One, two, three, action!

Have you ever sat in a movie theater and thought how exactly did they make that happen? Although the technical craft of editing is fairly easy to master, come take a look at how the usage of editing tools can actually bring the story to life in a much more complicated way!

As Ronald Osgood and Joseph Henshaw talk about in Visual Storytelling: Videography and Post production in the Digital Age, editing is much more complicated then you think. The editor must always maintain believability, keep the story interesting, and provide information to advance the story. Understanding the psychology behind the editing process is critical to making the story logical, compelling, and entertaining. Over the last 100 years, several pioneering efforts have helped pave the way for editors today. Continue reading to find out about how this gets done!

Post Production Phase

“Editing is now something almost everyone can do at a simple level and enjoy it, but to take it to a higher level requires the same dedication and persistence that any art form does.” – Walter Murch

In most cases, the post production phase defines the story and brings it to life. During this phase, footage is usually reviewed, shortened, and arranged. Sound track elements are modified and mixed, effects are added, and all color is corrected. By doing this, the original story is enhanced.

Getting Inside the Mind

“I keep telling my editors, if you win an award for editing, I won’t work with you anymore. You’re editing shows.” Louis Malle

While the director decides where to place the camera during a shot, the editor decides when each edit should occur. Some cuts establish continuity between images while others force the audience to think critically about the overarching message. For cutting shots, the director and editor must be able to justify their motive behind every single cut. The most logical cut is to allow the viewer to see the content from a different perspective or to show them something new.

Image & Sound: As more pictures and sound are added to the film, the audience is able to gather more information. Although some say a picture is worth 1,000 words, sound makes this statement even stronger.

Shot relationship: The audience’s believability is dependent on the editor’s patience and attention to detail. Just like a story, the relationship of two scenes can make the message believable or confusing. While two shots might be taken in two different places, it’s the editing that joins them together.

Time: “Manipulating time is a primary reason for editing” (232). In every case, the editor must cut to retain credibility with the audience by always presenting a cohesive and coherent story that fits realistic time. Since there are commercials during TV shows, the editor also has to keep this in mind as well.

Rhythm & Pacing: Have you ever watched a movie and thought, ‘where exactly is this going?’ Well, it’s actually the editors job to decide the pace and rhythm of each and every shot. The hard part is deciding how long a shot should be on the screen so the viewer gets all the information needed.

Continuity: This refers to maintaining consistency within the story from shot to shot. This will help the scene look more believable & real.

Montage: A montage is a grouping of unrelated images to produce a new meaning. This usually happens during the beginning of TV shows and helps the audience stay tuned until the characters are introduced.

Sequencing: This is a series of shots that all relate to the same activity. Sequencing helps add interest and sophistication to scenes & it also helps the viewer better understand the scene.

Techniques & Transitions

“For a writer, it’s a word. For a composer or musician, it’s a note. For an editor, it’s the frame, and two frames off is the difference between a sweet note and a sour note.” Quentin Tarantino

Transitions: this is the change from one shot to another. It is the fundamental action that advances a story line from shot to shot and scene to scene.

The Cut (the most common transition): If this is done effectively, the story line is clear and easy to follow. Sometimes, the audience might not even know that a transition occurred! Likewise, if a cut happens at the wrong time, the audience may be confused. Making frame-accurate edits is achieved by careful consideration of each frame while assessing when an edit should occur.

  • On dialogue, the cut is easily recognizable. When this is done correctly, relationships between characters are clear.
  • For music, cutting on the beat is very important. Although it may seem easy, it takes a patient editor to cue the sound to the exact frame.
  • When done correctly, the cut on action creates wonderfully synergy in action scenes.

Mix: This is a generic term for a transition when one scene fades while another scene appears. Depending on the speed of the fade, the audience will have different interpretations.

Dissolve: This is defined as the mix between two images. “Using dissolve between shots of a person in a variety of locations allows the audience to understand that the scenes don’t take place in real time” (244).

The Magic of Editing

“The power an editor has in altering reality is enhanced with numerous techniques and tricks developed through years of experience. For every problem, there’s usually a creative solution.” (244)

The use of on-screen movement and vectors is a highly effective technique that helps advance from one shot to the next. Using natural cues can help create logic and symmetry in editing during a shot where the actor is turning his head to look in another direction.

  • Another simple but effective editing technique is the L cut. This cut occurs when the picture and sound start at slightly different times. The L cut is usually used to create interest or suspense. Sometimes, this cut is cured by a talent delivering a line or a voice-over.
  • One way to startle the audience is through a reveal edit. In this edit, the logic of the sequence is technically correct but the editor has achieved a change in time or location. By using this technique to advance the story line, the audience will stay alert and interested.
  • filter is an effect that can be added to a clip or to an entire film. For example, sometimes flashbacks are shown in black and white. This will usually help the audience understand what’s going on without getting confused.

So how do you become a successful editor?

The only thing more important then technique is the ability to use your tools effectively. The key to this is experience and attention to detail. Through patience and skill, an editor can convey emotion and provide clarity to the audience. Most editors will also tell you that having good enough footage and spending sufficient time preparing for the editing session with save you large amounts of time and money. Comment some of your favorite films!

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