“Why didn’t you use that shot?”
“It takes how long to film a 30 second commercial?”
“Can I get the final file the day after you shoot everything?”
We get asked a lot of questions about editing and the post-production process in general. So much so, we put together a short guide that explains the process in detail. But I still want to talk a little more about what editing is, how things magically go from being footage to being a final cut.
Editing is, first and foremost, a process of removal. We call it cutting for a reason. Back when everything was shot on film, an editor literally cut pieces of film into shorter pieces and taped them together. Today, the process is much more streamlined, and I have a lot more control over every aspect of the process. But the basic process does still remain the same.
I typically get a lot of footage to work with. We don’t shoot a lot just because we like shooting, or so we have more than enough. We generally shoot just what we need. Some shots don’t work out. Maybe the actor sneezed. Or maybe the camera operator did. It happens. Or if we’re shooting vérité (filming what actually happens, as it would normally happen), we may be filming waiting for just the right moment or moments. And even when specific shots work out…sometimes they still don’t work out.
We’re storytellers. My first job in editing is to find the story. We may have a truly epic shot of a hippopotamus, but if the story is about a tiger…we may not get to use it. My second job is finding shots that create a flow. I generally want cuts to happen on action (such as the middle of a sneeze, or when someone turns their head). This hides the cut and creates a smoother flow of events. Or maybe I’m cutting to the beat of music. I also pay attention to eye-line. If the point of interest in a shot ends on the left side of the frame, the next shot should (ideally) being with the interest there. Of course, there are certainly times to break these rules.
There are many times I fall in love with a shot, only to not use it because the final piece is stronger without it. Beautiful shots are only one part of the larger whole. Filmmaking isn’t just capturing video of something and hacking out a “summary” of it. It’s about crafting something compelling, that reaches out and connects with the viewer, making them feel something. Tell someone something and they’ll forget it. Show someone something and they’ll forget it. Make someone feel something and they’ll remember.