Learning the Basics of Movie Editing

by : Jimmy Cox

Editing is the final stage in the study of movie making. It is only when you take your finger off the button after the final shot that you can really assess your work, smooth out the rough spots and polish up the good points.

Theoretically, final editing can be dispensed with when you have ideal shooting conditions: complete control and a detailed script. In such cases you can shoot your scenes with such precision that virtually no cutting or editing (the terms can be considered synonymous) will be necessary afterward. This is known as cutting in the camera.

Cutting in the camera, like any state of perfection, can never be more than partly realized. Even in Hollywood, where shooting conditions come nearest to perfect control, there is a colossal amount of wasted footage. Despite minutest care in advance planning, and the most costly preparations, the job of editing a Hollywood film after it is completed is almost as big as the job of shooting it.

In actual truth, you-the non-professional or the beginner-can come closer than Hollywood to cutting in the camera, because your picture plan is likely to be far more simple. But you too will inevitably have to do some final editing.

Film with mechanical faults such as edge fog, scenes where the subject gawked into the camera, scenes which were subsequently reshot because a better angle was discovered - all will have to come out.

Such deletions are obvious and inevitable. What is most important about final editing, what indeed makes it almost mandatory, is that you have an opportunity to look at your film the way the audience will see it. You get an exclusive preview, you have a chance to see how close you came to achieving the objective you were shooting for, you have the opportunity to cut out poor footage, to rearrange scenes for better continuity and dramatic effect, to tinker with tempo, reshoot where necessary - in general, you can polish your work as near to perfection as possible.

There will be many times when you will finish shooting one movie story on the beginning of a roll of film, and start shooting another on the same roll. There will be times when you take various shots or sequences at random, to use in a more elaborate, fully planned movie story later on. In all such cases, the non-related shots will have to be cut out and filed separately.

Still another reason for final editing is the fact that it is wise, when shooting, to make your scenes a little long. The cautious cameraman will start his camera rolling just before his action begins and keep shooting for an instant after the action ends. You should not only make sure of getting the complete picture. but have additional frames for overlap or any other splicing contingencies. Always bear in mind the continuity truism that one cannot put into film while editing what was not registered on film when shooting.

As for tempo, editing gives you a shining opportunity to put into your picture more snap and speed where called for, or to pace it at more tranquil rate of movement when that is appropriate. This, as we have seen earlier, is controlled by the length to which you trim your scenes and by the use you make of cut-ins and cut-aways. Remember that there isn't too much danger of making your shots too short when editing for tempo. It is a far more common fault for movies to drag than to move too briskly.

Any waste incurred through the throwing away of film is more than compensated for by the saving of film quality. Happy editing!