Today’s post concludes the Letterman-style countdown designed to counteract the misconceptions held by way too many people.
5. Putting footage together is a no brainer.
Au contraire. I, and filmmakers far greater than me, believe that editing is what set filmmaking apart from other arts. Editing mimics thought. It accomplishes this with the selection of shots – close-ups, wide shots, POVs, etc. – and their juxtaposition. Editing uses flashcuts, flashbacks, flashforwards, short and long cuts, close-ups and manipulates the “real” filmed time to do this. Editing imitates the brain and it takes brain to do it. To quote John Huston who directed Chinatown, The African Queen, The Maltese Falcon and many more, “Film is like thought. It’s the closest to the thought process of any art.”
4. Editors leave actors on the cutting room floor.
In reality, the editor is the actor’s best friend whom they rarely get to meet. Editors coordinate actors’ timings and reactions so that each performance is consistent and attains its dramatic purpose and builds the character’s arc. Sometimes this means holding a beat on an actor to expand the emotion and time. Sometimes it means cutting tight to sustain a performance and keep a taut pace. Always, it means molding the best performance to fit the character and the scene.
3. “We’ll save it in post.”
While postproduction (editing) has rescued many a project from doom, it cannot resuscitate a poorly conceived or written story, abominably lit scenery, or sound that is distorted or otherwise poorly recorded. Again plan. Or ignore post at the peril of your pocketbook and the look and sound of your show.
2. Editing is a craft, not particularly creative, and not nearly as important as screenwriting, directing, acting, or cinematography.
Try it. You‘ll see. Here’s what Francis Ford Coppola has to say, “The essence of cinema is editing. It’s the combination of what can be extraordinary images of people during emotional moments, or images in a general sense, put together in a kind of alchemy.” I couldn’t have said it any better.
1. Editors just take out the bad bits.
The show is mere footage until editor sculpts it. Or, to put it crassly, the show on arrival at the editor’s cutting room is merely a hunk of meat (or raw carrot for you veggies). It may be filet mignon but it’s not a meal until the editor makes it into a meal. Or as director Angle Lee puts it more eloquently: “Shooting is like buying groceries and the real cooking is at the editing table.”
Just as house selling comes down to “location, location, location” for editing comes down to “story, story, story.” Each cut that an editor lays down must be motivated to move the story forward. It must give more information, up the conflict, drama, or emotion – or do all of the above. As the 2-10 above show, editing is far more than a taking out. Rather, it’s a joining of frames taken from shots to make a whole. We’ll leave the last word to Walter Murch, the reigning editor-guru who cuts picture and sound on such film as Apocalypse Now, The English Patient, and On Cold Mountain. “Editing is not so much a putting together as it is the discovery of a path.”