Saturday, 28 May 2011


I have just started teaching a new group of students the joys of Avid Media Composer, through a series of 3 hour evening classes. Whilst we follow the 101 course laid out by Avid, I always like to mix it up with discussions about editing in general, so that I'm not constantly teaching them to how to push the buttons. In the first lesson we looked at the history of editing, which is very much tied in with history of storytelling in film.

Edwin Porter's early films were some of the first to explore the cut and also some of the first to explore many of the ideas we see today in narrative cinema.

Recently in their 4th lesson, I started a discussion about what qualities a good dramatic editor needs to have to cut well (there are many other qualities which an editor needs to help him work well with clients and meet deadlines etc). There are some obvious ones such as creativity, imagination, attention to detail, focus and concentration. Knowledge of the editing software is also important but I was quick to point out that I consider this a base level for editors really and probably the least important thing in making you good at cutting. I see the software simply as a tool to help you make the decisions you need to make. Knowing the software inside out is not guarantee of success if the decisions you make with it are lousy. There are also plenty of excellent editors who can do very little with the software they use other than just simple editing, as they are used having everything else done for them. It is the the decisions they make about what to put in the sequence and in what order that makes them excellent. So in relation to different software packages, the only thing you really need to consider is whether it allows you to make the decisions you want to make, easily and accurately.

So this led to a discussion of what I consider to be the most important quality that makes you a good editor, empathy. Don't confuse this with sympathy. You can be a complete bastard and still be a good editor. Empathy isn't about feeling sorry for people, it is about being able to put yourself in their shoes and as an editor, it is a skill I am always trying to improve. There are many different types of empathy, and two in particular come into play every time you make an edit. The first is kinetic empathy. Being able to feel and understand  the movement of the characters on screen is vital every time you try and cut on an action. Accurately matching an action across a cut is integral to making the kind of invisible cuts that will allow your audience to seamlessly enjoy the scene unfold before them. The second type is emotional empathy. If, for example, you are editing a shot:reverse shot sequence of two characters talking to each other, you usually have a great deal of control over the spaces between when one person finishes speaking and other starts. Getting the gaps to sound fluid a seamless is one of the most important things to get right. This is where emotional empathy comes into play. If you can feel and think the way the character is supposed to be feeling then you can start to make decisions based on the emotional subtext of the scene. When a character asks another character a question, the speed at which they reply says as much or more than what they actually say. Are they reluctant to answer, are they desperate to answer having been waiting for the question to be asked for a while. Perhaps they even interrupt before the question has been finished/ The possible connotations are almost endless. The difficulty with this kind of thing is that there is no correct answer to how long the pause should be. I think this is why as editors we often have a tendency to talk about technology and software when we talk shop. But these are the things we should be considering, discussing and analysing. They are what make a truly great editor and finding ways to be better at should be at the forefront of our efforts to be be better editors.

I also wanted to discuss the empathy you must have with your imaginary audience, but this post is getting a little long, so another time.

No comments:

Post a Comment