Edit tightening checklist

I posted this on a film collective forum but I realized I should have also posted it here.

I’ve put together a list of hints for editors to use when trying to get a tighter edit. I’d love to hear yours as well.

The motivation here: while I really enjoyed our [movies played at the collective’s] last showing, I think all of them could have benefited from a savage pruning, no doubt having missed out on re-edits due to time constraints. Even if you disagree, I hope some of these tricks come in handy.

All these tricks come with a caveat: if it “looks weird,” then ease up a bit.

Decide in advance how long a given movement or line is going to take. Then edit the footage to match that length. Sometimes I’ll edit with all the video turned off, just to get the timing on the dialog right, and then I’ll turn the video back on for fine-tuning. What this technique lets you do is to decide the pacing of the scene, without letting the source footage decide for you.

Trim actions to their shortest possible length. Watch every clip in slow motion… keep cutting frames off the end until you can no longer tell what is happening in the clip. Now back up and add a bit to the ends again. Make sure someone watches what you end up with to make sure they can still follow the action!

In general, try to make on-camera movements take slightly less time than they did on set. If the audience sees a shot of your hero’s hand reaching for the car door handle and then the hero settling into a car seat… they will fill in that the hero has gotten into the car.

Time remapping: if an action takes too long in a given take, speed up the footage to match your timing. This may not always be a linear conversion! For dialog, make sure to change the pitch to get back to the original tone of the dialog before you changed the speed.

Sound during a take may be screwing up the pacing of the footage. Watch the clip with the sound off. If you would have cut it differently, consider using the sound from another take, or move the dialog to be off-screen. In extreme cases, beg the post sound team for ADR.

Similarly, overlap audio from one take into the video for the adjoining take. Let’s say you have clip A, followed by clip B. In one direction, audio A carries over into clip B – allowing the audience time to watch the reaction of the character in clip B to the dialog. In the other direction, audio from clip B starts while clip A is still playing… preparing the audience to see clip B, and generating a little bit of anticipation / suspense.

Footage, sections of script, or even entire scenes can be cut. The hardest decision the director can make is “yeah, even though I love that scene, it’s totally redundant.” And yet… this decision is frequently all too necessary. If this part of the script was removed entirely… would the audience still know what is going on? Yes? Well would the mood be changed significantly for the worse? No? Well then, get rid of it. Please. Obviously the director needs to be a part of this decision! As the director, when you are watching the rough cut, ask yourself: if I went to the snack bar during this part, would I have missed anything really crucial? If the answer is “no,” then you know what has to be done. As Samantha is fond of saying, “you must kill your children.”


Today I found a gooey thing in my indoor water plant. I shook the bowl a bit and the goo ball slowly elongated… into an arrow head.

I figured out this must be a planarian / flatworm. I had never seen one of these guys before! There’s no chemicals in my plant, and the water is crystal clear. I guess it’s a vote of confidence that these guys are living in the water. They must have come from the (outdoor) pond where I was growing my other water garden.

I have two bowls. In the planarian one, there is parrot feather, duckweed, and fairy moss. And aphids on the parrot feather. I think I found a larval ladybug which I put on the bowl; hopefully that will do something.

The other bowl isn’t doing as well. The plant in it is a water hyacinth of some kind, which came with soil in the roots. It’s a floating plant. My mom got it for me and left it outside with no water, so when I got it, it was half-dead. It seems to be coming back. Unfortunately I left it outdoors for a couple days so now there is some kind of water thing living in it – I think mosquito larvae. The water is black and murky. I have to drain it and start over.

The Doll Squad

…is one of the most hilariously bad movies I’ve ever seen.

The acting is bad. The writing is ridiculous. The main character has makeup that makes her look like she’s 60.

The direction is I’m pretty sure done while drunk. Actors walk in front of lights and perform like in a kindergarten vegetable play (to quote Michael Litfin). Sometimes they completely flub a line.

The editor put this weird kaleidoscope transition that is so brief it looks like it’s left in on accident.

Tura Satana is in it!

The violence is also funny. Ten minutes in, someone gets shot in the face, and she spins around crosseyed before falling to the ground. An enemy agent is tortured into confessing by pulling her hair.

Tons of wacky spy gadgets: brain implants. Pocket flamethrowers. Microfilms, truth serum, silenced guns, exploding cars…

Health Care

I promise when elected to impose free mandatory health care for everyone, including illegal immigrants and house plants.

I also promise to require random abortions and institute “Death Boards” that will control the population, by quota, but also largely by arbitrary whim.

In addition, 20% of the population will be required to reverse their sexual orientation, also chosen at random.

Maybe then you all can have something real to complain about.

3 Colors

Watching an extra in the Special Features of “Blue” where director / cinematographer Krzysztof Kieslowski describes (in 1994) the construction of the cafe/sugarcube scene and the logistics required to make sure it took exactly 4-5 seconds for the coffee to diffuse through the sugarcube.

