Editing: Workshop Contribution

By MattConley

I wanted to add my two cents into this Collaboration and offer some of my own insight to the art of editing. Before I get to a few bullet points I wanted to mention some personal thoughts on the craft so you all know where I'm personally coming from.

Nothing gets my creative blood flowing quite like video editing. It's an exhilarating experience for me, and it might be the one activity where I don't need coffee to get alert for. Editing is my caffeine.

Think about it. All the shooting is done. The non-linear editing software is the blank canvas, but there's a wealth of footage just waiting to be thrown into the grid and mixed around. Post-production is a whole new kind of production, and with all that's available to resource on hitRECord it makes it difficult to ever "finish" a project. Each piece has limitless potential and can be built upon over and over again. Or completely REmixed into a whole new creation.

Here are some bullet points for anyone looking for a different perspective on editing:



* EDITING is 99% EMOTION

I edit by that motto. The mechanics of editing are 1% of the finished product. After all, editing essentially is just cutting, moving, and pasting. If you don't have any kind of emotional investment, or connection, to the material you are cutting than you might as well drag your editing software to your computer's trash can.


* STUDY SODERBERGH’S MOVIES

I don’t think there’s a better example of a filmmaker who has utilized editing in their films better than Stephen Soderbergh. His collection of movies demonstrates a variety of pacing and style (as well as a spectrum of visual design and soundtrack compiling.) Studying “The Limey” is recommended for those interested in non-linear mystery storytelling, “Traffic” is great for examining multiple storyline arcs, and “The Girlfriend Experience” is an interesting glimpse into experimenting with long takes mixed with atmospheric musical breakaways. And of course the underappreciated “Ocean’s” movies (always seen more as “a fun time at the movies” rather than art) are prime examples of how to make the mainstream into cinephile art. It would take me a decade to go over all the neat editing tricks at play in that trilogy.


* B-ROLL is NEVER to be IGNORED

Sometimes you’ll have hours of footage at your disposal on a project, and other times you might just have minutes (or seconds even.) But even amongst a small stock of footage you can dsicover hidden visual or audio gems. Maybe the camera inadvertently moved during a bad take and it created an interesting sun glare. Or perhaps an actor was getting into character and was caught giving a contemplative look that actually fit their character. Anything can be used in a final edit, which is why logging shots is crucial and keeping extensive shot notes can come in handy.


* TAKE RISKS SOMETIMES

Once you’ve seen some French New Wave material, like “Breathless” for instance, you’ll likely never think of editing the same way. That genre of film is packed full of jump cuts, hand held chaos, and atmosphere building through unorthodox camerawork and editing. Many American movies have adopted that kind of French New Wave style; sometimes in small ways, and other times in grandiose fashion. Just keep in mind “risks” can be interpreted many ways. Sometimes a risk is taking a standard scene that cuts from Person A to Person B over and over and simply throwing in a visual curveball. Remember the scene in “Taxi Driver” where Travis enters the campaign headquarters to ask Betty out? There was quite a bit of back and forth cutting, but one moment that disrupted that flow was a shot of Travis’ hand passing over Betsy’s desk almost in slow motion. Cuts like that elevate scenes because they catch the eye, and mind, off guard. A well-timed “risk” can be quite memorable to your audience. But in the end it's understanding what the risk adds, or takes away, that truly matters.


* FIND the RHYTHM

Cutting to music is obviously a key component of a music video. Changing shots on drum beats is a pretty standard technique for instance, and if you examine music videos you’ll find that after a while your brain can almost predict when a shot will change. But even dialogue scenes have a rhythm. And that rhythm is all a part of the overall pace of the entire project. I strongly recommend visualizing the entire narrative, scene by scene, before you begin editing. Then try and identify the spikes in tension, action, or overall intensity. Then identify the scenes or sections that are calmer. Doing that can help identify a rhythm to your project and will aid you in making editing decisions along the way. And just remember that not only are you cutting individual parts together, but then you have to make sure the transition from part to part fits the pace and rhythm you have determined beforehand. And yes, that paragraph seemed a bit long-winded to me as well.


* EXPERIMENT

This section goes hand in hand with the section on risk-taking. What I like to do is cut together a scene in mechanical terms (i.e. cut from Person A to Person B and back to Person B.) Keeping with that example of a dialogue scene involving person A and B, I make sure on my editing grid that I keep B-Roll footage from that scene nearby. That way I can cut to a wider shot of the two people to mix up the visuals. Or maybe I’ll take a shot that has a slow zoom when something important is said and use that take, discarding a still shot of the same dialogue. The entire time, as I make progress in the scene, I am constantly replaying the scene from the beginning to make sure it looks right and isn’t too disruptive. I’m also making sure it feels right to me and my brain isn’t feeling jaded (unless that is the intention all along.) Saving two files of each scene can be useful so you can always return to the standard cut of the scene and try experimenting in a different way to see what works best.


* YOUR LAST RESORT

The advancement of technology has brought about many cool additions to editing software. Transitions, 3-D text, and an assortment of filters are always readily available at the click of a button. But I am a firm believer that these are an editor’s last resort. The foundation needs to be in place first rather than the gloss. And often times gloss is never even necessary. In many cases the filters can be distracting for viewers, making a decision to use post-production tools a careful one.


* THE POWER of the UNSEEN

I go back to Soderbergh in this case because he’s a filmmaker that has a grasp on the unseen. Sometimes it is more effective to leave something up to the imagination than to present it on screen. There’s a great part in “The Limey” where Terrence Stamp kills a bunch of thugs inside a warehouse. The camera sits outside on a curb as you hear gun shots, screaming, and running sound effects. As one of the goons runs off, Stamp exits the building (with small dots of blood on his face) yelling a message for the thug’s boss. We’ll never know what it looked like as Stamp took out the guys that were more than half his age. But our imagination is challenged and our senses (hearing in the case of that scene from “The Limey”) are heightened, drawing us into the scene more than if we were witnessing all that happened.



This Text RECord is just meant to offer some principles that I happen to use when I edit. I'd love to hear what other editors out there think of these points and hope that others create their own RECords for editing and other aspects of filmmaking.

Creating is sharing. Let's keep learning from one another!

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Editing: Workshop Contribution

Created: Feb 14, 2010

Tags: editing, text, film making, record, filmmaking, cutting, collab, workshop, tips, principles, edit, guide

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