art of editing


Compared to many of the other Oscar categories, “Best Film Editing” is often a tough one to predict.  With “Best Cinematography,” “Best Art Direction,” and “Best Costume Design,” for instance, you can clearly see how each nominee demonstrated a mastery of their craft and set themselves apart from their peers.  With editing, however, aptly called “The Invisible Art” of cinema, what’s been left out is just as important as what ends up in the final cut.  The audience has no realistic way of knowing what compromises in performance the editor had to make in order to elucidate a specific plot point or which amazing shots couldn’t be used simply because they presented an inconsistency in story or character.  Even a seasoned editor, who knows better than anyone else what the editorial process involves, may not be able to recognize a brilliant feat of editing without a glimpse of what was left on the cutting room floor.  Sometimes a poorly written, haphazardly-shot mess of a story can be turned into something meaningful in the skillful hands of a top-notch editor, and similarly, a beautiful story can be butchered by an editor who doesn’t let the material find its own voice and tries to impose a style that doesn’t fit the material. (more…)

I’m a realist. Long ago I abandoned my dream of becoming a writer/director. It was around the time I realized I couldn’t pen a single sentence of meaningful dialogue or instruct an actor with any degree of confidence. Sometimes it’s best to be honest with yourself. But one thing I found myself drawn to in editing was how you could manipulate images and sounds to construct a perceived reality that was almost totally different from the conditions in which the material was recorded.

Any hack can string a bunch of images together; but as anyone with a real filmmaking sense knows, it takes a skilled artist to be able to control the numerous unseen factors that come into play when telling a story through images. Aside from the photographic decisions of camera placement and frame size that the editor takes into account, there are certain elements – emotion, tone, rhythm, pacing – that are more intangible and flexible when it comes to storytelling. (more…)

Da Vinci

Editing is often underappreciated due to people’s lack of comprehension as to what an editor does and how it is important. Along the same lines, and perhaps to an even more extreme degree, professional colorists usually do not get the respect they deserve. The untrained eye often cannot distinguish the work of an expert colorist from untreated raw footage unless it is compared side by side. I admit to being rather novice at noticing good color correction myself (I like to use my red-green colorblindness as an excuse), but the first time I sat in on a Da Vinci session as a post P.A., I was blown away by the scope and precision of the colorist’s work. Not only did he correct for hue, brightness, and contrast errors in the original footage, but he also was able to enhance the tone and mood of each scene by applying lighting gradients and shading that did not previously exist. In short, he was able to turn ordinary looking footage into much more than what it was originally. And for that reason, colorists are rightfully qualified as creative artists, just as editors are. (Equally underappreciated: audio mixers, sound designers, and Foley artists, but I’ll save that for another post). Take a look at this series of images, all of the same shot, but with different color and lighting effects applied to each. They will help elucidate just how much creative effort goes into the color correction of each shot and prove how important it is to spend the money for a true online edit with an experienced colorist.

Creativity

In order to be a successful editor, you need to possess a masterful ability to control pacing, character, and story, all while using a style that fits the tone and subject matter of the piece, but is uniquely your own. Easier said than done (every editor has probably had numerous run-ins with people who think the editor simply “removes the bad parts” and selects the best takes, and the rest of the film creates itself).

In order to be able to implement your creative vision, though, you also need to possess a certain mastery of the tools used to edit a film or television show together. Until recently, this was done with expensive specialized hardware (KEMs, Moviolas, Steenbecks, etc.); now the vast majority of it is done with computers. The learning curve has been significantly flattened, as anyone with a Mac computer and a copy of Final Cut Pro can edit their own movies as easily as a professional editor can. (more…)

Christopher Rouse

Christopher Rouse won the “Best Film Editing” Oscar last night for his brilliant work on “The Bourne Ultimatum.” I avoided serious embarrassment in front of my friends by correctly predicting his win. Among the clips shown yesterday at the “Invisible Art, Visible Artists” panel (see my earlier post on the subject), Rouse’s showed the best mastery of story, character, and pacing. While I had already seen several of the nominated films, it’s always good to re-watch parts of them with the sole purpose of analyzing the editing; usually when you’re watching for the first time, the story and characters (hopefully!) demand most of your attention, and the editing is something you feel without thinking about it. The “Bourne” clip showed Desh the assassin stalking Nicky through the streets and rooftops of Tangiers, with Bourne in hot pursuit, culminating in an intense mano-a-mano battle. The suspense that Rouse created by expertly intercutting Nicky’s frantic escape with the emotionless, methodical stalking of a trained assassin sent chills down my spine. While many viewers have complained that Paul Greengrass’s trademark handheld, action-packed close-ups can be disorienting and sickening, it takes tremendous skill to be able to weave half-second fragments of these shots into a coherent scene with logical pacing. There are so many possible combinations of shots that a weaker editor could miss the mark entirely. (more…)