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