Film Editing: The Greatest of All Art Forms

For today's blog I thought I should present some present thoughts rather than some of my old writing. Please enjoy this little thing about one of my passions, film editing.

So you want to learn how to edit film. Congratulations! Every budding filmmaker seems to want to write or to act or to direct or to shoot, but very few seem to see editing as anything more than a chore. The cleaning up of the mess after the rowdy party that is production. They however are wrong. Although it takes a certain type of mind to appreciate and to master film editing, let it be known that you will not find a more unique or rewarding art form to place your energy into.

How can you tell if you could have a future as an editor? Well, one way is to ask yourself, do I enjoy solving jigsaw puzzles? The two activities are very similar after all. They both require a clockwork mind geared towards organization and task management, a meticulous eye for detail, and a tenacious attention span. Oh some folks will pick away at an upturned puzzle and make connections here and there, but without sorting and filing that is all they will do. Picking and patching, finding connections only through chance. Managing your clips and tools help you keep your focus on editing and less on the frantic searching for that one take you swear you just watched somewhere in this big batch of files. Details too come into play, once your edge pieces are extracted and your colors sorted, one must find all the little minutiae that string together pieces. Keeping an eye for movement and action and matching them between cuts create a smoother and more invisible edit, you just have to be attentive. In all of this, slowly, but surely the picture comes together as long as you keep plugging away. Your reward in the end however, is not just recreating the image on the box, but to create a wholly unique image. Give a hundred different editors the same material and you will not see the same movie twice. This is because every editor has their own voice, their own instincts which tell them how to sequence together the final movie. This is their art.

Now after all that you may be thinking, gosh editing sounds like glorified clerical work. Filing and sorting and in the end, you are just putting what is dictated to you by your director. Well, all of this banal conventionality is necessary because of how unconventional and abstract the actual craft can be. Of all the crafts related to filmmaking, editing may be the most arcane as well as the most instinctual. Other crafts in filmmaking such as writing a screenplay is often formulaic, following variations on the same three act structures that dominate all fiction. Characters follow archetypes, comfortable beings of subconscious shorthand that allows audiences to recognize and feel comfortable inside of the world being created. One can write their characters to subvert these archetypes, to act against expectation, but it is always rooted to the original in some way. Characters follow the same familiar arcs and grow at an expected rate. Deviating from this causes dissonance, as it breaks the contract the audience has forged with the piece of fiction. While editing too has certain rules that it follows to avoid dissonance, they are far more fluid and destructible in the course of scene building than the plot and characterization.

Shooting too is rigid in its construction of the world. Still photography, from which film photography takes many a cue, is the creation of a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional space. Composition and contrast can imply depth to the scene, but ultimately it is up to the eye to move horizontally and vertically through the frame. What motion picture photography adds is exactly that, motion. The camera can move and create a sequence of frames, not just horizontally or vertically, but into the scene, around it, and during it as well. It is a three-dimensional representation of a four-dimensional space, with this fourth dimension being that of time. Time is something that can be alluded to in still photography, but cannot be directly represented. It is the closest art form to our own sensual experience. However, as human beings we are not limited to simply our senses. We think and feel and dream. Our memories are not limited by time and sequence. They leap to and fro, non-linearly, forming connections from vastly different sensations. We juxtapose within our own minds. We dream. Film editing is the closest we can get to this process as it is a four-dimensional representation of a four-dimensional space. Editing is thought exposed.

Consider it this way. Do you remember how you arrived in certain places in your dreams? Did it have a negative effect on your experience not to know, or was it just unnecessary information that got in the way of story you were told? This time compression is fundamental to making film work. Not just time, but space too is compressed. This can range from fliting from one face to another in a dialogue scene to seeing two different people watching the same event from across the globe. Time and space are stripped away to reveal the one true linearity in film, the emotional linearity. The through line through which the story flows and characters grow. It is transforming your thinking to see this perspective that separates an editor from just a person who edits.

So if the prospect of become a dreamweaver, a manipulator of pure unconscious thought appeals to you, that if transcending the bounds of time and space with your art tickles your hindbrain, then I would like to welcome to the world of film editing. Get comfortable, there’s a whole day’s worth of footage to log.

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