Film editing is one of the most crucial stages in making a motion picture. Along with writing a screenplay and filming the pictures themselves, film editing can be noted as the most important and noticeable process involved with the production of a film. Due to its substantial significance and its uniqueness to film-making, the editing process has been noted as the separation between cinema and all other forms of art, and has been given the title of ‘the third creation of a motion picture’ (Harris, Mark). This research paper will look at the history and development of this irreplaceable aspect of cinema, including examples of the most influential editors along the timeline of cinema history.
Film editing is a form of art and an element of film that requires meticulous detail and unwavering patience. The editing process begins once the screenplay itself has been written, the cast has been selected, and all of the footage needed for the story to be told has been collected by the producers and directors. At this point, the editor will sit down with the collected shots and begin work.
This editing process will likely take weeks or months to complete, with every shot needing to be carefully examined for viewing difficulties. This post-production stage of film creation has three main stages, beginning with the Editor’s cut. This cut begins, and mostly takes place during the filming process, where the editor will sit and work in with the director on his shots in order to create an idea of what is expected in the latter stages of post-production.
This Editor’s cut is followed by a director’s cut. Here, the director will likely be very involved with the work of the editor, especially with regards to the storytelling aspect of the work. The director and editor will work together to perfect the pace and structure of the movie through the connections they create between pictures and shots (Oscars.org). Some directors, especially those who have worked numerous times in collaboration with their editors, will allow the editors to take control of the shots and work freely by themselves. Other directors are very careful in the freedom they allow their editors and will constantly be checking to see how the final motion picture is progressing. The final outcome of this relationship between director and editor is explained by Christopher Rouse, Academy Award nominee for his editing of ‘United 93’, “Everything else — music, cinematography, costumes, design, acting — can be judged at face value. But when you’re looking at editing, you don’t know what the totality of the material was, and you don’t know the working dynamic between a director and an editor — whether the editor was micromanaged or given free rein” (Harris, Mark).
This director’s cut will likely be a lot shorter that the preceding editors cut, and will be a product of a unique bond created between the director and the editor. Once completed, the final cut of the film will then be created. This cut is what will be seen on the screen, and the film producer is likely to be heavily involved in the decisions made at this stage.
Figure 1 shows Director Kevin MacDonald and Editor Joe Walker working on the production of the 2011 film ‘life in a day’. Editing was an extremely crucial part of this motion picture as it is comprised of 4,500 hours of footage collected from 192 different countries (Krishnappa, Samyuktha).
The editing art form is crucial for the story telling section of a film, as, if even one shot is placed out of sequence, the whole film could lose its meaning and significance. This story telling aspect of film editing is arguably the most important and, in fact, film editing if often said to be the art of storytelling. There are many techniques that can be used for this aspect of editing, including continuity, repetition and re-ordering of shots (Oscars.org). These techniques allow for changes and adaptations in the stories themselves, so that the exact image and idea that is required by both editor and director can be shown to the audience.
To discuss the history of film editing, the 2004 film ‘The Cutting Edge’ is a documentary film about the art of film editing. This film gives insight into the world of film editing from the eyes of the editors themselves. As this film recounts, film editing began when Edwin S. Porter used cuts in the 1902 film ‘Life of an American Fireman’, and then again in his most famous work ‘The Great Train Robbery’, 1903 (The Cutting Edge...). The first of these films became a film editing base from all following films to build on after Porter became the first editor to include cut. In the film, the shot cuts from pictures of firemen rushing to a fire to pictures of a burning house, and back again. This revolutionary development in film editing was then expanded by Porter in his next and most famous work ‘The Great Train Robbery’, in which he developed a more sophisticated system of cuts, here using scenes in different time periods, as well as locations (Knight, Arthur).
Figure 2 shows pictures from ‘Life of an American Fireman’, with the scenes occurring in tandem, but the screen showing cuts between the two locations. Figure three is a video clip of this 1902 film.
These revolutionary techniques developed by Porter have been researched and tested by numerous directors and editors since to find their real effects on an audience. A notable example of this was an experiment by Lev Kuleshov, a Russian director in the early 1900’s. Kuleshov took images from different time periods and juxtaposed them to one another in order to create the illusion that all were occurring at the same time (Knight, Arthur). The success of this experiment is another basis for the growth and development of film editing around this time.
Film editing in these early periods of cinema involved the technique of literally taking rolls of films, cutting them and placing them on top of one another to create the desired picture. The film created by this technique came to be known as a cutting copy. Since this period, editing has changed a lot and is down done digitally and electronically using programmes such as Final Cut Pro, in which pictures are placed onto software and changed through the use of computers.
Figure 4 shows an early film camera, similar to those used during the filming of Edwin S. Porter’s 1902 and 1903 hits.
Since the very early stages of film editing, the glamour and limelight has been taken very much away from film editors and put onto directors and actors, even though a huge importance still lies with the editors themselves. As seen in Edwin S. Porter’s films, the revolutionary techniques he used brought him fame in the cinema industry; however, it is exactly that noticeable cutting from shot to shot that is what film editors try to avoid in the modern era. The term “the invisible art” has developed due to this idea, indicating that a great film editor will be able to create a motion picture in such a way that the audience will not notice any of the editing cuts, and that the film will run in perfect sequence, with a perfect run-time and no continuity problems (Harris, Mark).
In the modern era, film editing has developed to cover a lot larger spectrum than in previous years. Film editing in years gone by required simply the editing of pictures, however, with the development of cinema and of digital editing, the process now involves working with sound, music and visual effects as well as the possible demanding or re-shooting scenes and re-writing scripts.
With the relatively new found obsession with special effects in films, and now with characters being made completely from computer software, as in the 2009 film ‘Transformers’, film editors have had to adapt and develop their techniques in order to keep up with the ever moving realm of cinema. Whereas once editors were able to simply take film and place it as they desired, they are now having to work in with special effects and other area specialists in order for them to produce the final picture that they, the director and the audience desire.
To discuss the current world of film editing, the most recent winners of the Academy Award for Best Film Editing were Kirk Baxler and Angus Wall for their work on ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’. This was the second year in a row that the pair have won the award, last year for their work on ‘Social Network’. ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ became only the second film in a decade to win the Best Film Editing award despite not being nominated for Best Picture.
Figure 5 shows the trailer for this film (Fritz, Ben).
In conclusion, film editing is a very important part of the motion picture making process and without it many films would be left disjointed and out of sequence. The sheer importance of this art is depicted by the fact that not a single film has won Best Picture at the Academy Awards since 1980 without also being nominated for the Best Editing award. To state that any single section in the process of making a motion picture is the most important is simply impossible, however, without editing films would not be able to be viewed and enjoyed in the way that they are today.
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Harris, Mark. "Which Editing Is a Cut Above?" The New York Times. 6 Jan. 2008. Web. 10
Knight, Arthur. The Liveliest Art. New York: New American Library, 1957. Print.
Krishnappa, Samyuktha. "World Awaits YouTube's Life in a Day Premier at
Sundance."International Business Times. IBT.com, 24 Jan. 2011. Web. 10 Apr. 2012.
The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing. Dir. Wendy Apple. Perf. Kathy Bates. 2004.