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The Art of Film Editing - C&I Studios

Film editing has been referred to as the “invisible art.” The better the film editing is, the more transparent it becomes. Film editing is the balance of art and technique of boiling down hours and hours of footage and assembling those shots into a compelling and coherent film.

Good film editing transitions us from one image to another in a way that establishes the film’s rhythm and moves us through the story without us noticing the changes in images because they seem natural. Naturally, editing is integrated into the script, the acting, and the actual filming to create a whole that fulfills the film’s vision and purpose.

What makes good film editing?

Good editing builds up every moment to get the most out of each and create a sequence that fulfills the scene’s purpose. The editor is creating the flow of the scenes. Some people call editing the “third writing” of a film, after the script and the filming.

Each edit should move the story forward, either for plot development or for emotional impact. Sometimes it is just a pause to let the viewer assimilate what is happening.

What are some signs of poor editing?

In general, if you are noticing the editing, there is a good chance it’s poor editing. A film may be edited too much if you notice scene jumps that are confusing or pacing that is so fast you don’t have time to absorb the action. There is probably room for improvement.

Another sign of poor editing would be not cutting enough, so the story feels over-told, and the outcome of scenes are too obvious.

Lack of continuity that is confusing to the viewer is a sign of editing that could be improved. A shot that does not have a purpose, such as moving the story ahead and is slowing down the pace; this is known as a flat edit.

BlackMagic Design Editfest 2020 with screenshot of editing software on computer

What are the main elements of film editing?

Editing is looking at the footage and from it constructing a scene. The editor is deciding on camera shots, such as wide shots and close-ups. They are establishing the film’s pace and deciding where to pick up the action or the emotion or so slow it down. All this must serve the purpose of keeping the viewer engaged in the story.

Some main elements of editing are ellipsis, cross-cutting and parallel action, juxtaposition, transitions, and montage.

  • Ellipsis is one of the most basics concepts of film editing. It is the omission of a section of the story that is already obvious or that is being held back for suspense. In other words, you don’t present the mundane details that offer no relevance to the story or character development. The ‘boring parts” need to be stripped out.
  • Cross-cutting or parallel editing is the technique of alternating between two or more scenes that are usually happening at the same time but in different places. They often lead to a scene where the two parties end up together. Cross-cutting is used to add interest and build excitement and suspense. It adds visual value and suspense.
  • Juxtaposition. (The Kuleshot Experiment) A Soviet filmmaker experimented with the effects of juxtaposition. He cut an actor with shots of three different subjects. The actor did not change expression, yet the audience described the actor differently in all three cases, based on what else was in the scene with him.
  • Transitions. Transition refers to how one shot ends, and the next shot begins and the filming technique that unifies them. There are numerous types of transitions, and each type will create a different response and emotion in the viewer.
    • Cut. The most common transition is the cut. This happens when one shot ends and is abruptly replaced with the new shot. Cuts are essential to the effects of juxtaposition and often exist because they are technically needed. Cuts are an industry standard, cost-effective, and less distracting than some other transitions.
    • Fade in/ Fade Out. Fade ins are when something gradually reveals a picture, often at the beginning of a movie. Fade outs are when the picture is slowly replaced by a solid color or black screen and are used at the end of a film. They are the most common transition but not often used by editors. Aside from the beginning or end of the film, they may be used sparingly to give the audience a moment to catch up after intense action.
    • Dissolve. Dissolve, also known as overlapping, occurs when one shot gradually disappears and is replaced by a new shot. For a few seconds, both shots are visible. This often is used to show the passage of time.
    • Wipes. A wipe is a dynamic technique when one shot pushes another out of the frame. Think of Star Wars, which used it throughout.
    • Iris. An old fashioned technique that is rarely now used when a circular masking closes the picture to a black screen. This mimics a closing aperture and was sometimes used in cartoons as well.
  • Montage. A montage in film editing is when shots are juxtaposed at a quick pace that compresses time and information into a short period of time. There are several types of montages. An example of showing a voyage might use still pictures, sepia tones, slow-paced editing, orchestral music, and no dialogue. Another approach to showing a voyage might use video footage, quick shots with lots of cuts, house music, and narration. A montage is not effective in creating emotion in the audience and is used to inform the audience. An excellent example of a well-known montage is the famous training montage in Rocky.

What are the tools for film editing?

Video editing tools have evolved tremendously and have resulted in much of filmmaking now happening in post-production. A “rough cut” is now much closer to the final product, .often close in sound and visual effects, color correction, and music. They use a variety of film editing tools, including programs and equipment

Some tools the pros commonly use in post-production:

  • Non-Linear Editor (NLE)

The standard for an NLE features timelines, media bins, and editing tools that help an editor stay organized. Prices for NLE’s have come down in recent years, and an NLE can be purchased for as little as $239 per year. This will let you handle special effects and complicated edits. Some top products are Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro, and Final Cut Pro. Your selection will depend upon your level of experience, your hardware, and your preferences. Some NLE’s offer free or trial versions, so it’s possible to test a few before you commit.

  • Digital Audio Workstation ( DAW)

A digital audio workstation is a software app for editing audio from various sources. There are free programs that will work for small projects and more powerful pro-level projects. Again, test a few before you purchase. Some popular brands are Avid Pro Tools, Apple Logic Pro X, and Audacity.

  • Closed- Captioning and Subtitling

Now trending is providing closed-captions and subtitles to make content accessible to the deaf or hard-of-hearing, or those who speak a foreign language. Closed captioning and subtitling can be a great differentiator for your work. Some NLE’s have this functionality built in. There are many programs, some that are even free.

  • Editing Workstation

Good editing requires a monitor with high resolution, a large display, and good color accuracy. A powerful computer is also critical. Be sure to check the system requirements of any software you use.

  • Audio Equipment

Your workstation must have great speakers and headphones. The speakers should have studio monitors and pro production speakers.

Remember, it all starts with a great script, and good videography is essential, but never underestimate the power of film editing. When you want the best in all three, consider a full-service film agency like C&I Studios.

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