Friday, August 25, 2006

Editing 101

Okay so I've been catching a lot of newer movies that have been either coming out in theaters now, or are finally making their way to cable. The one thing that bothers me of late is the editing of some of these movies. I recently read this article written by Jessica Walter about "The lost art of film editing", and she has a point.

Way back in film school when we edited film we were taught film grammar. Like English film had it's own unique grammar. One can manipulate the image and make the audience feel a certain way by presenting it in different ways. Cinematography was part of it, but editing is where you put it all together. A simple example would be cutting from a long shot of a character to a close-up or extreme close-up of that character. It acts like an explanation point. The suddenness of the cut forces the audience's attention. It happens quick, and fast. Put certain music behind the shot and it becomes something like a jolt. Another example would be a sort of montage of close-up, and extreme close-ups which build into a jolting barrage of images that can make an audience feel dizzy or hyper.

A great book about film editing that every filmmaker should read is Walter Murch's "In the Blink of an Eye". It's all about film editing, and who better to write it then the editor or the sound editor of such films as: 'The Conversation", "Apocalypse Now", "The Godfather I & II", "American Graffiti" and a bunch of award winners too numerous to list here. It's a great book and it has a whole bunch of stuff that is valuable to a filmmaker editing his own feature.

Before NLE's there was editing the old fashioned way. Cutting celluloid and assembling the shots was done by using a movieola, which was a up-right editing machine. There you assemble the shots, and picked the shots you wanted in the film. For my film "Deadly Obsessions" I used a KEM editor. It's called a flat-bed editor, and it has a 12 inch screen where I can view the image. Now when I took editing I had a professor that drilled it in us that after cutting the film you should view it on a projector, and watch it on the big screen. Why you ask?

Well because watching a film on a small screen can ruin you're timing. Shots that need to be longer are too short, and shots that are too long can be cut down. It was always a pain to do this because sometimes you had to double splice you're film. You did this because the projector would eat it you're film sometimes, or the splice would break mid way through the reel. A pain, but one where you had to be careful. If the splice worked you kept it, but most of the time you'd find out that a shot ran too long or too short. If that was the case it was back to the film bin where you would locate the frames that you cut and splice that back into the print.

Now of course this all took time, and now with NLE's all over the place people are cutting and re-cutting at breakneck speeds. Some NEVER show it on a projector, and then are sometimes stunned to see their shot, or shots not work up on the screen. Hence the lost art of film editing. Ms Winter's article closes with a sentence I really think is so true in today's cinema:

"The power of the gaze has been circumvented by technology".

I sincerely believe this, and hope that the trend ends, but with more and more film directors coming from the commercial world this may not end anytime too soon. Maybe it's time to re-learn the classics and ssee how the masters did it. After all old school doesn't mean it's old it just means it's done GOOD.

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