Author Archive

Video Tutorial on Cuts and Transitions

March 29th, 2016

Here’s a well-executed tutorial to watch and enjoy – and learn from. Using examples from a potpourri of popular movies including Misery, the Matrix, and Easy Rider it explains basic cuts such as match cuts and jump cuts and basic transitions both video and audio. The tutorial is an ode to editing and the joy of filmwatching and filmmaking that flies by, belying the thought and effort beneath the cuts. Click on the “cc” button on the lower right to see which movies the cuts are from.

Film Editing: Great Cuts Every Filmmaker and Movie Lover Must Know For more categories, descriptions, and discussion of basic and complex cuts, transitions, and VFX read my book Film Editing: Great Cuts Every Filmmaker and Movie Lover Must Know

To see more tutorials on post and editing as well as directing, cinematography, costumes, screenwriting, and more filmic arts, check out Rocket Jump Film School. It’s less a school than a website dedicated to the film community no matter your level of experience serving up a bevy of free podcasts, videos, events, tips, forums, etc.

Editing practices, Editor’s role, Technical & process, Visual FX editing

The Art of Editing a Montage – Part 3

January 16th, 2016

Having explained the purpose of montage, its history, and the guidelines for cutting a montage, this last post details the types of montages and then has some fun looking at how some montages have become clichés and been parodied.

Types of Montages
Montage scenes have many themes – dramatic, comic, news – to list a few primary categories. The following table charts the major categories types of montages and gives examples.

Type of Montage Example
Grief or recovery The character walks the old, familiar path on the beach or in the city, stares out the window on a rainy day, or lies in bed unable to move. After the montage, the character returns to life by taking a first step or making a choice of some kind.
Love The lovers enjoy sunsets, romantic dinners, rolls in the hay, etc. before emerging from their cocoon and addressing the realities lurking around the corner.
War A soldier goes through the travails of boot camp, acquires helmet and weapon, and sets out for the field of battle. The montage sets the scene for battle and the testing of the soldier.
Success A rock band plays for the local Elks club and by the end of the montage is headlining at Madison Square Garden.
Learning and training A student studies for the test. A skier practices for the Olympics.
Job A college grad is interviewed by a series of bizarre employers.
Dating A woman goes out with a string of loser dates.
Clothing A man tries on a succession of ridiculous ties.
History Immigrants arrive in Manhattan and erect the city.
Process A reporter travels to different holy sites, seeking enlightenment.
Search A man tries on a succession of ridiculous ties.

Some well-known examples of movie montage can be seen in: Rocky (the training sequence ending with his runs to the top of the steps), Scarface (rise to power montage cut to Push it to the Limit song), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (visiting the museum montage), Clueless (makeover montage) and Lord of the Rings – Return of the King (lighting of the torches in different lands montage). Even animated movies contain great montages such as Toy Story II (Jessie’s backstory), the expositional opening, and Cars (see below).


In Cars a montage with voiceover takes the audience on a trip down memory

lane to the glory days of the hamlet of Radiator Springs.

Spoofs of Montages

The hours approaching, just give it your best
You’ve got to reach your prime.
That’s when you need to put yourself to the test
And show us a passage of time.
We’re gonna need a montage (montage)
Oh it takes a montage (montage).
Song for montage scene in Team America and in South Park, Episode 3 Season 6

A few montage themes have reached cliché status and become parody material such as the “Getting over the loss of a love” montage, the “Getting fit” montage, and the “Preparing for the big event or showdown” montage. So you can have fun creating montages that make fun of other montages or scenes from movies. The Montage song and scene in Team America by the producers of South Park who repeated the song with different images in South Park, Episode 3 Season 6 is one example of this. Here’s another.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Jump cuts, a sunset, and a roll in the waves spoof clichéd lovemaking scenes in this

montage from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. (Selected cuts)

Final word: Have fun pulling pictures, sounds and music together to assemble a montage – and make sure it counts toward moving your show’s story forward.

