The Art of Editing
April 04, 2006 07:12PM
Hello all,

I know this forum tends to be more techy, but I was wondering if anyone could recommend a book as reference that covers the art of editing a low budget film. I've got the FCP stuff down and just looking for a good guidebook to review, that highlights the workflow, setup, and the artistry of a good edit.

thanks all.
Anonymous User
Re: The Art of Editing
April 04, 2006 08:25PM
No difference in editing a low budget film vs a big budget one. Not with todays NLEs so the question should be "any good books on the craft of editing?" Yes. Any by Walter Murch, and get the DVD, "Cutting Edge." Thats a good place to start.


[www.lafcpug.org]

[www.lafcpug.org]

Re: The Art of Editing
April 04, 2006 08:41PM
> the workflow, setup, and the artistry of a good edit.

Good workflow and good editing are two different things. The former will help with the latter -- knowledge of techniques and technical specs will decrease the amount of time you need to execute what you want creatively. However, there is a huge population of great editors who know how to facilitate making great films, but may not be great at operating an editing application. For example, one of the editors on the Lord of the Rings films doesn't operate his own Avid because he doesn't consider himself very good at it. And he wisely enlists help in that area.

As far as the tech stuff goes, the most important thing is to ASK. If you don't know something, ask. My editing mentors, all great professional editors, used to ask us, the film students, to tell them about our workflow, specs, and process. They were so good and so confident that they were completely unembarrassed at the fact that they didn't know certain things. That's part of what made them great.

My own editing bible is Murch's Within the Blink of an Eye. I got Richard Pepperman's The Eye Is Quicker, but I don't find it nearly as useful. John Woo: Interviews has some great editing-based insight. But most of it is in the experience. Some of the general editing maxims in my book:

1. Cut before the action, not during the action.

2. The brain is more important than the eye. An "ugly" cut that's logical is often better than a "flowing" cut that makes no sense -- for example, if you're trying to use the wrong shot for a part of a scene just because the actions match the most, or the lighting looks the best.

3. There's no such thing as a "good cut" by itself. All cuts work in relation to one another.

4. When the piece is too long, cut down on beats, not shot length.

5. If a scene doesn't "work", the solution is often in another scene altogether.
Re: The Art of Editing
April 04, 2006 08:50PM
There are a lot of axioms in there that many editors might disagree with.



All the best,

Tom
Re: The Art of Editing
April 04, 2006 09:30PM
One college film instructor had a wonderful answer when asked: "what's the difference between a good and and a just so-so editor" His answer?

One frame.

All the rules and advice above are good to learn, and then to break. Good editors are great dancers. They feel the rhythm. Of life...a scene ... a moment.

They are the ones that dove into the 5000 piece puzzle sitting on the card table experimenting and seeing where each piece fit.

They find stories where the director and actors didn't realize they exhisted. They add texture. They turn the longwinded into Haiku. But most of all they learn how to make the pictures dance. Fast paced works sometimes. Languid is perfect somewhere else. Some scenes need a long deep cut-free breath. Others demand a fancy two step.

Grab a pile of editing Oscar award winning movies and dissect them scene by scene. Watch once for the story, a second time for the pacing...then a third time for a microscopic look at each sequence...slow mo the cuts...watch the slight of hand the editor adds in each film...there is so much to film theory you can learn just by grabbing some popcorn, your DVD Remote and a note pad.

Andy
Re: The Art of Editing
April 04, 2006 09:43PM
> All the rules and advice above are good to learn, and then to break.

I'll drink to that. I'd be lying if I said I never cut down the length of shots to speed up a piece, never cut on action, and never picked a shot for having good lighting.

I mentioned the "cut on action" problem because I see it so often in editing students -- every time an actor lifts a glass, they think they have to cut, and cut with perfectly matching action. It makes for a very amateurish editing style. It's a dated technique, perfectly okay in flims like Seven Samurai or Bringing Up Baby, but often archaic in modern films.

> Fast paced works sometimes. Languid is perfect somewhere else.

And sometimes both pacings work for a particular set of shots and the personal style of the editor or director determines which gets picked.

> They turn the longwinded into Haiku.

That's a nice analogy. I always point to the time when I cut 17 minutes out of a 37-minute first assembly. Of course, sometimes we also elaborate on something that's too brief.

I'd venture to say every one of us learns something new on nearly every project.
Anonymous User
Re: The Art of Editing
April 04, 2006 10:09PM
Today I spent about 2 and 1/2 hours with Dede Allen. I was meeting her to go over the April 19 lafcpug show she is to speak at. Took about 10 minutes to go over that, and then we started talking and reminiscing and it was a most magical couple hours. My God, the stories that she has. Anyway, I asked her what everyone asks her; "What makes a good editor?" Answer? "Storytelling, performance and good taste. Oh, and trust your gut."

Well sure!

