This is the 1995 edit of my ongoing obsession with editing explosions to the 1812 Overture.
This is the second edit of what would turn out to be an ongoing, evolving video edit project for me. Over the late ’90s, I did a few versions of this project. I haven’t come across the couple versions that followed, but this original version from 1995 has survived.
Unlike editing in a modern, digital NLE, the process of editing on VHS was quite painful. You would cue up the source movie, which in this case was almost entirely using LaserDisc copies of movies (a format of which I was a huge fan). LaserDisc was an ideal source at the time, not just for reasons of better quality (and proper widescreen presentation), but because it didn’t have any pesky Macrovision copy protections to have to deal with. Anyway, the process involved starting the source video playing and carefully waiting on the VHS desk to start recording. Different VHS decks had different recording start delays. With a bit of practice, you could get pretty accurate on when to start the recording and hit the mark you wanted.
Then, to add the next clip, you would stop the S-VHS tape on the spot you want the next clip to start, get the S-VHS deck on record-pause at that point, start the next source movie playing and release the S-VHS deck where you wanted the next clip to start. You would typically lose a frame or two in the process, so if you screwed up the start of that next clip’s timing, more than once or twice, you would have to go back and re-do the previous clip, hopefully not screwing that one up more than once or twice, or you would have to go back yet another clip, and so on.
Pretty much all of my old VHS edit projects were done on Super VHS. That wasn’t just because of the superior recording quality, but for S-VHS’s typical flying erase heads that would do clean edit points when starting a new recording point over the previous recording. The original S-VHS deck I used was JVC’s (at the time) ridiculously fancy, but ultimately somewhat fragile HR-S8000U model. It had a fancy panel that rotated out and a fancy remote. It did nice recording quality and had tons of features, but eventually died a slow death from parts that didn’t hold up all too well.
I’m not 100% sure, but I think this original 1812 explosions video was edited on that JVC. It was in the mid-90s that I replaced that with a Sony SLV-R1000 model unit. That Sony deck was a true workhorse and is a model that Sony kept making for quite a few years after. It lasted a solid 15 years with TONS of use. I ended up replacing it with another same model unit I got off Craigslist that had a good amount of use on it before I got it. That one lasted me another 5 years before it died. I currently have a couple of tempermental Toshiba and Panasonic decks that were also gotten off Craigslist. Someday, maybe I’ll find another of the Sony SLV-R1000 units for cheap. It’s one of the best-performing and reliable units Sony ever made.
The final trick with doing these edits on VHS was utilizing something that these fancier S-VHS decks could do. They were able to record audio to a primary audio track which was in full hi-fi stereo. But they could also record to a secondary audio track which was in mono. So, what I would do is record the music to the secondary audio track first. Then, I would record clips one at a time using just the primary audio track to record the source movie’s stereo audio. Then, I would play it back on the mono track and pick the exact moment in the music I want the next clip to start. Once all the clips had been laid down, with their original audio on the primary stereo track, I would play that tape back on another S-VHS deck and put it through an audio mixer and manually sync playback of the music (from a CD) to sync up to the compilation tape. Thankfully, I could do as many tries at this step as I wanted, which is a good thing, because it typically took a couple dozen tries to get it right. That’s mainly because the explosion sound clips from the movies were at different levels. So as it played, I was literally moving the level slider for the compilation tape source up and down as the video played. It took a number of tries to memorize the levels for each clip as they were coming up. If you’ve read this far, you’re probably thinking that this sounds like a tedious and crazy process, and you would be right. It’s a process that I definitely do not miss in this modern age of digital editing. 🙂