Archive for September, 2009

Film Editing: Great Cuts Every Filmmaker and Movie Lover Must Know – The Journey to its Creation Part 1

September 30th, 2009

Film Editing: Great Cuts Every Filmmaker and Movie Lover Must Know

Today is the day! My new book, Film Editing: Great Cuts Every Filmmaker and Movie Lover Must Know is now officially out. It was a pleasure to write and I hope you will enjoy it. You can read all about it and where to find it on this site so here I’ll write about the journey behind it.

Michael Wiese, the publisher, proposes

I am extremely fortunate to have an active, enthusiastic publisher in Michael who runs his company like a benign head of a family and honors his authors with praise and freedom. He grokked my first book (Cut by Cut: Editing Your Film or Video) as soon as he received my 100+ page book proposal and changed my life by accepting it for publication.

This second book, he proposed to me January 2, 2008. He originally gave the book a working title of Editing 101 and viewed that it would “…have an editing principle on every other page.  In other words, each two page spread will illustrate a cut that works (or maybe doesn’t) using frame grabs from well known movies.” His only restriction was that I use movies that were 5 years old or less.


I started the book by thinking of all the types of cuts that editors use: match cuts, flash cuts, smash cuts, subliminal cut, etc. I did research by reading and taking editors out to lunch or dinner. I created a giant file of all the info about all the types of edits that I’d identified. From this I made a table and categorized all the edits into categories. The categories became the basis of the chapters.

Pulling the frames

My editor and a fellow Wiese author helped me find software that allowed me to grab frames from movies on DVDs. Then I began my hunt through movies. I turned the sound off on my computer a lot of the time. Why? I’d become engrossed in the movie and miss the cuts. I turned it up to make sense the cut in the context of the scene and movie.

My chapters increased as I fell in love with the cuts and I couldn’t bear to show just one example each type of cut. During this phase I gained more appreciation than ever for what editors and directors do, backed up by actors and a crew of cinematographers, set designers, animators, etc.

Showing all genres

I decided to show that all type of cuts are used in all genres of films so I used genres that I normally wouldn’t watch. I fell in love with movies that I’d missed like The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Hot Fuzz. A friend asked if I was including any samurai movies – and lent me Hero; its balletic choreography I will not forget. A nephew gave me Paprika whose clever moviemaking instructions and determined heroine impressed me. And then was the re-viewing of movies like Finding Neverland and The Corpse Bride where I discovered sly cuts that the directors inserted.

More on the journey to the book tomorrow.

Editing practices, Editor’s role, Joy goes to the movies

Antietam Creek – A short film

September 29th, 2009

Found this poignant short on, another good site with a forum and information for editors.

Antietam Creek from Stephen Lewis on Vimeo.

Filmmaker Stephen Lewis commented: “My directorial debut. I learned a lot making it, especially about coverage. There were many shots I wish I had while editing that I did not get. It tells the story of a Union soldier longing for home on the eve of the battle of Antietam.”

Congrats Stephen! You did a great job with what you had (good footage) and your sound work was excellent – spare and supportive of your story. I especially appreciated your subject having visited Antietam, and seen the 2008 doc, Antietam (part of the History Channel’s 10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America series) and because I possess a letter handed down from a distant cousin who survived this bloodiest of Civil War battles.

Joy views your film

The Editor’s Prayer

September 28th, 2009

Our perfect director who art in heaven,

Showered with Oscars be thy name.

Thy Lifetime Achievement will come, thy will be done

In the editing room as it is on location.

Give us this day our daily film and

Forgive the missing footage as we also forgive

the person in charge of continuity.

Lead us not into frustration

But deliver us from the talent free director,

For ours is the splicer, the mouse,

and the objective eye.



Editing & life, Editing practices, Editor’s role, Fun & games

Glourious Sound Nuts

September 25th, 2009

Believe it or not, the first thing I thought about was how the war did not sound like war. Having grown up watching Hollywood war movies I expected a lot more sound and much bigger sound. It was not until I was hit that I realized what I was in was real. — observation by a WWII veteran*

The lengths that a sound editor, a.k.a. sound designer (head of the sound editors) will go to get realistic, creative sound effects was brought home once again in the Tarantino film Inglourious Basterds. During the climactic scene in the cinema, a movie is projected about a Nazi hero who took out 150 Allied soldiers from a watch tower. The sound designers were determined that this “movie with a movie” sound like a German film from the 1940s and went to great creative lengths to achieve this. In an interview in the September/October Editors Guild Magazine, they recount how they went to Berlin and explored using 1940s tools and ended up using modern digital tools to create a vintage sound.