Editing practices, Editor’s role, History/research, Technical & process

The Art of Editing a Montage – Part 2

January 16th, 2016

The last post introduced montage and talked about the purpose montage serves in fiction and non-fiction pieces. Today’s post summarizes the history of montage and goes over the important rules to keep in mind when you’re actually cutting a montage.

A Brief History of Montage
To best understand montage it’s important to know its history which evolved through three distinct definitions and theories in three different countries during three different time periods.

1) Soviet Union – 1920s
To revolutionary Soviet filmmakers, montage was synonymous with editing and meant the
Vsevolod Pudovkin,the filmmaker and film professor who greatly influenced this generation of Soviet filmmakers, saw montage as the linking of ideas through the linking of one shot to another. His student, pioneer filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, viewed montage as the conflict of ideas derived from the opposition of one shot to another. Eisenstein wrote: “The general course of the montage was an uninterrupted interweaving of diverse themes into one unified movement. Each montage-piece had a double responsibility to build the total line as well as to continue the movement within each of the contributory themes.”

2) France – 1950s
The French New Wave filmmakers and theoreticians including Andre Bazin, Agnes Varda, Francois Truffaut, and Jean-Luc Godard rejected Eisenstein’s montage theories for their own theories of “realism” which they implemented in shooting and editing their films. Realism reflected the social and political movements of the day due to its transparent visual, narrative, and editorial approach. It anticipated today’s reality shows with its rapid, documentary style pf shooting, hand held shots, jump cuts, defiance of the 180° rule, improvised dialogue, and breakdown of the fourth wall between actor and audience. Montage in the credits of a French movie means editing and stands for the editor; son montage is the sound editor.

3) United States – today
Montage has come to be defined as a sequence of images used to convey facts, feelings, or thoughts that functions as a transition in time, knowledge, or place. Montage is a way to succinctly deliver or sum up a lot of information and can be used to inform, entice, amuse, and always, to advance the story.

Montage Editing Rules
The rules for editing a montage are the same as for editing anything else: Each cut should be motivated (have a purpose) and advance the story you’re telling. How you cut a montage scene is similar to how you cut an action scene in some ways. In both types of scenes the visuals drive the action, flow, and storytelling. Sound (music, voiceover, and sound effects) underscore the scene’s action.

However cutting a montage differs from cutting action in three major ways. First, action scenes tell a story linearly with shots from the same time and place. Conversely montage scenes can pull footage from any place (cities, countries, planets) or time (prehistoric, modern, future, fictional). Second, action scenes normally use straight cuts to drive the action. The shots in montage scenes are usually separated by dissolves, wipes, or other types of transitional cuts. Third, montage scenes are rarely silent; most are set to music and/or involve wild sound recorded at the scene or deliberate, recurring manufactured sounds. Narration habitually replace dialogue in montage scenes. Often you’ll cut the montage to music. But just as often you’ll create the montage and add the music later.
src=”×65.jpg” alt=”fahrenheit” width=”300″ height=”65″ class=”alignnone size-medium wp-image-5595″ />

Fahrenheit 911

In Fahrenheit 911 Michael Moore rejected music and narration in this montage, employing

only ambient sound to document everyday life in pre-war Baghdad. (Selected cuts)

Putting a Montage Together
Composing a montage is freeing and rewarding as you work to assemble a cohesive whole and stumble across random connections. You may put shots together from a variety of sources (dailies, news reel footage, YouTube, TV shows, archival sources, etc.) as well as variety of locations, eras, and angles. The juxtaposed shots will delight you and lead you down cutting paths you never imagined. Accidentally, you’ll insert a shot at the wrong place and be happily surprised by the result.

Some montages are a blend of images that are marvelous, soothing, gorgeous to behold such as a bevy of images of our national parks. Other montages serve up a collision of images where shots clash, disorient, or disturb viewers, e.g. a montage of exposing the pristine and poisoned lakes of our land. Either way, make sure that the audience will make the desired connections from your scene.

