Join Ashley Kennedy for an in-depth discussion in this video Exploring the editor's vision, part of Introduction to Video Dialogue Editing.
- In this movie, we're going to examine the role of the editor's vision and contribution in the film making process. So let me just first say that when I tell people not in the industry that I'm an editor, most people don't really have a solid grasp of what that really is. Sure people know that it's assembling the shots to make a movie. But when people watch movies, the editing is not often consciously perceived. In addition to it being difficult to be conscious of the actual editing constructs when watching a movie, viewers, even film critics or even other editors often have a difficult time understanding the specific contribution that the editing process lends to the vision of the final film.
It truly is the invisible art because after all, there are essentially three different films conceived during the course of film making. There's the film that is written, there's the film that is shot, and there's the film that is edited. The editor works in conjunction with the visions of the scriptwriter and the director to determine the editing of the film. So first there's the film that is written. When the screenplay is drafted, the scriptwriter controls not only the dramatic structure of the film or the order of events and the development of the plot and characters occur, but essentially it provides each character with his or her own psychology, their behaviors, relationships, problems, quirks, they're all conceived at this introductory writing phase.
And much of this has to do with the words the characters say and how they say them. And all of these details certainly have an influence on how we edit. So then there's the film that is shot. On set, the words of the script are embodied by everyone that is saying those words and carrying out the actions. Many of the original constructs imagined by the writer are indeed carried out, but there are also many new ones that arise as a result of differences in the physical environment or visions of the director or cinematographer or contributions by the actors.
It's the job of the director to deal with all these differences in a constructive way, thereby creating a second writing of the film. All of the decisions made on set have major ramifications for how the editor puts together the film. Finally, there's the film that is edited. It's not until the editor begins to assemble the film that it becomes obvious how much of the original intentions of the script survive the shooting and how much was changed. So an editor must work with multiple visions in addition to contributing his or her own vision when constructing the film.
And it's not just about juggling these various visions. There are plenty of problems to solve as well. Editors must deal with lack of continuity between shots, whether it's a physical continuity problem or an emotional one. Or sometimes the emotional intention of a scene doesn't play out as the writer or director envisioned. You don't laugh or cry when you're supposed to, and the editor needs to find a way to solve that. Or sometimes a scene doesn't contain important information for the audience to understand character relationships, so an editor must figure out a way to make that happen.
An editor's job is to do all of this while creating the rhythm, flow, and energy of the scenes and build those scenes into sequences. This process is often called the third writing of the film. So as you can see, the editor has a lot of responsibility with regard to honoring the visions of other members of the creative team, as well as offering their own brand of magic to the process. Some directors give editors a lot of leeway with regard to trying out a lot of different approaches to a scene, while others like to assume much more control and plan out every possibility.
For example, Alfred Hitchcock was famous for shooting just enough footage for a dialogue scene so the editor would have little choice but to cut the scene exactly as Hitchcock envisioned. His contract also granted him final cut of all of his pictures, and he was notoriously picky down to the frame. That said, George Tomasini, who edited nine of Hitchcock's films, was one of the most renowned film editors of all time, and his work forever changed the way editors approached the craft.
So even though Tomasini may not have had the same type of freedom in actually picking his own shots as others, he was still a total master of rhythm and pacing. He was also able to anticipate Hitchcock's vision and because he was so in tune with the director in this way, he was able to experiment with the medium and achieve heightened suspense and emotion through his edits. Now while Tomasini may be best known for masterful action-packed suspenseful scenes, he was also great with dialogue scenes.
Let's take a look at a portion of this famous scene from North by Northwest where Cary Grant's character Roger Thornhill gets to know Eva Marie Saint's character Eve Kendall on a train. Now as you watch the scene, remember, you're trying to notice things like when the editor cuts, who he cuts to, and when he lingers on the edits to establish mood and intimacy. - Don't you think it's time we were introduced? - I'm Eve Kendall, I'm 26 and unmarried.
Now you know everything. - Tell me, what do you do besides lure men to their doom on the 20th Century Limited? - I'm an industrial designer. - Jack Phillips, western sales manager for Kingby Electronics. - No, you're not. You're Roger Thornhill of Madison Avenue and you're wanted for murder on every front page in America, and don't be so modest. - Whoops. - Oh, don't worry, I won't say a word. - How come? - I told you, it's a nice face.
- Is that the only reason? - It's going to be a long night. - True. - And I don't particularly like the book I've started. - Ah. - You know what I mean? - Let me think. Yes, I know exactly what you mean.
That was my trademark, ROT. - Roger O. Thornhill. What does the O stand for? - Nothing. (gentle music) - Now as we watch that scene, it's quite clear that the words that are being said are actually the least important part of what's going on.
Granted, we've got some great acting going on here, but the editing helps tug at this deception and seduction in the most interesting ways. Now in this portion of the scene, there's a lot to be said about the way the characters look at each other or don't look at each other, and especially how and when the editor cuts around their glances. Hitchcock was acutely aware of the power of the glance, and Tomasini became very in tune with that as well. "People don't always express their inner thoughts "to one another," Hitchcock says.
"A conversation may be quite trivial, "but often the eyes will reveal "what a person thinks or needs." So in other words, it's often the case that Hitchcock's scenes are far more than what meaning is actually contained within the words of dialogue. He also says, "We don't have pages "from a typewriter to fill; "we have a rectangular screen in a movie house." So in that sense, what he's saying is that everything is visual. And through the art of editing, we can guide the audience past the words into the minds and intentions of each character.
With all of that said, let's just glance at the original script for one part of this scene. As you can see, there is just one mention of all this gazing that the characters are doing here, but it's during production and then during editing that this is brought forward and allowed to really shine. We as viewers in turn gaze at this seduction scene in awe. Let's take a look at the beginning of this scene once again, this time without the sound. Let's just watch. Again, the way Tomasini relies heavily on these reaction shots when the person isn't speaking as well as cutting in the middle of actions and these furtive glances helps to establish the sense of deception and intimacy that plays out during this introduction.
This extends to when each of the characters catches the other in a lie, and the nonverbal dialogue invites us into layers of meaning, what is being said and what is really being conveyed. And then there's another part of the scene where nothing is said verbally, but through performance and editing, we know exactly what the characters are saying. Let me first just show you what this part of the script looks like. As you can see, it does describe what's going on here, but it's not until it's cut together that we can really appreciate it. This part is masterfully cut and draws us in fully.
And even though there aren't technically any words, there's a lot that these characters are saying. (gentle music) So that was 7 edits over the course of 22 seconds, and the editor draws out this moment perfectly, providing a break in the conversation and letting us gaze on this interaction fully.
So needless to say, when you're cutting a dialogue scene, even if you don't take breaks of this scale, just be mindful of the key nonverbal moments that can help tell your story. We're going to spend the next movie discussing nonverbal dialogue more closely because without it, your dialogue scenes will rip along much too quickly and without the intimacy that real life relationships have. So however the editor's vision fits into the film making process, you will have the opportunity to really make a scene shine by working with the actors' performance, understanding the importance of nonverbal language, and executing the proper rhythm and pacing to fit the scene's mood and intention.
Once you've done all of that, you can turn a boring tennis match dialogue scene into something really quite extraordinary.
- Understanding the editor's role
- Acknowledging nonverbal dialogue
- Looking at the script
- Choosing shots
- Laying the foundation
- Refining the edit
- Viewing the final cut