Who would ever know? But this is typical of the devotion and distance that sound folks will go to create the sounds of movies.  In creating the mundane as well as the magical sounds of the movies we see, sound designers make us believe in the movie.

Prove it to yourself with this experiment

Mute the sound on a TV show or DVD and see what you notice. Then do the reverse: Turn off the picture – during an action scene preferably – and listen to the words, sounds, and music.

You’re on your way to appreciating sound! I continue to be amazed myself by the layered sound of U.S. movies and to allow for sound in my editing… consider this the first blast on the subject.

*from Robert L. Mott’s Sound Effects: Radio, TV, and Film. Boston MA: Focal Press, 1993.

Sound & music editing

The Power of Film

September 24th, 2009

I find Tarantino film hard to connect due to their violence and lack of characters I can relate to. Nevertheless I was drawn to go to a screening of Inglourious Basterds. While I agree with the reviews – it’s a ham handed (or should I say wiener schnitzel handed) attempt to fictionalize history that’s an homage to WWII movies like The Dirty Dozen and takes itself too seriously – I was engaged from the beginning. Tarantino and his long time editor, Sally Menke, [more about the editing in future posts] know how to keep up the dramatic tension. I enjoyed, appreciated and felt it from beginning to end. I was always watching for the build up to the next piece of violence.

I was most impressed by Christoph Waltz’s performance as Nazi Colonel Landa – a hawk who clearly believed his human prey were all rats and enjoying circling, baiting and trapping them. Every time he said to someone, “I want to have a little talk with you…alone” you knew the game was going to be re-played. I hope to see more of Waltz in different roles.

Landa was the only character with depth and humanity, ironic since he was a relentlessly overachieving Nazi. Every other character in the film, though at times affecting, lacked depth owing to being either one-dimensional or under-explained. Except for Brad Pitt, who offered only a huge helping of southern ham as the leader of the band of brothers, oops, basterds. Makes me wonder if Tarantino, who also wrote the script, isn’t a masterminding, controlling person making his movies like Landa was making his war.

In the movie U.S stereotypes, evident in Pitt’s character and the Americans views of Germans, comingled with Nazi stereotypes. And there were dramatic reversals e.g.: The climactic scene in the cinema started with a Nazi soldier shooting American soldiers from a watch tower and ended with Americans shooting Germans from the cinema’s balcony.

Nazis notoriously tattooed numbers on their prisoners so I appreciated the American version – branding a swastika on their forehead. It is a nice fantasy to think of Nazis – who got away with their crimes for the most part and blended back in German and other societies seamlessly – as forever marked men.

Cinema Vaparisio

Tarantino clearly intended the ending of Inglourious Basterds to demonstrate the power of film: A Nazi propaganda movie lures Nazi bigwigs to a cinema and nitrate reels are ignited to vaporize them.

This took me back to when I was a cashier at a drive-in theatre in the mid-70s. Secretly, the projectionist was training me to run the booth. I didn’t believe him what he told about nitrate film. So one night we waited until all the patrons had been driven off the field and the manager and his trusty Doberman had finally driven off in his old Cadillac. We slipped onto the field and popped opened a rusty can of nitrate. The projectionist threw a lit match into the can. The reel sparked instantly, then flamed and burned as I stood in the dark, amazed.

Joy goes to the movies

All Things Student

September 21st, 2009

Following on my interview with independent filmmaker high school student J.T. last week, here’s a site that offers a forum on all aspects of filmmaking as well as resources and a magazine for students:

Editing practices, Editor’s role, Jobs

Would you, Could you, Should you Edit Your Own Life?

September 18th, 2009

In The Cutting Edge The Magic of Movie Editing a 2004 documentary available on DVD, producer-director-writer Rob Cohen asks, “…and editing is why people like movies. Because in the end, wouldn’t we like to edit our own lives?”

Would you like to edit your own life? Remove the painful parts, cut out the just plain rotten spots, speed up the boring bits, or elongate joyful times?

Cohen responds to his own question with, “I think everybody would like to take out the bad parts, take out the slow parts, and look deeper into the good parts.”

Story editing

Me? I think you should edit the story of your life when it comes up in conversation with others – otherwise your communication would get bogged down by too many inconsequential details. This blog is certainly an example of the editing of my life.

Life editing

The idea of contracting or cutting out the painful times – like shortening or deleting a scene or a shot – is quite appealing. And prolonging and heightening the joyful times – like stretching out a scene – is downright enticing.

But do I believe we should edit our lives if we could? In other words, change them.

No. I want to probe deeper into the fearful, hard times until I’ve learned all I can from them and can them marshal them as needed and savor the good times. When I look back on my life I can see that X led to Y even though at the time I wasn’t aware of the connection. To cut out anything would mean losing these transitions. Transitions help us understand our lives and I want to mine my own life and the lives of others (living and dead, real and fictional) to understand as much as I can about life and myself.