To get off to a good start cutting your montage, clearly organize, label, and describe your shots. This way you can ensure that they fit what you’re trying to say and show – and you can quickly grab them and throw them on your timeline as you’re immersed in the process of creating the montage.
Here are some specific DOs and DON’Ts for constructing a montage:

  • DO pay attention to pacing. Choose shot content, focal length, and duration to maximize information, engagement, and the story you’re telling.
  • DON’T make every cut the same duration. Choose each shot’s length – frames – to seconds – by how much information it needs to convey. Once the shot’s played out (is no longer engaging), cut away to something new. Often you’ll notice that the cuts tend to get shorter as the montage progresses.
  • DO freeze shots, speed them up, or slo mo them to communicate their content the most effectively.
  • DO feel free to use multiple visuals such as split screens, supers, layered shots to increase the information and pace of your montage.
  • DON’T use every type of wipe or dissolve in your digital editing machine’s toolbox. Unless you want to look amateur or are making a parody montage.
  • DO make sure that the sound you use – music, sound effects, and/or words – supports your montage.
  • DON’T cut on every beat of every of the music. Borrrring.
  • DO use color correction to adjust shots from different time periods, places, or sources for readability and aesthetics.

When you finished editing the montage, you’ll find you’ve created a scene that is much bigger than the sum of its cuts.


The long montage which Spike Lee inserted at the beginning of When the Levees Broke:

A Requiem in Four Acts serves as an elegy to the city of New Orleans. (Selected cuts).

Coming Up
In final blog on the art of editing montage, we’ll look at the types of montages and how in some cases they’ve become so clichéd that great spoof montages have been created.

Editing practices, Editor’s role, Technical & process

The Art of Editing a Montage – Part 1

January 16th, 2016

December’s issue of MovieMaker Magazine consists of its annual guide to making movies and once again contains an article I wrote, “The Myriad Uses of Montage.” You can buy the hard copy and read the article now or view it online in a few weeks. It’s a case of the editor being edited: My article was cut down a bit and retitled. To get the full benefit of my effort, I am running the entire article here over three posts. Today’s post reveals how a montage is conceived along with the purpose of a montage.


Show a lot of things happening at once.
Remind everyone of what’s going on.
And with every shot you show a little improvement
To show it all would take too long.
That’s called a montage (montage).
Oh we want montage (montage).
Song for montage scene in Team America and in South Park, Episode 3 Season 6

Montage. The word glides off the tongue of many a filmmaker, but what exactly does it mean? Derived from the French word “to mount,” a film montage is a succinct, self-contained sequence of images designed to convey or recap facts, feelings, or thoughts.

A montage arises from the script on a fiction show or the outline on a non-fiction show. Typically the script or outline will call for a montage with a line like these:

  • A series of shots as Jack and Jill go up the hill.
  • A progression of newspaper headlines revealing the murder.
  • Archive footage of tornadoes in the Midwest.

A montage can also be dreamt up after the shoot by the director or editor such as opening teaser montage showing what your doc will be about. Most opening credit sequences on TV shows are montage scenes.

frames from Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris starts with an dreamy montage of the city accompanied

by a drowsy jazz tune that sets up the movie. (Selected cuts.)

Purpose of a Montage
Documentaries, commercials, infomercials, news shows, dramas, and comedies – all types of shows – incorporate montages to get across information and move along the story that they’re telling. Montage scenes are self-contained and frequently serve as bridges between dialogue or action scenes. Most often a montage functions like a musical interlude as it bridges time, place, or knowledge with its evolving collage of images.

Montages are commonly relied upon to deliver exposition, flashback, or flashforward scenes. You can also employ a montage to stretch time or show a character’s interior thoughts. In the example below, we see where a desperate character’s mind goes when he’s immobilized in a canyon due to a boulder pinning his arm.

frames from 127 Hours

In this montage from 127 Hours, director Danny Boyle employs split screen shots to

deliver James Franco’s character thoughts of his family. (Selected cuts.)

Montage scenes invariably show and tell a lot of information in a short amount of time. Most often montages compress time, showing a week, a lifetime, or an era in a minute or two.


In Into the Wild director Sean Penn compressed time in this montage via postcard-like

text and music to show the main character’s journey to Alaska. (Selected cuts)

Coming Next
Part 2 of The Art of Editing Montage will give a brief history of the montage along and cover the rules for cutting montage including specific DOs and DON’T’S.