:-)

Re: The Art of Editing
April 04, 2006 10:26PM
Mike,

looking forward to seeing Ms Allen at the upcoming meeting. I bought four tickets and am treating several of my colleagues to what promises to be an interesting evening.

Thanks for making the LAFCUPUG great!

Mark
Anonymous User
Re: The Art of Editing
April 04, 2006 10:50PM
Man, she is something. Honestly I was there for over 2 hours and it went by like a snap of the finger. Can tell you this though. there is no way we can get to all we want to get to with her in one night. We'd need a dozen.

Re: The Art of Editing
April 04, 2006 11:39PM
When I started cutting my first feature film 35 years ago, I was a hot shot filmmaker just graduated from San Francisco State Film Department; I thought I knew it all :-) I didn't learn very much until I shut up and listened to the people who'd been doing it for years. My advice to young editors is brief: keep your eye on the ball, watch that cut and see if it works for you. If it doesn't don't rationalize it, re-do it ... as many times as it takes until it works.
Re: The Art of Editing
April 05, 2006 08:41AM
I'm with Andy on this one. Editors are great dancers - a good analogy, I was a drummer before I went into editing and it helps I swear. It is an unspoken thing although the W. Murch book is top ...I learned at film school from Mick Audsley lecturing us on 12 Monkeys, he was great but used no reference books. In the end though I taught myself basically as I would imagine many folk on this phorum. Watch movies...check out Thelma Schumacher and even Robert Rodriques, watch the Coen Brothers and Jim Jarmusch, Hitchcock, Kubrick...and go fourth and rock...
Re: The Art of Editing
April 05, 2006 10:49AM
i gotta tell you, IMO the most important thing is a sense of rhythm. im also from a musical background that that has been a big help in editing. whenever im putting something to gether i pace everything to sort of a mental click track.

not to be stuck in a single time signature for a full feature, but like a song, if the arrangement doesnt serve the cohesiveness of the theme - the viewer will likely suffer a dissconnect and your message will be lost.
Re: The Art of Editing
April 05, 2006 11:11AM
I agree with a lot of what people have said about self tuition its great to experiment, but unless you know what to fix and why it may take you a long time.

It helps to understand the reasons why an edit works and why the image may jar on certain cuts. Not least to explain to less informed clients the whys and wherefores.

I would recommend getting a good book on Directing and Cinematography and maybe a book on sound design as well as sitting and watching a wide variety of films from different genres.

It might also help to watch a scene or two without sound and see what effect the vision only achieves.

- a production with sound is a 50/50 beast and bad sound can ruin your wonderful cut. Good sound can make your edit great.

- sound can also distract or cover edits that otherwise would appear awkward

- different music and effects will alter moods so dramatically that your edit with literally have a different effect on the audience. Try putting a dark moody score under a happy scene or visa versa and see/hear/feel it for yourself.


If you just have no rhythm - go to dance lessons or learn to play a musical or percussive instrument.


Learn the rules...

...then bend them twist them break them until it works or you create something new.





For instant answers to more than one hundred common FCP questions, check out the LAFCPUG FAQ Wiki here : [www.lafcpug.org]
Anonymous User
Re: The Art of Editing
April 05, 2006 11:34AM
Dede Allen edited and mixed sound for 15 years before she got her big break in picture editing. She says everything she is today was because of that experience. She also, like Walter Murch and many other editors, first edits a dialogue scene with the sound off.

Re: The Art of Editing
April 05, 2006 12:24PM
Totally - even interviews, voxpops, reality shows or ob docs can often be best cut just audio first then (hopefully) you can use cut aways and overlay to mask the edits.

A trick for editing video to music is to play the track and whilst playing use markers to highlight cuts or beats. (Especially useful if the Rock band in question have an audio waveform that looks like static!)

Then I sometimes use another trick to test the rhythm...

Cut a white matte into a black matte (or slug) and watch the vision flick on and off to check sync with beats and length of shots against the music.

This is also good to do for fast paced edits where you may have Public Broadcast Standards to adhere to, like the number of flashing frames per second, etc.

Once you are happy - simply replace the separate white and black clips with footage and adjusting the edit as needed.





For instant answers to more than one hundred common FCP questions, check out the LAFCPUG FAQ Wiki here : [www.lafcpug.org]
Re: The Art of Editing
April 05, 2006 12:48PM
thanks everyone for a great discussion thread!
Re: The Art of Editing
April 05, 2006 12:59PM
> If you just have no rhythm - go to dance lessons or learn to play a musical
> or percussive instrument.