This whole idea of editing our lives, of how editing and movie affect editors and non-editors, fascinates me. So from time to time these posts will look at how movies edit our lives and make them into stories as well as how we edit our own lives.

Editing & life

Letter from a high school senior

September 17th, 2009

Late last spring I received the following email from J.T., a high school senior. I think his questions and my responses would apply to college students as well:

I am graduating this year and I have chosen to do my senior project on film editing. I have read your book [Cut by Cut: Editing Your Film or Video] and it has been one of the greatest tools for me personally. Being an independent filmmaker I was hoping you might answer some questions for my project. Your insight would greatly help me not only with my senior project but for my future films.

I’ve incorporated some of J.T.’s questions and my responses into my “Ten Tips on Getting an Editing Job”. Here are the rest of my responses:

J.T.’s Questions

  1. What’s your favorite genre to edit and why?
    I like drama, docs, and comedy – anything that centers around people and their stories.
  2. What’s the difference between a good editor and a great editor?
    Mostly the material and creative control. If you have good footage and a good script, are allowed to have your input and are given the necessary time, you can do great things.
  3. What common obstacles does an editor face on a daily basis?
    Tight schedules, especially in TV.
  4. What is the best and worst part of your job?
    Worst: Politics. Lack of control over time and your life. Lack of awareness of and respect for editing. Having it seen as a craft and technical, not as an art. It has its mundane aspects like directing and cinematography but is part of the creative artistry of any filmed project.
    Best: I find editing totally absorbing. When editing, you’re in your own world with the footage, and while you’re putting it together and viewing it, it becomes a part of you. I love pulling the story out of the material and building the relationships with and between the characters and people.

Editing practices, Editor’s role

Parallel Action – Julie and Julia

September 15th, 2009

Saw Julie and Julia last night. It was great to spend time with Meryl Streep (Julia Child): Who else could play a tall, gawky woman who spoke bad French at first – so not Meryl herself. And it was great to spend time with the just as versatile Stanley Tucci (husband Paul Child) and see Amy Adams (Julie Powell) a rising actress of whom I am growing fond.

A couple of editing observations

Central to the movie is the interweaving of two story lines: Julia’s and Julie’s. This is known as parallel action a.k.a. parallel editing. The two women never meet but their stories, when edited together, play off each other to create a singular, single movie. Parallel editing starts many a movie, but usually the two characters (or groups of characters) meet and fight, make love, or interact in some way. In this story the growth and interaction are all on the Julie character.

I also liked the devices for the time transitions – obvious but serviceable and fun.

Kudos to Richard Marks, A.C.E., whose films I’ve enjoyed over the years, and the rest of the crew.

Movie’s morals

The movie’s two morals are great ones:

1)    Do your best and don’t apologize!

2)    People in your fantasies are not the same as in reality. Julie revered Julia for a long time and from a distance. Julia (according to the movie) wasted no time making up her mind that she hated Julie and dismissed.
Moral: You’ve got to have both fantasy and reality and emerge with your own truth, especially when they clash.

Many have criticized the movie saying the Julia/accomplished actress Streep/Master chef parts zoomed along and they wanted more of them and conversely that the Julie/budding actress Adams/neophyte cook parts dragged and they wanted to see less of the. Streep insisted that she was not impersonating the chef. “I’m playing Julia as Julie’s idea of what she was like.”* The movie needed both Julie’s reality and her fantasy in order to succeed.

We all go to the movies for both reality and fantasy (escape). I love movies that comment on this, blatantly like Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo or Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. and more subtly like Nora Ephron’s Julie and Julia.

Reality and fantasy feed each other and bon appétit to both I say!


Editing practices, Joy goes to the movies

Spotlight on the editor

September 14th, 2009

“Ignore the little man behind the curtain.”

Wizard in Wizard of Oz

To bring editors out from behind the curtain, this post introduces what I intend to be a regular feature: Your Cutting Room View. What better way to bring editors out from the shadows than to throw a light on us in our cutting rooms?

So send in your photos! Whether you’re an assistant or apprentice editor, a student editor, visual FX or sound FX editor, an editor of movies, TV, YouTube, docs, infomercials, etc. – as long as you toil in a cutting room, you’re in!

Feel free to be as professional or zany as you like. Submit your entry here.

Here’s the first entry:

Les Perkins, Glendale, CA. Owner of LesIsMoreProductions, he cuts on a professional grade FCP and has won 60 awards Producing/Editing/Directing/Writing bonus features for DVDs. Learn more about Les at

Your cutting room view