Editing practices, Editor’s role, History/research, Technical & process

Happy Holidays from MPEG

December 31st, 2015

iatseThe Motion Picture Editors Guild – Local 700 of IATSE –
sent its members this droll vintage video of what it takes to be an editor. You can also find it on YouTube.

Click here to learn more about the guild and its history.

Joy wishes you a wonderful 2016 that brings you joy and satisfaction in the pursuit and achievement of your filmmaking goals.

Editing practices, Editor’s role, Fun & games, History/research

Chantal Akerman: Innovator and Influential Director

December 7th, 2015

There are filmmakers who are good, filmmakers who are great, filmmakers who are in film history. And then there are a few filmmakers who change film history.
Nicola Mazzanti, director of the Royal Belgian Film Archive on Chantal Akerman

Chantal AckermanIt was only after her last breath– suicide due to depression following her mother’s death – and an RIP Facebook posting in October by an editor friend that filmmaker Chantal Akerman entered my awareness. I’m not even sure I could sit through one of her films. Yet the clips that I’ve seen and will show here as well as the articles I’ve read about her call out to me to be real in my creations. I’m setting my gleanings down here to motivate you and honor Akerman.

Born in 1950, She worked in film and video in her native Belgium, New York (where she lived from the late 1960s to early 1970s), and in Paris (where she spent the rest of her life). Here’s an interview that serves as an intro to her and her oeuvre:

Akerman on editing
“I was breathing, and then at one point I understood it was the time to cut. It was my breathing that decided the length of my shots.”

Akerman’s Filmmaking Style
She shot at least one film by placing the camera at her height – short. She routinely locked off her camera and let her subjects – trains, subways, actors etc. – enter and exit and disappear for long seconds before reappearing. Her sparse, deliberate, time taking, non-manipulative, often non-linear style from women’s perspectives calls out to all of us to be upfront, real and authentic.

British writer and film critic Adam Roberts described her camera moves – she often captured dolly shots captured form moving cars – in a long essay. “What is extraordinary about Akerman’s travelling shots is that they do not lead to a reveal [a unlike Hollywood her pans shots] never build to climax, or pay off. The movements are very even, without accent, and do not have the feeling of a movement towards or away from anything.”

Here’s an example from Les rendez-vous d’Anna, a short she shot in 1978.

Akerman’s Story
In 1964 at 14, she saw Jean Luc Godard’s Pierrot le Fou at 14 and decided to be a filmmaker. Beginning at 18, she directed over 40 innovative films (shorts and features) of various genres (fiction, documentary, thriller, comedy, art gallery, etc.) during her 65 years on the planet.

At 25 in 1975, she shot her first feature, Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. Considered one of her best films, it’s a drama that lacks drama – a fictionalized account of the deadening, daily life of a single mother a with a TRT of three hours and 45 minutes. Here’s the much-remarked upon scene of the Dielman (played by Delphine Seyrig) simply peels potatoes in one long, two and a half minute scene and take.

Auschwitz, which her parents survived and her grandparents did not, shadowed her life though she didn’t deal with it directly in most of her films. Her last film, No Home Movie (2015), consists of recorded conversations between her and her mother (via Skype and digital camera) and was an attempt (unsuccessful) to get her mother to unburden herself about Auschwitz.

Since WWII ended humanity has endured more torture, terrorism, and genocide. The continued murdering of our fellow humans leaves us beyond words with anger and sadness. Making films is one way to take action and move beyond isolation and defeat. So please, keep breathing. Keep making films. Keep furthering the human race. And perhaps someday the peace and world we imagine will materialize.

Editing & life, Editing practices, History/research

Art of the Film Score

October 17th, 2015

Vertigo posterDid you ever want to… Know the relationship between Pinocchio and the music in Close Encounters of the Third Kind? … Appreciate the genius of Bernard Herrmann, the composer for Vertigo and other memorable Hitchcock films? … Understand what goes into creating the music for films that so enraptures us?

