Dictionary.com defines edit as “to prepare (motion-picture film, video, or magnetic tape) by deleting, arranging, and splicing, by synchronizing the sound record with the film, etc.”37
One way to define editing is to use the formula: Shot < Scene < Sequence = Editing.
A shot is defined as a short, continuous single run of the film. A scene is composed of numerous shots cut, and they are joined together. A scene can be anything that the director wants it to be, such as someone entering a room, having a conversation with a person in the room, and then leaving the room. A sequence is a number of scenes joined together that could be a large percentage of the movie when it is finished.
Many terms are used when discussing film editing and how it is done. From the novice viewpoint, we are going to introduce you to the primary areas of film editing so you understand the general process of movie editing. In order to do this, we will go through the editing process, some of the editing techniques and principles, and the cutting transitions that go from one shot to another to develop the different scenes and sequences for a movie.
The producer hires the editor. Editing is performed in the post-production process. Editing is a very labor intensive job in movie making with a certain amount of stress with having to meet a deadline. The editor works closely with the director during different phases of the editing process. The editor has to review the angles of all of the different cameras used for a particular shot to edit the best shots together for the scene. This makes an extra task in the editing organizational process—besides arranging all the different angle shots together.
The movie editing process goes through stages, similar to writing a college term paper. Writing a college term paper consists of getting an idea, writing the rough draft, doing a revision, and then creating the final version. Wikibooksstates that an editor, too, goes through four stages: logging and assembly, the first rough cut, the main edit, and the fine cut.38 This editing process is only an example of the procedure because every movie editor, like anyone, has his or her own procedure or routine that he or she follows.
The logging and assembly process is becoming familiar with all of the shots in the movie. The editor watches and listens to all of the material. In a notebook, the editor makes a log of his or her reactions to all of the shots and writes down any ideas that pop into his or her head. The editor uses a time code to link thoughts to specific shots. For a long project, the first edit would be a simple version consisting of all of the wide shots strung together. This assembly would contain the fewest number of edits required to tell the story. The assembly edit allows the editor to get a sense of the project, as a whole, before specifics are focused on.
With the first rough cut, the editor takes one scene at a time and works through all of the takes to find the best, most-consistent material. The scenes may be cut in any order with the point to let each scene work on its own. When the editor has a good working version of a scene, it will be placed into the assembly so the cut gradually builds in complexity. The editor continues to keep a record of all choices made. The rough cut keeps the sound synced together with its picture. The editor should begin to mute or delete unneeded audio, but additional sounds are not added at this point. The first rough cut is completed when each scene has been looked at individually, and it is placed into the edit. The editor should take a break to view the cut without stopping, taking notes of changes that he or she would like to try.
The main edit begins the process of approaching a fine cut. Scenes will have individual problems, and issues will become interdependent between scenes. Key sound effects and music may be introduced at this stage, and the complexity will grow. The editor continues to save each version. The stage, when a rough cut becomes a fine cut, is not exact, but is often when the editor feels each idea has been fully explored. The editor should bring in others to watch the fine cut.
The fine cut is the process of getting down to perfect frame accuracy for every single edit in the film and making sure that each moment flows as best it can. Once the fine cut is approved, the picture is considered “locked” and no further changes will occur. The project will move into full sound post-production and the editor’s work is done.
The editing procedure is like any creative job, such as any type of writing. In writing, the stages of the creative process are to write, re-write, re-write, and re-write. The editing process is view, re-view, re-view, review, and view again. When the shots are edited into scenes, certain terminology is used that refers to what the editor is looking for in the final product, along with terminology that is used when describing the type of edit that was used.
Editing Techniques & Principles
The editor begins with all the film footage. Footage is the raw, unedited material as it was originally filmed by the movie camera or recorded by a video camera, which usually must be edited to create a motion picture, video clip, television show, or similar completed work.39
Continuity editing is a system of cutting to maintain a continuous and clear narrative action. Continuity editing relies upon matching screen direction, position, and temporal relations from shot to shot. The film supports the viewer’s assumption that space and time are contiguous between successive shots.40 Logical coherence is achieved through continuity editing.
One technique that is used is a B-Roll. A B-Roll is supplemental or alternative footage intercut with the main shot.41
A basic principle in editing is the 180-degree rule. The 180-degree rule42 is a basic guideline regarding the on-screen spatial relationship between a character and another character or object within a scene. An imaginary line, called the axis, connects the characters, and by keeping the camera on one side of this axis for every shot in the scene, the first character is always frame right of the second character, who is then always frame left of the first. The camera passing over the axis is called jumping the line or crossing the line; breaking the 180-degree rule by shooting on all sides is known as shooting in the round.
