I am writing about editing a film today because it is close to my heart. I feel so many times a film is made or broken in the edit. In my personal opinion, it is the most challenging and difficult area to teach and for the emerging filmmaker to learn. Most arguments between producers, directors and actors occur in the edit room. Most student films depend on the quality of the editor who edits them.
I, myself, have at times been given such poor source material and somehow managed to save the scene and make it work. However, if the material from the shoot has only one shot that is poorly executed, no editor can save it. There is a limit, and today I want to talk about three ways you can really help your edit succeed.
This means you get your wide shot, your medium shots, your close ups, your POVs. So many times, the shoot has been poorly executed. The scene is sparsely covered with poor shot choices. In fact, this is the easiest part to get right and it is something I am currently drilling our film course participants on. Namely, how to get the best coverage for your scene.
So many people have these amazing shots and visuals in their head but they throw the baby out with the bathwater and have lousy blocking. Blocking is the movement of the actors on the set. Essentially, it is the choreography of the actor’s movement and it is directed by the Director. You work out the movement that looks natural and in most cases dynamic for the scene. Then you cover the scene with shots which is your coverage. If this occurs, you will have set up the foundation of a great edit.
Secondly, hire or find the very best editor that you can source, or become a great editor.
Yes, this is where you should spend some money finding the very best editors. Editors can be found on the awesome Top Tech Website or Aus Crew website or Star Now or sometimes, there will be great student editors that you network with on an awesome film course.
How do you know that they are good? Watch their previous work and see what they have previously edited. Watch the film without the sound. Mute that sound and watch the edits. Is it smooth and flows and tells the story at the correct pace? Does the film have continuity? If so, hire them. Or is the edit too long with rough cuts and blotchy editing? If so, run a 100 kilometres away from this person. If you hire the best person who is committed to making your film great, you will only have to work in with the editor as Director. A Director Editor combination is a great collaboration and often helps the film move to a higher realm.
Many film makers these days learn how to edit their own films and this works if the film maker is a talented editor. It takes time to become a really good editor. Yes, you can learn how to use an editing software package in a matter of weeks. Make sure you use a professional editing package such as Premiere Pro C6 or Avid. In fact, at Sydney Film Base, we now train specialist editors in how to edit. We only have two people in the edit class and the film instructor then teaches them how to edit. This is only open to people who are on the ‘Four Month Film Directors Course’. It takes time to learn how to be a really good editor which brings me to point three.
Even if you find a really good editor and the edit is rushed, the result will be a poor quality film. I am surprised at how so many people think that a fast editor is a good editor. Often this is not the case. Fast editors lack patience and often do not enjoy the process. Think of food that is prepared by a chef who hates the process and just wants to get the food cooked as fast as possible. The food often is tasteless.
Imbue your edit with love and detail and enjoy the process of editing. It is not a sprint. When I personally edit, I edit a scene at a time this way:
- I watch the source material in detail. I take time with this and I cut my phone off and do not take calls or texts. I watch and mark out the best parts of each take. For a typical 2 – 3 minute scene there may be 45 minutes – 1 hour of material. So this will take 90 minutes to watch and mark and observe the material. When this is done, I will have a short ten minute break. I will think over the footage in my head and then get ready for the first cut.
- I cut with flow. Generally, the first cut takes the longest as I start to create the scene. I feel out the scene. I let it flow from close up to wide shot to medium shot to close up where there is a great moment in the actor’s performance where they express a strong emotion. I feel it is like playing the guitar and it is a highly creative process. Eventually after 30 – 40 minutes I will have the 2 – 3 minute scene edited. I move on to the next scene.
- Eventually, I will have a rough cut of the whole film and I will then watch the whole film observing it closely. A Rough Cut is rough and will run about 25 – 40% longer than it should.
- Then I detail and fine cut making the very best cut I can. I am ruthless at this process and I will be shaving two frames of fresh air between cuts. Fresh air refers to silence between cuts that causes a languid long cut that bores audiences and makes the film feel long.
- Eventually I will have a fine cut. I will do the same for all other scenes.
- Then I will polish the film cut going over and over till perfection occurs.
This all takes time and the editor who edits fast is like a lover who blows too fast.
TAKE YOUR TIME AND PERFECT.
Editing is such a critical area. Great actors know they are in the hands of the Film Director and the editor. If they are great, the film has an excellent chance of being good. If they are poor, no great acting performance will save the finished film.