Marcia BaumanFilm composer, professor, and friend Marcia Bauman will delve into the world of cinema music in the Art of the Film Score. It’s a four-week workshop that starts November 7 at CMCM (Center for Media in the County of Marin). Here’s the musically enticing trailer that Marcia and CMCM created for the class.

Marcia helped me on my latest film book, Cut by Cut: Editing Your Film or Video 2nd Edition and I’ve been wanting to take one of her classes for a long time. I will be there and hope to see you.

Time: 1-4 PM
Dates: Saturdays, November 7-28
Place: 819 A St. San Rafael, CA (CMCM)

Click here for more info about the class and its registration page.

Announcements, History/research, Sound & music editing, User groups & meetings

Free Feedback Workshop for Filmmakers

August 24th, 2015

Announcement of CMCM workshopIf you live near San Rafael and have a film in progress, starting September 2, I’ll be leading a feedback group, “Work-in-Progress Wednesdays” at CMCM (Center for Media, County of Marin).

The workshop is free and will meet every other month.

If you’re working on an 8–10 minute short piece, you can show your entire piece. If you’re editing a long form project, you can run up to 20 minutes of your cut.

Time: 6:30-8:30 PM
Date: Wednesday, September 2
Place: 819 A St. San Rafael, CA (CMCM)

In a safe, collegial space, you’ll hear feedback from fellow filmmakers as well as from me. I will enforce stated guidelines that will allow you to hear comments in a supportive atmosphere. Think of it as a free focus group.

To enter a clip, email a brief description of your project no later than Wednesday, August 26 to Otherwise, just show up and learn from watching others’ work and giving feedback. Learn more here.

Now look at this promo for “Work-in-Progress Wednesdays.” It gives you the information but it could use some feedback itself!

Announcements, Editing practices, User groups & meetings

Testing a Media Assets Site: Does Motion Array Meet a Freelance Editor’s Needs?

August 8th, 2015

When you have a website you get numerous unsolicited offers to improve your SEO. These emails go straight to my Block Senders and junk mail folder. Once in a blue moon – and July 31st there was a stupendous one – you get a request that is a win- win. Kaila Williams from Motion Array emailed me asking, “In an effort to increase our membership, I was wondering if you would be willing to write up a review of the services that Motion Array has to offer. We’d like to extend a free month of full membership (NOT the trial membership) in exchange for your honest review of Motion You would have access to all of the After Effects templates, stock video, stock music, and animations that we offer, in addition to the phenomenal customer service that we pride ourselves on.”

I immediately put Jay Scherberth editor extraordinaire and my partner in Picture Your Book on the case. Jay tried out the software and reported that “There really weren’t any significant negative aspects to the site or service.” Neither he nor I get remuneration of any kind from writing and posting this except for the quid pro quo stated above. Here’s his full review:

Jay on Motion Array
Motion Array logo Like most freelance Editors and Web Designers, I often have multiple projects going on, each with a looming deadline. If I don’t have the time or the skill set to create certain media assets, I’ll look to the web for a solution. There are plenty of stock footage sites out there like iStock, Getty Images and Shutterstock which do a decent job at providing the basics like photos, illustrations, and some music. However, often times I’m looking for something more, like unique motion graphics and fresh new After Effects templates.

Motion Array graphicRecently, I tested a media asset site that provided everything I needed for a project at a very reasonable cost. That site is and on it I found just the right stock music and an easy to modify After Effects template with a tutorial. To finish it all off, I grabbed a great stock motion background piece.

Motion Array categorizes all media assets and they are easily searchable. This is important because I would rather spend time creating than searching. All stock motion graphics come in QuickTime format and are encoded in popular video codecs, making them compatible with most all popular editing software like Adobe Premiere, my NLE of choice. The video resolutions, codecs, and frame rates are all listed on the individual product pages.