The last main area of editing that the director wants to arrive at is the appropriate rhythm for the movie. Yale Film Studies elaborates the concept of movie rhythm by defining it as the “perceived rate and regularity of sounds, series of shots and movements within the shots. Rhythmic factors include beat or pulse, accent or stress and tempo or pace. Rhythm is one of the essential features of a film, for it decisively contributes to its mood and overall impression on the viewer. . . . It is achieved through the combination of mise-en-scene, cinematography, sound and editing. Rhythm can be understood as the final balance of all the elements of a film.44
Finally, a montage is a technique in film editing in which a series of short shots are edited into a sequence to condense space, time, and information.45
A “cut” in editing refers the splicing of two shots together. This cut is made by the film editor at the editing stage of a film. Between sequences, the cut marks a rapid transition between one time and space and another time and space, but depending on the nature of the cut, it will have different meanings.46
Cross-cutting is cutting a scene between different sets of action that can be occurring simultaneously or at different times. Cross-cutting is used to build suspense or to show the relationship between the different sets of action.47
Fade in48 and fade out49 are opposite effects. Fade in is a shot that begins in total darkness and gradually lightens to full brightness. This is a type of transition is similar to “dissolve,” which is mentioned below. A sound fade in gradually brings sound from being inaudible to a required volume.
Dissolve is a transition between two shots during which the first image gradually disappears while the second image gradually appears; for a moment, the two images blend in superimposition.50
The third type of transition is the wipe. A wipe is a type of film transition where one shot replaces another by travelling from one side of the frame to the other or with a special shape.51
A jump cut, which is a term that viewers often hear, is a cut in film editing in which two sequential shots of the same subject are taken from camera positions that vary only slightly. This type of edit gives the effect of jumping forward in time. This is a violation of continuity editing because the continuous time and space are lost as the cut draws attention to the constructed nature of the film.52
An example, so you can see how a film is cut and edited or a scene from a film with different cuts shown in it is difficult to find. A YouTube video entitled: How to Cut a Film – The Secrets of Editing –Film School’d made by CineFix is good in demonstrating how edits and cuts are done.
With the completion of this chapter, movies to watch that that are excellent examples of editing are:
- Sabotage, 1936, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Sylvia Sidney, Oskar Homolka, and Desmond Tester. This movie is an excellent example in editing by creating the classic suspense scene as to whether a bomb is going to explode at a certain time.
- Bonnie and Clyde, 1967, directed by Arthur Penn, starring Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, and Gene Hackman. This movie is an excellent example in editing during the bank robberies and the attempts to capture Bonnie and Clyde.
- The Sting, 1973, directed by George Roy Hill, starring Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Robert Shaw. This movie is an excellent example in editing as to what is real and what is not.
- Jaws, 1975, directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss. This movie is an excellent example in editing by creating a contemporary suspense thriller.
- Mad Max: Fury Road, 2015, directed by George Miller, starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, and Nicholas Hoult. This movie is an excellent example in an-award winning best-edited film.
Jack has decided to do a shady job—transporting a package of artifacts—with his college friends, Nick and T. J. Jack needs the money to help his close friend, Alec.
When Nick and T. J. enter the room, Nick asks what Jack is doing. Jack tells him. Nick states that the only safe place for the package is on him. Nick states that they can make more money delivering the package than turning it into the police, plus they would not fare too well with the police. Jack states that Alec’s life is in jeopardy and the people of the Latin American country should have the treasure returned. Nick asked if Jack is going to be a problem. Nick goes to shoot Jack but T. J. shoots Nick, killing him. T. J. pulls the emergency cord. As the train is stopping, T. J. gives Jack the package and states to give it to the cops. T. J. states he is going to try his luck running, and he disappears.
Alec, Jack’s friend, is extremely happy when he wakes up and walks into the living room of an expensive suite for breakfast. Suzie is already in the living room and wishes him good morning and asks him about last night. Alec states that last night was the best night imaginable, and he wishes that it never had ended. Suzie states that last night could only be the beginning and that she took the liberty of ordering breakfast already. Alec states that he is ready for breakfast. Suzie walks over to him, without talking, and kisses him very passionately. As they are kissing, Suzie stabs him three times, lets him fall and states that he now can relive last night forever. Suzie looks at his lifeless body and states that she will love him forever.
The above scenes are the final rising action of the movie leading to the climax. How should these scenes be edited?
38 “Movie Making Manual.”
46 “Cinematic Techniques,” Wikipedia, last modified July 25, 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinematic_techniques.
50 “Dissolve (filmmaking),” Wikipedia, last modified August 12, 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dissolve_(filmmaking).