Film Editing

Many people cannot define what film editors are or do. This is understandable, for editors have never been celebrities. Editing involves not nearly a theoretical consideration of the effect of one shot upon another, or a linear rendition of a script, or a mechanical measurement of frames. It is all that and much more- rhythm, instinct, emotion, psychology, art- and it draws from the total talent of one person, the editor, who collaborates with the director to create a cumulative sensory event. For starters, editors organize minutiae, intensify subtleties, heighten emotions, and blend countless elements of image and sound to create a film. Unlike film directors, however, editors are not accustomed to explaining their work to an inquisitive outsider. They often respond to requests for interviews with hesitation, a momentary loss for words, surprise that someone is even asking who they are and what they do. But once involved in an interview, like other creative people behind the screen, editors become articulate expounders of their complex art. Following the introduction of sound into film at the end of the 1920's, filmmakers were now obligated to combine greater number of elements in the editing process; dialogue, music, and sound effects. A prime example of this can be seen in the movie "Singing in the Rain," where the ups and downs of introducing music and words to the filmmaking process is portrayed. Editing became locked into preserving the flow of dialogue as recorded during production. Only after the novelty of sound had worn off could words, music, and sound effects to enhance the visual become the enterprise of the editor. Overlapping dialogue, manipulating volume, using subliminal sounds and silence, and cutting action-reaction shots to dialogue were among the new considerations faced in the editing process. Over time, certain directors and editors have been able to work together on successive projects and thus have developed a kind of "buddy system" in which the film would be cut by someone who understood the director's vision. A few editors also exerted great influence on directors and producers.

Editing is the movement and manipulation of frames, within which

more movement takes place
Once a good working relationship is established, many directors request to work with the same crew in their future projects. Directors such as Stephen Spielberg, Oliver Stone and George Lucas are just a couple of names that have used the same editor, composer, cinematographer, etc. is several of their films. Because directors names are so prominent in feature releases, if a film is critiqued from an editorial perspective, the director would usually be cited for its success or failure. This is almost always the case even though the director's degree of involvement in the editing could vary considerably. The demise of the studio system in the late 1940's and 1950's virtually destroyed job security and created a highly competitive free-lance market. Editors now often speak of the unsettling reality of being unemployed for long sketches, not knowing when the next job will come. Directors shoot from more camera positions and with more takes that might increase options in editing; so film "coverage" increased, obligating editors to organize and reduce the amount of footage sometimes in ratios of thirty to forty to one (ratio footage exposed to footage used in the final cut). Still, the greatest challenge in reaching modern audiences and creating outstanding films is understanding one's specialty. Today's filmmaking places enormous responsibilities on each major mind behind a movie: scriptwriter (preproduction), cinematographer (production), and editor (postproduction), who are all answerable to the director and producer. Editors need to understand and articulate the inner workings of their specialty- equipment, job pressures, working methods, theories, and instincts. One universal principle that distinguishes good from bad editing is rhythm and musicality. Equally important is the subliminal power of editing. Viewers often say that editing is invisible to them unless the film is slowed down and analyzed frame by frame. This invisibility is perhaps a principal reason that editing is seldom considered while watching a movie; it is not as tangible as costumes, photography, music, or acting. Editing is the movement and manipulation of frames, within which more movement takes place, but audiences forget the physical passage of the film itself and become absorbed in the movement of the story.

In the olden days when film machinery was very primitive, a smooth-running film was non-existent. Every splice, cut and edit could be observed. These days with the everimproving quality of editing techniques (digital editing for example) to notice a flaw in a picture is virtually nonexistent. The editor must continually remember both the moving pieces of film and the moving images on the film, for both must work together simultaneously. Dozens of joined shots fly past the eye at twenty-four frames per second, and the cumulative impact is of an overall image, emotion or sensation. Editors will agree that successful-memorable-editing makes visual and emotional connections between seemingly unrelated items. Connections between a film's characters, relationships, and environment all derive from a subconscious ability to discover layers. The solitary nature of the job stresses organization, discipline, persistence, self-reliance, and tireless devotion to details. Yet all editors recognize the importance of collaboration, particularly with the director, and a generally soft-spoken nature can be an asset to the give and take nature of the business. Editors never forget that the director must be the unifying mind behind the project, and they remain servant to that vision. The ideal relationship between editor and director is a close familial one, in some cases spanning decades of trusted collaboration. Editors tend to work beyond the cutting- through previews, premieres, re-releases; sometimes they are even reengaged for television adaptations and reconstruction's years later. Unfortunately, film editors (like sound editors, who are even more constrained by last-minute demands) face short budgets, short schedules, and short tempers. Despite these limitations, editors are uniformly devoted to their primary responsibility: to make real the directors vision. This duty involves speaking up when they feel the director is too close to the film to see its flaws. Enter the editor as "objective eye." A film editor is looking at the picture with complete objectivity... they should try very hard to pretend they're the audience All editors live by what is in the footage, not what the scriptwriter or director hoped would be there. A film editor is looking at the picture with complete objectivity, not subjectively, and they should try very hard to pretend they're the audience so that if something is not working, they should be the first one to know and can fix it.

