Film editing is, in truth, an art. As such, you can never fully master your skills, only refine them into an ever-progressing expression of creative perfection. There are core elements universal to the craft called editing that editing, and it is upon these foundations we all build our expertise.
Based upon Core Editing Technique, here are a few helpful tips that can help anyone from the budding film editor to the seasoned veteran better his/her craft.
1. Cut Tight
The best editing technique is to cut tight between scenes without becoming too jumpy. This can be done by taking out unnecessary pauses between actors’ dialogue delivery of lines or sometimes simply tightening the gaps between dialogue sentences through well-placed cutaway scenes.
It is a good rule of thumb to start with a cut that is precise from the beginning opposed to starting with a general fist pass then cutting it down from there. Most films do not support audiences’ attention for more than 90 minutes. If you can get your first cut to come in around 100 minutes then you should be able to achieve the 90 minute mark by simply tightening up your clips more precisely. If your first cut comes in around two hours you will have a mighty challenge ahead of you.
2. Matched Action
Matched action is something many editors consider second nature, yet many times there are numerous instances in every film where a continuity issue could have been solved with a simple exercise in matched action editing.
Matching actors’ hand positions, use of props, eyeliner and stage position from one cut to another are all consider matching action. As an editor your job is make the cuts that drive the emotion in the scene or move the story along.
Many industry professionals feel that if you keep the audience engaged in the story, mistakes in matched action can slip by unnoticed. A good editor will discover the fine line between driving emotion and technical matched action.
3. Do not cut back to the same angle
If you happen to have a choice of different camera angles, do not feel you need to cut back to the same angle you had in the previous shot. There are times when this is unavoidable such as in dialogue scenes with only two angles; but if by chance the director shot different takes with different framing, make an effort to use a variety of them.
Try to exercise the 30-degree rule; the camera should move at least 30 degrees between shots of the same subject occurring in succession. Be careful not to violate the 180-degree rule.
4. Save longer version along the way
When cutting down film, it’s a good idea to duplicate sequences along the way, renaming them with sequential numbers (e.g. intro pass dump, intro pass 1, intro pass 2, etc.) The Dump sequence is the initial footage and audio. Each sequential pass is shorter than the previous. The theory behind this being if you ever need to retrieve a clip or sound bite from a previous cut, it is there ready and waiting.
5. Moving camera shots
Moving the camera around is a key part of action sequences. Movement can be anything from a camera on a dolly to handheld motion. In action scenes this is designed to create a level of tension with the audience. I feel the best way to create this tension is by cutting on movement, so that the camera is in constant motion from one cut to the next.
Some directors may disagree with this and will want the camera to start and stop before making the cut. Both methods work, it just depends on the circumstances when deciding which one to go with.
6. B-roll in threes
It is not uncommon for a scene to call for cutaway shots.
When this scenario arises, it is a good rule to group three cutaway inserts together. These inserts should be around two seconds long. A POV insert would work well in threes because it give the audience a good general idea of the surroundings the character is in. this editing technique tends to mimics our real world experience of turning our head to see what is around us.