He also describes why he chose each close-up and the philosophy of the scene.

In the extra in the disc of “White” – he describes the beginning, where the main character enters the courthouse cut between shots of the suitcase on the conveyer belt.

This beginning was re-cut. He describes the intentional primitive images in all three films – a wheel on the road, a suitcase on a belt, and some wires in “Red.” The hero is intentionally awkward in movement and in dress, originally using long shots to let the audience absorb the hero’s mannerisms. However this was too long, so it was re-cut with the suitcases.

The hero is “marked” by a pigeon, which has tradition behind it in addition to the director “marking” the character for emphasis. Also it’s humiliating: Kieslowski describes “White” as being a movie about humiliation. Look at his face when he wipes the poop off his shoulder.

The suitcase is seen in the beginning and is meaningless. But it is a preview that we see later when we know what is in it (actually I kind of assumed there was a body in it, but that is probably because I watch too many yakuza movies).

“Red” is the best of the three. Irene Jacob is super hot, and her every movement is posed to match the light position exactly. The color choices are also the most strict of the three: every item in every shot is black or red.

The plot is the most self-referential: all the elements refer to each other at the end: the billboard image and the still from the news, and the young and old judge, with the same women and same experience with law books. In fact, the same experience with the “other man”: the young judge loses his blonde gf to the model’s photographer, but the photographer essentially loses his model to her England trip where the young judge is. The main characters from the previous two movies also make a very brief cameo.

After Hours and the Urban Bullshit movie

I just saw Martin Scorcese’s “After Hours.” Shlubby New Yorker “Paul” gets stranded in SoHo and encounters a zany cast of freaky NYC characters while trying to get home however he can. He sees a murder, a suicide, performance art, bad sculpture, a punk club, and a vigilante mob led by an ice cream vendor all while trying to escape back home. While charming, it is ultimately plotless.

As with many of Scorcese’s works, it should be watched on as large a screen as possible with the lights low. If you have to, watch it on a laptop in the dark with the screen 6 inches from your face. The atmosphere is important.

A 27-year-old Linda Fiorentino is super damn hot, super sassy, arty, and mean.

After Hours is sort of the best-of-genre whose name I don’t really know, so let’s call it the Urban Bullshit movie. People in New York are so crazy!! They are so so crazy. Their zaniness is endearing at first but ultimately hostile and eventually life-threatening. One of the hallmarks of this kind of story is many of the “problems” would melt away if the protagonist grew a spine and asserted himself to irrational behavior. Another hallmark: the protagonist is from somewhere “safe” (generally the suburbs) and is trying to get home, and the plot happens almost entirely in one single night. Other examples might include “Adventures in Babysitting” and “Detroit Rock City.” Maybe the second Babe movie.

Scorcese describes Allan Dwan’s movies “Brewster’s Millions” (1945, I’ve only seen the Richard Pryor remake!), “Getting Gertie’s Garter,” and “Up in Mabel’s Room,” all movies with implausible but still non-fantastical frantic happenings. Also by Dwan “The Inside Story,” which sounds like a 1940s version of “Twenty Bucks” (1993). Scorcese mentions that the very fast pace is essential to these kinds of movies.

Back to After Hours for a second: it’s definitely worth watching, but actually the best thing about the DVD release is Martin Scorcese’s commentary. He tells the entire history of the project, and what he’d been doing before that, and how the movie industry was changing at the time (1985). Scorcese is a true film historian, and I learn more about film and film history every time I listen to one of his lectures or commentaries.

In an aside, Scorcese describes lecturing in Beijing, with Shirley Sun, director of “Iron and Silk,” and Peter Wang, an actor in “Chan is Missing” (Wayne Wang), who later directed “A great wall” (also written by Shirley Sun). Peter Patzak (sp?) was in there somewhere. Anyway, he realizes in retrospect that the audience contained the budding “5th Generation” filmmakers in the audience, including Zhiang Yimou, Chen Kaiga, and Tian Zhuangzhuang.

After Hours is lit very sparingly, using mainly available light, sometimes only camera light. They reached a pace of 16-18 setups a day, which is insane (usually a Hollywood movie does like 7). The elaborately descriptive shot list was provided to the crew, so everyone knew what they were doing.

A cool trick: a couple scenes have Paul running as fast as he can, but the production didn’t have a track or a stabilized truck mount. So they had him run in a big circle around the camera (30 feet?), with things in between him and the camera to create depth and the impression he is running under and behind things (a scaffold and traffic easels, etc). The camera simply pans in a circle.

One thing no one in the commentary mentioned: there’s a Kafka reference in After Hours… it’s the “Before the Law” segment from “The Trial.” Except the guard is now a bouncer at a club.

Important Dates

Last night, August 6th

And the early morning, like 4am, of Tuesday, July 21st. Possibly the morning before, July 20th as well.


…until a day or two before Thursday, September 17th, 2009. Bummer.

Back to the earth Monday, September 21st. Good voyage, and better luck next time kiddo.