The director, the producer and the editor are generally the three people who spend the most time on a film. In most cases, the editor is there from the first day of shooting until the film is released into the movie theater. How do editors begin? Carol Littleton starts with the script. It will be her responsibility to help bring the project from script to screen, and there are always certain things to look for. "I use the script as my main criterion for whether or not I want to do the picture. I like to see a really good strong story with well-defined characters. I look for structure. I don't always get it." At the very least you have to see a possibility for restructuring in editing. There are so many variables over the course of a film being shot and edited that you really want a good script for your bible. Once the editor has read the script and made the decision to come aboard, the first day on the job usually co-insides with the first day of production. "At rehearsals, I'm looking to be a quiet auditor. It allows me to have a sense of the film, to experience it somewhat before it is actually shot. I also get a better perception of the problems that the actors encounter. I take notes so that when the moment comes that I'm no longer fresh with the material, I can reexperience the emotional arc of the film. Frequently, there are scripts that represent such a challenge, the editors wonder if they can pull it off," States Joe Hutshing. On the other hand, there are those rare occasions when a great script can simplify the editor's job. Normally when you get a script and start talking with the director, you realize there is a whole bunch of material that is unneeded and can be cut at the very beginning. The raw footage comes in each day, and the editor shows these "dailies" to the director. "I'm hoping to be able to see in dailies the essential focus of the director's attention, what he was going through on each take. When you first look at the picture, you're looking for the story. The number one object is to keep the story moving, reveal the details of the story, and get the best performances. You make the actors look as good as you possibly can but most of all the objective is clarity." The biggest sin is to be redundant. The next biggest is to have things that are truly extraneous. Inevitably it gets back to what to leave in and what to cut out. Carol Littleton tries to cut "things that really do not contribute to the through-line of the picture." The best editing is usually invisible. The effect that I always try for is that it looks as if it comes straight out of the camera that way, so you're not aware of all the cuts. The editor must resist the temptation to "overcut" in an attempt to get in every cherished moment. Once the production has wrapped, the pressure shifts to

the editor to produce an initial cut of the film. In the first assembly Joe Hutshing tries to follow the script as closely as possible. "I try to be true to what was written and try to make it work, exactly as the script has it. Once that has been done then you can start making interpretations of it, refining it." Carol Littleton also states that there comes a time when the editor must be willing to let go of the script. Editors are put in a position many times of sharing the knowledge they have of objectivity with directors who may have less, and guiding them through the treacherous labyrinth of making a movie. Many times directors become so emotionally attached to a project that they do not see faults that others observe. Editors are now more involved in the dissemination of knowledge than they had been in the past. Editors, cinematographers, production designers, and so on essentially have more experience than directors do. Oliver stone tries to remain as flexible as possible and considers the editing process itself "the last rewrite." While a director may spend years putting a single project together, editors spend weeks on it and then move on. "When I'm in the dark, alone, and I'm looking at the film for the first time, it's very exciting. Then when the director comes in, you're dealing with the mind and heart of the person who has the most intimate knowledge of the film. You go through problems together, talk, hash it over, find solutions. It's you two at the end. It really is magic. We're sort of alchemists. We put a lot of elements together, and we're hoping to make it gold." Oliver stone tries to remain as flexible as possible and considers the editing process itself "the last rewrite." Often he will edit individual scenes so that the dialogue is delivered in an order very different from how it was scripted and shot. Indeed, the use of multiple editors has become something of an Oliver Stone trademark. Hutshing doesn't mind. "I enjoy the collaboration and I also like to see what other editors can do. I make a pass on a scene and give it to somebody else. I can get bored with scenes so if you're switching around with another editor, for me, it's actually a lot of fun." Increasingly, the image of the editor working "alone in the dark" is being replaced with the reality of multiple editors. Hutshing attributes this to postproduction times pressure. "I think the studios want to see a return on their money faster, so a way of shortening the time is to put multiple editors on each project." If actors can inspire one another to do their best work, why not editors? It provides another example of how the art of filmmaking is increasingly collaborative in nature.