Motion Array previewThe folks at have done a fine job at creating a well-organized, minimally designed (remember- less is more!) website that comes up fast. I especially like the previewing options that are built into all sections of the website. If you want just a quick look or listen, simply click the asset thumbnail and it plays almost instantly. If you discover a piece of music or an After Effect template that looks promising, click the asset name and you’re presented with a detailed product page, listing format, resolution, frame rate, etc. and a large player. I especially appreciate the “Related Products” suggestions that appear just below the asset you’re examining. This helps you to zero in on just the right piece by suggesting alternative versions. is constantly adding new material which has become an almost daily ritual for me. It’s fun to discover the new, cutting edge material they’re coming up with. The amount of motion effect flares, fractals, shimmering light streaks and swirling particles seem endless but the number and quality of their animated text effects is equally impressive.

And finally, downloading and using the material is painless due to the built-in product tutorials packaged with each asset. While browsing the website, be sure to examine their extensive library of tutorials and free downloads. There is plenty to like here, especially Motion Array’s no long-term contracts policy. Check it out!

Editing practices, Editor’s role, Technical & process, Visual FX editing

The Lumière Brothers and their Fantastic Film Machines – Part 2

July 15th, 2015

Lumiere BrothersAfter Louis and Auguste Lumière introduced their Cinematograph to the world and turned its hand crank to run the world’s first film in December 1895, they had many offers to buy the dual camera-projection machine. But the brothers Lumière refused all offers. In 1896 they took their Cinématograph show on the road, opening theatres in London, Brussels, and New York and projecting their short, celluloid films.

film strip

That year they also shot over 40 “Actualités” – short films about daily life in Lyon and environs. Additionally, they filmed the first newsreel, (of the French Photographic Society conference) and the first documentary (on Lyon’s Fire Department).

First Cinema Auteurs
Next the Lumières and trained a team of operators to use the Cinematograph and to shoot scenes that were screened as “Lumière shots.” monitors at Lumiere Museum The team fanned out from Lyon to capture everyday life and events all over the world from China to Turkey to the U.S. They filmed in a particular style developed by the Lumières which dictated where to place the camera, and basic film grammar, rendering the brothers the first auteurs, according to film historians. All in all, the operators created 1428 shots, many of which run continuously at the museum. (See photo of monitors to right.)

“There’s something extremely cinematographic in the films that Louis Lumière and his cameramen made … He is “the last of the inventors but he’s the first of the filmmakers.”
Thierry Frémaux, director of the Institut Lumière and the Cannes Film Festival

The Photorama
In 1900 the Lumières came up the first surround theatre with the invention of the Photorama. At the museum which photoramaI visited in Lyon, you could stand inside the system and watch a street scene of horse drawn carriages and people negotiating the streets of Marseilles. The Photorama used 50mm and 70mm film placed in 12 cameras to shoot the scene. To project it the Photorama employed 12 lenses attached to a circular plate rotating 3X/second that swept past the film in a circular motion, encircling the audience.

Moving on
As vaudeville theatres began adding the novelty of movies to their repertoire and filmmaking became a business with directors, actors, etc. the Lumières lost interest. “We stopped filming to leave it to the artists,” Louis stated. After 1914 the French influence declined and Hollywood took the reins.

But the Lumières dedication to image making didn’t stop there.

In 1903, after two years of work, Louis came up with what he considered the greatest invention of his life.Ad for Lumiere film He developed the autochrome plate, the first color photography process. Dubbed the “blue label” due to the color of the boxes the film came in, the invention allowed people to take photographs by themselves, without depending on a photographer. The process lasted over 30 years and made the Lumières very rich.

Other Lumière Inventions

The brother continued to create photographic materials andLumiere Truck invented a precursor to the hologram but they also ventured into other areas. Louis invented a mechanical hand to replace those amputated on WWI soldiers. August came up devised a non-adhesive dressing – the Tulle Gras – that was used for decades to help burn victims. He also founded pharmaceutical laboratories and the medical review. The Frères Lumières patented over 200 inventions before Louis died in 1948 and Auguste died in 1954.

And the last word goes to …

Louis Lumiere Plaque… Thierry Frémaux: “Lumière invented the movie theater. Of course, you can watch films on watches, on iPhones, great. But the movie theater is incomparable.”

History/research, Technical & process