Editors do tend to be a musical bunch -- at least two of my four editing mentors were musicians before they were editors, and so was I. But here I'd like to point out that modern music videos tend to suck because a lot of modern editors only know to cut on the beat -- the 4th and 8th beats, specifically. They don't realize, as feature editors and old-time music-video editors do, that within every 4/4 rhythm there are 1/8ths, 1/16ths...many other cut points other than dead on the 1/4th beats. And modern music videos tend to cut too fast, trying to generate energy with the cut rather than the shot. It's a shame that music video became so bland, because during the peak of the form (I'd argue that it was between 1987 and 1994), there were some fabulous examples of editing, directing and storytelling in there. David Fincher's work on Aerosmith's "Janie's Got a Gun" or Madonna's "Oh Father", Matt Mahurin's languid classical-music style, and Tarsem's idiosyncratic tone still give me goosebumps.

Rhythm in narrative is also different from, but related to, music. The rhythm of scenes is much more fluid and unpredictable. That's where my argument about "use your brain to edit" comes in. If edits were only dominated by image continuity, then rhythm is often needlessly sacrificed.

One of these days I gotta try the "assemble with no dialogue sound" approach. Scary, but it must be illuminating.
Re: The Art of Editing
April 05, 2006 01:52PM
A good book-- "First Cut: Conversations with Film Editors". It's a great compilation of interviews conducted by Gabriella Oldham. Their insight into the art of editing is great. A funny thing about the book is that the interviews were conducted in 1991. So, there's a portion of each interview dedicated to editors' opinions on those new computer editing systems that work just like a word processor for movies. It's not a book to read for good keyboard shortcuts.

I actually like to read "On Film Editing" by Edward Dmytrik, occasionally. It's very basic, which can sometimes be helpful when things get too convoluted.

Also, I've been enjoying "When the Shooting Stops ..." by Ralph Rosenblum, who cut Annie Hall, among other classics. Great anecdotes. Good insight.

The chair of my undergrad film program used to say that if you want to be a good filmmaker, you should learn to play the drums. She also said you should watch two movies every day. I tried that for a year. That year is now a blur to me.
Re: The Art of Editing
April 05, 2006 02:02PM
HAHAHA! thats funny ben! i keep a roland electronic drumset in my office for just THAT reason...
Re: The Art of Editing
April 05, 2006 02:03PM
Out of interest...

What instruments (if any) do people play?

I play Guitar.





For instant answers to more than one hundred common FCP questions, check out the LAFCPUG FAQ Wiki here : [www.lafcpug.org]
Re: The Art of Editing
April 05, 2006 02:16PM
guitar, bass, drums, keys (here and there...) the general "rock band" stuff
Re: The Art of Editing
April 05, 2006 02:41PM
Guitar...but of course mostly rhythm.....

Andy
Anonymous User
Re: The Art of Editing
April 05, 2006 02:43PM
Does the oboe count?

Re: The Art of Editing
April 05, 2006 02:48PM
I've always played piano, because my mom was a piano teacher when I was a kid. Also, I played trombone in my high school's jazz band. And, in college, I did West African drumming. Experimentation, and an easy credit.
Anonymous User
Re: The Art of Editing
April 05, 2006 02:50PM
deb eschweiler wrote:

> Does the oboe count?
>

No.

:-)

Re: The Art of Editing
April 05, 2006 02:53PM
> Does the oboe count?

Sure it does, Deb! I play guitar, drums, bass, but I'm primarily a singer.

How about this for an idea, Mike -- the LAFCPUG Superjam.

Setlist:

"Cuts Like a Knife" by Bryan Adams
"The First Cut Is the Deepest" by Cat Stevens
"Fade into You" by Mazzy Star
"Fade to Black" by Metallica
"If I Saw You in a Movie" by Heather Nova
"(I Just) Died In Your Arms" by Cutting Crew
"Let's Roll" by Neil Young
"Sleepless Nights" by Gram Parsons
"Film III" by Jorane

A band made up of film editors will probably look like Devo, yes?
Anonymous User
Re: The Art of Editing
April 05, 2006 03:05PM
Oboes dont count except in Bernard Herrmann film scores.

And yes a lafcpug band would sell out everywhere, except the US and Canada, and maybe Europe...and Asia. We'd do well in Australia maybe.

Re: The Art of Editing
April 05, 2006 07:04PM
I've never heard of cutting without the audio, even though I've watched movies in languages I don't know to see if I can figure out what's going on -- sort-of the same yet opposite thing. I gotta try that too.

I don't play an instrument, but I would say that I developed my sense of rhythm by learning to tell jokes. They're little builds and climaxes, just like a scene. Want to see if your rhythm is good, stand up in front an audience with a microphone. Or do improv.

It's a long shot from sitting alone in a bay, but it puts your feet to the fire.
Re: The Art of Editing
April 05, 2006 07:35PM
When I saw Walter Murch's talk here in SF a few weeks back, didn't he say something to the effect of "You have as many decisions in editing a feature, as there are molecules in the universe" What a responsibility an editor has. Work that intuition muscle is all I can say, and trust yourself, for whatever that means.
Re: The Art of Editing
April 05, 2006 08:22PM
i would say that anything performance oriented is a good knowledge base as well. and joke telling is as rhythmically dependant as music is. its all about pace and meter
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