Editors and directors tend to form long-term relationships and work together on many projects. each knows what to expect from the other. Each has certain needs that must be fulfilled if the collaboration is to be successful. What the editor really wants from the director is coverage- enough material to work with because the director is producing the material from which a movie is going to be made. If you have coverage, you have flexibility. Shooting from several angles, different lighting and focus, and several takes are all essential in providing an editor with adequate film to work with. There are always unforeseen problems; maybe some scenes are overwritten and say more than they need to say. If you've got good coverage you can still create a perfectly smooth flowing scene that serves its purpose. Of course it will be much shorter than it started out to be. The director's skills are honed in recognizing a good performance and knowing how to move from take one to take two, three, four, etc. It is very important that he elaborates on a specific idea to refine it through each take. At the end of the day editors and directors are trying to accomplish the same thing. Their collaborative success comes from a deep understanding of one another; a mutual trust and belief, that together they are creating the best film possible. Creative decisions made by the editor, especially at the assembly stage, are crucial; they will largely determine if the movie will "play." Carol Little tries to follow the director's lead, but many decisions must be made on her own. The parameters vary according to the director's instructions. Many directors prefer to use the same editor in project after project; a shorthand develops between them, an instinctive communication. There are times when an editor can take a bad script and make it better, but it's very difficult to make a good script bad. A well-written story is very difficult to turn into a bad movie. There are times when through a good editor's vision they can take a not-too-well-written story and make a much better story out of it, usually by what they leave out as opposed to as what is put in. You also have to realize there are all kinds of work in LA: commercials, documentaries, television films, long-format television films, short-format, series, mini-series, features, on and on and on. The audience never knows what is left out, they know what they see on the screen and how the story is told. The editor as storyteller as a very important function that is part of the scope of motion picture making. But he is not the most

important part of the team. He is definitely one of the team that makes it work. A motion picture, as opposed to any other art forms, is a team experience, not a job by one person. Believe it or not, living on different coasts may actually make a big difference in how you perform as an editor. "There are a lot of editors who work on both coasts, and I know people who have bad feelings about it because they have been blocked from joining either the LA local or, in my case, the New York local. But as we begin to realize that we can take charge, we can find a way to make it more workable for everyone, those feelings are becoming diffused. We've now had two years of talks with New York. Those feelings of "us" and "them" are slowly changing to ideas of "we" together. The biggest difference I've found in New York, quite frankly, is the level of serious commitment to film. I think because the competition is fierce in New York, there are very few jobs, and in order to survive you have to be very, very committed. In LA, there are a number of editors who see working with film as a great job and are not that committed to film other than the paycheck. You also have to realize there are all kinds of work in LA: commercials, documentaries, television films, long-format television films, short-format, series, mini-series, features, on and on and on. The work is more restricted in New York. The other difference I've found is that because New York is a small community, it's somewhat inbred and the system of networking is not as familiar as in LA. There's a lot of networking and cooperation in LA because, while there is competition, it's not quite as severe." The editor has the most comprehensive view of the actor's film performance. Every take is viewed, then see again and again as the editor makes creative decisions. Even the looping sessions, where actors have their dialogue rerecorded to match the picture, can demonstrate certain unique performance abilities. Continuity is also a major consideration. Being technically accurate can be as important as being emotional accurate. Actors often think of the editor as the enemy, someone who is likely to leave their best performance or their entire performance on the cutting room floor. The actor has to realize that editors are not sitting there passing judgment on what they like and dislike. Editors are their best friends, trying to do the best from them. Unfortunately, they can't present their best work if it's compromised by technical incompetence. Editors are an extremely respected group of individuals, but if they are not able to cut it, they will have to compromise, and it will be at their expense.

Editors are often asked to compensate for an actor's performance problems. "You can save a bad performance by pacing a part of his dialogue on his back or on the cutaways to other actors. Since editors see every mistake and are often frustrated with the actor's work, it's always interesting when they are impressed by a performance," states editor Bill Reynolds. Editors often say that they are the "first audience" to see a film. The audience remains uppermost in mind as they go about their task of trying to tell the story in the clearest, most cohesive and visual manner. Perhaps the single greatest concern among today's editors is that they are required to accomplish this at an increasingly rapid rate.

