If you search for a ‘Editing Tutorial” on the internet, all you’ll see is people talking about different kind of softwares or visual effects or keyboard shortcuts. But what people forget is the most important thing about editing, the order and duration of shots. I believe that editing can quite literally make or break most films, so here are some tips.
Go back and rewatch your footage a second time after you’ve done some work on the editing. Starting to build your story gives you a new perspective so there’s often something that can be used in a way that you didn’t think of the first time you went through the footage.
When you think you might be finished, grab a bunch of people, sit down and watch your film. For some reason, the presence of other people really helps you to think less like an editor, and more like an audience member. Usually I’ll make big changes after doing this.
One thing you’ll notice is that a lot of films aren’t linear. For example, the start of a movie could actually be an end of a story, but the character just looking back, telling the story in past tense. From the beginning you may know how the movie is gonna go or how its going to end, which is a great way to deliver the main ideas the film is tackling. Now ofcourse some of this stuff about structure applies more to writing than it does to editing, but I say in independent filmmaking especially, there really is a lot of crossover in those two fields.
We can use the same principles of structure when were looking at shots in a scene as we do when we look at scenes in the entire film. For example, in Jurassic Park they intercut between 2 scenes happening at the same time as a way to build suspense.
They keep switching between the source of the danger, someone turning on an electric fence, and the result of the danger, which is that there are kids climbing on the fence. It’s Cause and Effect. Action and Reaction. Set up and Pay off. You’ll notice that in each segment we get closer and closer to the danger, and then cut; we switch back to the other scene. It’s a whole load of mini cliffhangers that really put the audience on edge and make us care and worry about the characters, which is probably exactly what the filmmakers want us to feel.
You have probably heard that a very common mistake for editors to make is to drag things out for too long, and I totally agree. skillful shortening is always beneficial. Every single shot should have a distinct purpose for the story.
For Example, The Incredibles:
They suddenly find out over the phone that their son could be in danger, instantly arrive home, open the door and see the villain standing there holding their son. The whole thing happens pretty much as quickly as I just explained it.
They could’ve had them hang up the phone, talk about how worried they are, drive along for a bit, then eventually get out of the car and slowly walk up to the door of the house, then go inside the house. But you know what? For this scene, all that would’ve been completely unnecessary.
So my challenge to you is to rewatch your favourite films and notice when they cut. Do they show you lots of different angles of the same thing, or does each shot reveal something new?
And by the way all of the editing principals we’ve spoken about can be done with the most basic software, and that’s because an editor spends vast majority of their time choosing the order and duration of shots of scenes. That’s it.