The Intoxicating Midnight Beauty of er, Film Editing.
OK, so I had to try and sell it in one sentence
Film editing… All sounds rather dull doesn’t it? None of the excitement of being the bourbon fueled director bellowing at the actors nor of the producer cutting deals in smoke filled rooms somewhere off the Cannes main strip. Even the ‘Key Grip’ probably has more thrills. Having spent many a decade fiddling around with still photography, the moving image, all 25 frames per second is a daunting, yet intoxicating space to be investigating. Like you do, I decided a music video would be a breeze. So three days later, 32Gb of footage silting up my hard-drive and a lovely yet very enthusiastic musician desperate to see the output, the realisation dawned that the film editor or cutter, is the person that truly dictates what a movie is, how the story is told and gives the thing life.
It is intoxicating: Sat in front of the console late at night (usually past midnight) a hundred controls and fiddly things to press, a mountain of footage, a song you’ve heard a thousand times before; there’s only you between a big pile of steaming rubbish and something approaching passable, or even good. Well, I say ‘only you’ but invariably there is a bottle of wine and some cheesy, slightly crunchy snacks. Or toast. Toast is always good.
It is beauty: David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia” is an incredible film, full of the clean sterile beauty of the desert and er, explosions. The cutting though is sublime. There are two famous scenes, 1) Lawrence blows out a match and the scene transitions to a blazing red desert sun rising over endless dunes and 2) Lawrence sees a cloud of dust approaching, which finally turns into Omar Sharif on a camel taking aim with his rifle… Sublime stuff.
Then there are also little audio tricks : An edit moves from the serenity of the desert with a score of subtle strings, to a busy Cairo street full of human noise and stink, honking horns and shouting. It’s a straight cut, from one scene to another, however the audio is cut slightly in advance, so while still on the desert scene, we hear a few micro-seconds of the street in Cairo. This subliminal trick enables time and place shifting to happen seamlessly; to prepare the viewer for what is to come next. It is genius.
The real masters of cutting are usually unsung but what they do, without most people realising is make images and scenes stick in your mind. Indelibly, if they get it right.
Which in a roundabout kinda way, brings us to the Berwick film festival which kicks off on the 19th September, but which temptingly is open for submissions. The theme this year is ‘Pictures in Motion’ and is about exploring the relationship between still and moving images. Personally, I think this is going to throw up some fabulous entries so is an event not to be missed. As for an entry, well, hmmm, there’s 4 weeks to ago, a half finished storyboard and an excited musician on the phone. I sense quite a few intoxicated nights are coming up. But, y’know, have a look at the guidelines, devour the ‘making of’ extra features on your favourite film DVD and why not give it a go? If you film as well as edit, all the better – you’ll know to over-shoot like crazy and always try for just one more cut.
About the author
Has camera. Has earplugs. Will travel.