The editor needs to have a rigorous discipline, to know why you're doing the picture; it's about sensitivity and selectivity The editor must assemble the film in ten to fourteen days after the production wraps. So much film, so little time. During the next eight or ten weeks, the director and editor work closely together to shape the film onto its next incarnation, the director's cut. How close this version is to what is released will depend on the degree of the director's clout with the studio as well as other contractual obligations. At every stage of the editing process, it is the editor's responsibility to help make the story clear to the audience. This is accomplished through the use of a visual language. Since the best editing often goes unnoticed by the audience, the editor's manipulation of images is vital but somewhat invisible. Timing is a big part of it; it has to do with musicality. The timing of a piece of music, the timing of a language, how it flows, how it goes from one moment to the next. The speech patterns of an actor have their own rhythm and musicality. The editor needs to have a rigorous discipline, to know why you're doing the picture; it's about sensitivity and selectivity. Since the visual language of editing is mostly invisible, is it possible to ascertain the editor's contribution when seeing the final product? Sometimes the genre or subject matter of the film will help determine the appropriate editing style. Finally, there are those scenes that the editor must "save" if the film is going to work at all. These often result from problems encountered during filming or decisions made in postproduction. Postproduction film editing follows a series of stages similar

to videotape editing, from preliminary editing that includes viewing a copy of the originally recorded images, called the work print, rushes, or dailies and selecting and ordering specific shots and scenes, called rough cutting, to final editing, called conforming. Unlike videotape editing, film is spliced mechanically. Film images can, however, also e transmitted to videotape so that they can be edited electronically. Carol Littleton feels however that it doesn't really matter what you edit on. They are just tools (KEM, Moviloa, etc). The choice between electronic and mechanical editing techniques is a simple decision in some areas and is more complex in others. Film editing can seem quite laborious and time-consuming, but this is not always the case. For example, it is much simpler to shorten or lengthen an entire film by a few frames during preliminary film editing. A film editor has a great deal of freedom to experiment with a variety of different takes and shot sequences and duration's at all stages of the editing process. A copy made from the originally recorded film is called a work print. The film director usually specifies which camera takes should be printed during production. The editor, director and producer view each day's work print in order to evaluate how well things are going. all shots to be made at one location are recorded at the same time, regardless of when they occur in the script, the editor must assemble the shots into the order specified by the script After viewing and approving the footage, the editor catalogues it before beginning a rough cut. An editor will often view the dailies over and over again to get a feel for the production and to stimulate ideas about how images can and should be combined. The next stage of preliminary editing is to assemble the individual shots into sequential order. Since films are often shot out of continuity, that is, all shots to be made at one location are recorded at the same time, regardless of when they occur in the script, the editor must assemble the shots into the order specified by the script. During the assemble stage of editing; the entire shot is left intact. As the rough cut progresses and each shot is placed in its proper sequential order, the editor gradually refines the cuts, cutting out all extraneous or unnecessary material. Unused shots are called outtakes. They are often left on the original camera rolls. The pieces removed from the shots that are actually used are called trims. They are frequently stored on the pegs of a trim bin, which is placed near the editing bench. Trims

are sometimes spliced back into the film after the editor has tried a specific cut, usually because the cut does not work quite as well as was anticipated. The editor must be careful to remove equivalent amounts of picture and sound when trimming a shot, or the film and sound will no longer be in perfect synchronization. If four frames of picture are removed, four frames of sound must be removed. However, an editor can manipulate the sound track to advantage without completely losing sync. For example, the sound from one shot can be overlapped with the picture of a subsequent shot. The sound accompanying the subsequent shot is spliced into the sound in midshot after trimming off a portion of its beginning equivalent in length to the overlap from the previous shot. In film editing, preliminary editing takes the form of rough cutting and tape splicing the work print. Once the film editing decisions have been finalized, the original film is conformed to the edited work print. All of the shots from the originally recorded film are permanently spliced into two or more rolls, called A and B (and C and so on) rolls, using a cement splicer which physically welds two overlapping pieces of film together. In a digital editing room, conforming is the process of assembling a work print to math a sequence in the digital editing system. When you reach the point when you want to screen the movie on film, the conforming stage begins. Digital editing systems provide instantaneous access to every frame of a movie, the ability to simultaneously share the same material on multiple workstations Digital editing systems do not physically cut movies, people do. Cut lists are the maps that we use to link the digital world to the film world. Film cut lists are utilized for conforming the work picture, cutting the negative, and ordering the opticals. Generating cut lists is fairly simple and does not take much time. Learning how to make them properly does take time. The revolution in digital editing has changed the way in which we edit movies today. Digital editing systems provide instantaneous access to every frame of a movie, the ability to simultaneously share the same material on multiple workstations, and the ability to preview simple to complex opticals. None of these changes have eliminated the film editing room. As long as movies are released on film, we will continue to shoot and edit movies on celluloid. Film dailies still have to be synced and screened each day.

