Laying out the rest of the groundwork for designing your project, this post concludes my four-part Laying out the rest of the groundwork for designing your project, this post concludes my four-part series on the magical, imagineering aspects and grounded engineering requirements of envisioning your film from an editorial standpoint.
3) Shoot right for postproduction
Too many projects show up into the cutting room sadly compromised due to poor audio, lighting, or planning in general. If you’re involved with production, when you’re on location or on the set, be sure to get the critical shots, record the important sounds, and keep accurate logs and records during. Shooting correctly saves time, stress, and money in postproduction and reaps fantastic footage that you can’t wait to start editing!
Bringing together the MAGICAL and the TECHNICAL
Once you’ve got the shot footage in front of you:
Be organized and know your shots
…while it’s great to talk about how revolutionary Avatar is, we were still making a movie…when you come down to it, all this technology is just there to make the images more compelling and to tell the story better. Ultimately, we’re asking the same questions editors always ask: Does this shot work? Does this scene serve the story? It’s all about performance and story. Things just take a little longer to get done when you’re on the moon Pandora…
John Refoua, A.C.E., co-editor, Avatar
You’ve got to know your raw material in order to have an idea of how you’re going to edit it. View the footage for the scene and make mental and/or written notes about shots, lines, angles, or cutting ideas. Also, review any notes you took when screening dailies or that you received from the director. The late Dede Allen, who edited Bonnie and Clyde, Dog Day Afternoon, and many other major films related how she works: “If you have a great deal of coverage, you really can’t just go plowing through the whole thing, you’d never remember all of it… I make massive notes which I have if I need them, but I memorize the material so thoroughly that I seldom even look at my notes.”
You’ve already read the script but now you have the real, filmed version of a scene along with the lined pages that the script supervisor labored over for your benefit. As you approach cutting the scene, familiarize yourself with it as well as the scenes before and after it. Since you usually edit a show out of sequence, it’s important to be clear on what the scene is about. Ask yourself: What led to this scene? What does this scene lead to?
If your project is a doc, PSA, or other non-scripted piece, review the paper cut and keep it and your logs of the shots handy as you cut. Since non-scripted shows normally have fewer guidelines than scripted shows, your editing will have a major impact on its content and structure. Initially you will be the one who decides what the audience sees and learns and when they see it and learn it, so you want to know your shots and laser in on the story you’re molding from them.
Doc or drama, you want to be clear on the purpose of the project you’re editing and who will be seeing it. Is it a training film for navy recruits or a cereal commercial aimed at kids? Is it a muckraking documentary on the food industry or a drama about Navaho code talkers in World War II? You get the idea.
Finally, as much as you have ideas for how you will put scenes and the show together, as you progress, you will find things don’t work as envisage. This is normal and means you will have to try other approaches to making a cut or a scene work. Remember the wise words of sound and picture editor Walter Murch, (The English Patient, Apocalypse Now, and many more): “Editing is not so much a putting together as it is the discovery of a path.”