come back. For this reason many videographers record things multiple times from different angles. If there is a mistake in one camera angle, they cut to the correct version in the other angle, and then back to the first. This was the “professional” approach. But in some situations you don’t have two angles. For example, if you are filming an interview, you might only have one camera set up. In that case you could cover it by fading to black, cutting the bad part, and then fading back in. The fade to black approach is a “professional” look that keeps things feeling smooth. In other cases, if the subject isn’t moving too much, you could actually cut out the bad section and do a soft fade from on section to another without changing camera angle.

All three of these approaches helped you avoid the unprofessional jarring effect of doing a hard cut in the middle of a clip. There was an unwritten rule about that. You always want to soften cuts by either moving to another angle, or doing some sort of fade.

At least that was the rule I had seen.

And then about ten years ago my son made me watch a video of Olan Rogers. I was stunned because his videos were filled with those unprofessional cuts you should never do. And at first all I could think was, “doesn’t he understand you can’t do that?” And after a few moments it occurred to me that he didn’t care about traditional rules. He was doing what looked good to him. I started looking at other up-and-coming Youtube stars and I saw this type of cut everywhere! And I realized I had been stuck in an old way of thinking and I didn’t even realize it.

In my attempt to be professional and relevant, I was missing out on great editing techniques.  And here I was learning that lesson from kids who weren’t just questioning the rules, they didn’t seem to care that there were any rules to begin with. And today that type of cut is everywhere.

In the grand scheme of videography it really wasn't a big thing. And it wasn’t a slap in the face of my skills; but the lesson did sting a bit. I had allowed myself to be limited by tradition, by “professional” approaches, by rules that didn’t really exist. Even though I pride myself in questioning the rules, I had actually been stuck in them. It’s not that my methods were bad; they weren’t. My editing was actually really good, but I was missing out on great techniques because I allowed myself to be limited by perceived rules.

This company Audiomover exists because I didn't follow rules. Breaking conventional rules helped us create an amazing little business converting analog media to digital. I figured out unique ways to use high-end audio tools how they were never intended to be used. I broke rules and made something pretty great happen here. Over the years I have loved showing off my innovative processes to other audio professionals.

Rules are great in the beginning, but advancing your business, your career, your thought process, etc. is often about learning when to pay attention to rules and when to ignore them. Traditional ideas are nice as long as you can keep them in perspective. And staying relevant is often about being willing to questions and let go of the past. This applies to groups too. Modern societies generally marginalize traditional ideas for a reason. Groups and communities change and find different ways of doing things. And still many societies in our global community have been left behind because they are so determined to maintain traditional rules and ideas. 

Today think of a rule that you should question or even ignore. It can be an invigorating exercise and it might even change your life.

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