VCA BLOG POST #4: EDITING AS WRITING

It’s often stated that the editing stage is one – if not the most – of the pivotal stages of filmmaking. To me, it absolutely is. The edit is where the filmmaker can collect and organise their scattered thoughts into a cohesive and comprehensible whole. The edit is where the filmmaker decides on pace and rhythm, which often comes down to a gut feeling for each individual. A good cut between shots is incredibly satisfying: a bizarre but welcomed by-product of film school.

I generally try and edit the film in my head when I’m writing a screenplay (essentially becoming the storyboards), so I can roughly gauge how long the finished cut will be. I made the error in first year to not think too much about this and as a result, had a rough cut twice as long as I expected. This time around, I’ve managed to get the film to the sufficient length without compromising the overall pacing of the film: a feat which I am inherently thankful for.

There’s always a danger when you get to the edit suites that there’s a chance you realise that your film doesn’t quite cut the way you thought it would. Fortunately, there weren’t any drastic changes made between the original storyboards and the final cut: although the composition of two shots was swapped around – it made no difference to the length of the film, but it did come down to the “gut feeling” again, as confirmed by my fellow editors. Cutting from a mid-shot to a two-shot just worked a lot better than cutting straight to a reverse mid-shot. I’m sure there’s a more technical explanation for this other than “gut feeling”, but then again: when you know, you know, you know?

The effect of sound design is also utterly invaluable. When you have a convincing sound mix, you should have a pretty convincing film. Sound often helps glue together scenes: although it should provide as an anchor to the imagery, and not a mask. But it was in that moment, when the last bit of music was added, that all the stars aligned. The shots flowed into one another, as if they were captured in the very two-and-a-half minutes the film runs for (at least I’d like to think so). When a film finally comes together, it’s reminiscent of a beautiful, singular piece of music, comprised with different instruments of varying timbres and tones.

A filmmaker that helped pioneer the effect of using editing as a storytelling technique is none other than magician-turned-filmmaker George Méliès. By cutting two separate sections of film together, he amazed audiences with the illusion of appearing and disappearing objects in linear time.

Here’s a great example from Méliès’ Le Livre Magique (1900):

It’s literally magic.

“In so far as sense of time is germane to the director’s innate perception of life, and editing is dictated by the rhythmic pressures in the segments of film, his handwriting is to be seen in his editing. It expresses his attitude to the conception of the film, and is the ultimate embodiment of his philosophy of life.”

– Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time

 

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BAD NEIGHBOURS

Directed by Nicholas Stoller

It’s refreshing to watch a Hollywood comedy that is willing to strive for originality. A very simple concept, but one that pushes the envelope without becoming outwardly unrealistic, Bad Neighbours was a good time at the movies. The filmmakers have put in that extra bit of effort to please the audience, and as a result, most of the scenes are lit quite beautifully. I never thought I’d say that about a Seth Rogen film.

B

GODZILLA

Directed by Gareth Edwards

A film that unfortunately didn’t turn out quite as great as the sum of it’s parts. It had everything going for it in terms of a great cast, story and director – but overall the film suffered from an incredibly tepid screenplay. Granted, Godzilla in all it’s iterations has always been seen as a “B-movie”, but if you’re going to pour in $160 million dollars, you’d at least expect a bit more care in the dialogue. Some characters were downright idiotic: Bryan Cranston was the only one who managed to do something with the cringe-worthy dialogue he was given. The odd exchanges of conversation also left the pacing to drag to unbelievable amounts – it was almost like these people were oblivious to the fact that gigantic creatures were destroying their entire city. I appreciate that the filmmaker’s tried to make the film more focused on the humans than the monsters, but when the monsters end up more relatable, you have a serious problem.
C+

ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE

Directed by Jim Jarmusch

Jim “King of Cool” Jarmusch shows us life under his Ray-Bans yet again with a story of two lovers, disillusioned by the naivety of human beings and kept together through music and their own esoteric form of company. You can’t help but be drawn in by the mysterious leads, played to perfection by Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston. Featuring a brilliant soundtrack and great, almost self-reflexive dialogue, you can’t help but be reminded of that one fact: there is, and for all eternity, will only be one Jim Jarmusch.

B+

VCA BLOG POST #3: IMAGINING STORY TO SCREEN

When I think about the scenes in film that have left a searing imprint on my consciousness, I find myself always coming back to the wonderful Green Line bus stop scene in Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums (2001).

Here it is:

When I first saw it, my heart stopped beating.  Even after subsequent endless viewings on YouTube, I still can’t get over this scene. If we strip back the cinematic elements, what we see is Richie Tenenbaum (Luke Wilson), reuniting with his adopted sister Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), who we know Richie has a deep and unrealised affection for.

Anderson – the maestro that he is – utilises these cinematic elements to powerfully immerse us into the lovesick psyche of Richie Tenenbaum. He captures a perfect moment, using the wonderfully melancholy track “These Days” by Nico to provide as emotional anchor (I’m a sucker for good soundtracks). When we see Margot, time literally slows down for Richie Tenenbaum: and thus, for the audience. The resulting effect is utterly mesmerising.

The cherry-on-top is the beautiful husky narration (courtesy of Alec Baldwin), which provides us with details about the world which manage to be both specific and cryptic at the same time (“He had made a request for his usual escort – the one from his days on the circuit – to meet him by the pier by way of the green line bus“), as if from the perspective of a very keen historian. What Anderson grants us with on screen however, is a scene from within the consciousness of his characters. The with-holding of information in the narration alone further adds to the emotional wallop when it is revealed that his “usual escort” is indeed Margot Tenenbaum. A scene like this can only exist in cinema. Wes Anderson perfectly portrayed loneliness and longing in the space of ninety seconds.

Let’s watch it again: