I posted this on a film collective forum but I realized I should have also posted it here.
Iâ€™ve put together a list of hints for editors to use when trying to get a tighter edit. Iâ€™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 â€œlooks weird,â€ 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 Iâ€™ll edit with all the video turned off, just to get the timing on the dialog right, and then Iâ€™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 motionâ€¦ 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 heroâ€™s hand reaching for the car door handle and then the hero settling into a car seatâ€¦ 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. Letâ€™s say you have clip A, followed by clip B. In one direction, audio A carries over into clip B â€“ 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 playingâ€¦ 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 â€œyeah, even though I love that scene, itâ€™s totally redundant.â€ And yetâ€¦ this decision is frequently all too necessary. If this part of the script was removed entirelyâ€¦ 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 â€œno,â€ then you know what has to be done. As Samantha is fond of saying, “you must kill your children.”