The footage has to be logged and coded, boxed and organized, and screened and cleaned. Unless celluloid is completely eliminated from the filmmaking process the protocol for organizing film dailies will remain unchanged. After the lab processes the negative film and prints the takes, the dailies are generally broken down into 1000-foot roles and the takes are logged into a codebook. Next, the film dailies are digitized and organized in a digital program (ex. Avid). The picture and track are then synced, the codebook is entered into the digital database and the dailies are then sent to the telecine department. Telecine is the process of transferring film to video. Setting up telecine is one of the first and most important responsibilities on a digital show. The telecine house is responsible for syncing the audio. In most cases, the editorial department syncs the picture and track before the telecine process. After this process is completed the daily is now ready to be screened. This entire process occurs, believe it or not, on a daily bases (hence the name "the dailies") throughout the production of the film. The truth that by the time the script appears on the screen, it is a product of the collaborative effort of writers, producers, directors, actors, cinematographers, editors, composers, and others who have labored for years to bring it to life. Feature filmmaking has become a collaborative art, a unique synthesis of artistic vision married to an unwieldy commercial marketplace populated by a volatile and fickle audience. it can never be stated enough that the feature editor must find "truth" in the fictional work in order to make an emotionally rich film- although, as most editors admit, they can only work with the material (good or bad) that the director and cinematographer give them Editor Carol Littleton (Grand Canyon, Body Heat) sees a similarity between her job and that of a musician. Dialogue, visuals, story all has rhythm. It's the editor's job to pick up on those rhythms that are internal in the scene and to make them play. Like the musician, you're going over the same material again and again, finding the nuances, making the slight changes, working on it until you feel you've extracted the best technical interpretation and emotional tone. "My job is to enhance the writing and to make sure that everything is clear in the final version. I decide what to include and how much focus to give it. I think that writing and editing are very closely related. Both jobs are more monastic than social." Once again, like the writer, the editor labors alone in a room, a solitary world.

There is no common pattern for how long it takes to become an editor. Aside from the personality required for the job, everyone must master the tools of the trade. It can never be stated enough that the feature editor must find "truth" in the fictional work in order to make an emotionally rich film- although, as most editors admit, they can only work with the material (good or bad) that the director and cinematographer give them. Making movies is telling a story in its simplest form. Film is simply telling a story. Simplicity is key. And I think that probably is the best advice for any editor. Just simplify one story to create pure life and emotion. In fact, editing is a lot like writing. You are rewriting a film. You have a script but you're rewriting a script with a film. It's not like editing in publishing. It is not a matter of omitting and corrections. It's very different. I think. You become a writer, but you're writing with images, you're writing with music, you're writing with performances, you're writing with all these things-intangible things as well- that make an emotional event. (Carol Littleton) Editing is just another part of making a film. This years hit is next years memory. Very few films become classics and they were usually too unique to be "popular" at the time they were released. "I feel I exert a certain influence on it. I don't control it. I just influence it. I hope that I could work in a climate of trust where the director feels he would be able to use my ideas, my feelings about the material, the criticisms, the praise, all for the good of the movie. Our job is to interpret and respect the material at hand. Certainly respect the style, performances, composition, writing, lighting, every aspect. We are a very respectful lot." FilmMakers recommendations ACTION CUT - This is the most unique series of learning tools in the film industry that provides an in-depth look inside the directing craft on a step-by-step, shot-by-shot professional level of production from the written page through the moviemaking process to the final film. Littleton, Carol. Film as all the Arts. ©1992 The Moving Image: Production Principles and Practices by Gorham Anders Kindem First Cut: Conversations With Film Editors by Gabriella Oldham On Film Editing: An Introduction to the Art of Film Construction by Edward Dmytryk The Cinema of Oliver Stone by Norman Kagan Directing the Film: Film Directors on Their Art by Eric Sherman When the Shooting Stops, the Cutting Begins: A Film Editor's Story by Ralph Rosenblum, Robert Karen Ph.D. From Script to Screen : The Collaborative Art of Filmmaking by Linda Seger, Edward Jay Whetmore

Making Documentary Films and Reality Videos: A Practical Guide to Planning, Filming, and Editing Documentaries of Real Events by Barry Hampe In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing by Walter Murch, Francis Ford Coppola The Avid Digital Editing Room Handbook by Tony Solomons The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje The Visual Story: Seeing the Structure of Film, TV and New Media by Bruce A. Block Technique of Film Editing by Karel Reisz, Gavin Millar Technique of Film and Video Editing: History, Theory, and Practice by Ken Dancyger Final Cut Pro 3 and the Art of Filmmaking by Jason Cranford Teague, David Teague Video Editing with Avid: Media Composer, Symphony, Xpress by Roger Shufflebottom The Film Editing Room Handbook: How to Manage the Near Chaos of the Cutting Room by Norman Hollyn