I believe that in the cutting room, you should follow your heart and create the cut that you feel impelled to create.
I also believe though, that there are some aspects of film editing theory that you may want to consider while in the process. In case you ever have the opportunity to do some film editing, you may want to be at least familiar with the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of the process. Even if you’re not film editing, you may want to consider these criteria in your future viewing of films.
Walter Murch, editor of great films like The Godfather III, and Apocalypse Now, wrote a wonderful and very informative text called The Blink of an Eye. He discusses his experience in editing, and gives great advice for aspiring editors. My favorite chapter out of the text, “The Rule of Six,” lays out a set of criteria that Murch believes should be at the top of an editors list when working.
His list is as follows (in descending order by importance):
5) Two-dimensional plane of Screen
6) Three-dimensional space of action
What I like most about Murch’s list is that he puts “Emotion” as the most important.
In my experience with film production, I have found that in the cutting room, I often have to choose between continuity and emotion. Although I believe that creating a seamless edit is an art within itself, what is also wonderful about editing is our ability to heighten and emphasize emotion and emotional moments. Therefore, I agree with Murch that emotion the most important. Without the emotion of the film, what do you really have?
The next important thing is story. You have to make sure that the scene you are working on helps to progress your overarching story.
Rhythm plays a huge role when you're editing. The rhythm of the shots, meaning how long each shot is and how quickly you cut between shots, can increase or decrease tension in the scene. You may think that quick cuts equal tension, but a very long take can increase tension in the viewers eyes as well. Many people think that when you edit you have to constantly switch shots. This is not true. You are actively editing when you choose to cut, and you also actively editing when you are choosing not to cut. When you are working and decide to run a take for a long time, without switching to another shot, you are still actively editing.
Click here to view a clip of a long take from Boorman's Deliverance.
Walter Murch believes that eye-trace is important because it directs the audience's attention to what's important in the scene. It emphasizes what you really want the audienc to apy attention to.
By two-dimensional plane of screen, Murch refers to a planarity. He emphasizes, however,with rule number 6 that you should make clear the relationship between the objects within the three dimensional space of the action.
The last three rules are more focused on continuity. These are important, and Murch says it's definitely possible to fulfill all six rules. A lot of them are dependent on one another. If you have one, it's easy to make another work. But if you prioritize continuity, the most important aspects of your cut, emotion and story, will be out the window, and you'll be unsuccessful.
There are many different editing systems out there. The chances are, however, that if you do have the chance to edit, you'll be using one of the following. The following are professional systems that are used in the film industry. To learn more about them, click on the links I have provided!
Final Cut Pro HD
Avid Media Composer
Walter Murch, In the Blink of an Eye
(Los Angeles: Silman-James Press, 1995), 18