It’s been great studying movies in different ways. Some days you study the performance, other days you study the composition. It never ever gets tiring. Quite the contrary. I’ve been studying several movies over the last year for different reasons each. I wanted to do a small post on editing as it plays a major role on what it is that we do, and it’s very difficult stuff sometimes.

Editing can enhance a performance or break it. Simple as that. It can add another layer to the pacing of a perfomance, and it can simply add another layer to a scene in general. When you connect three shots together…all of a sudden, you have a whole new bunch of tools to tell your story, and you can tell it in a million different ways.

Simple rough example. Three shots. A shot of a guy walking on the street. A shot of a car in motion. A close up of the guy. As you place each of those shots in different places with different timing, you could get something like:

– A car is coming, and the guy doesn’t see it coming.
– A car is coming and the guy reacts.
– Guy reacts as he’s about to get hit by a car.

To name a few.
So to show a more powerful example, I chose an example from the film Searching for Bobby Fischer, a wonderful film shot by DP Conrad Hall/John Corso and edited by Wayne Wahrman. Beautiful photography in it by the way, highly recommended. Pay attention how this scene is edited almost as a shortfilm in itself:

This scene I found is a great example of bringing texture/depth to the pacing of a scene, by how each shot it timed out as well as the choices in each of the shots:

  • The early shots are longer. Less or none is happening.
  • We don’t see what’s going on through the early shots. By the framing of the chess game and Ben Kinsgley’s performance, information is being held temporarily from the audience to keep us interested. We don’t even get to see what Ben is doing in these shots. We just hear the sound of the chess game in the background getting stronger and stronger.
  • Camera is not necessarily moving as much. Just keep alive.
  • Slowly we are being let in as to what’s going on. Still the timing of the shots is long.
  • At one point we are thrown in the action. The cuts begin to speed up. Framing starts to have some quick camera pans and tilts, and quicker and quicker timing as we go.
  • Music is keeping us in the moment as well.
  • Cuts at this point become twice as quick…and at one point the accelerate to the point of some shots just being a few frames long.
  • If you notice, some of the shots of the clock being hit don’t match the actual sounds. I’d bet this was a conscious decision done by the editor, to add more confusion to the moment. They get in sync after a moment.
  • This editing ends up with one key story moment with the chess piece followed by a much slower tilt. The shot is held on the reaction shot of one actor, and held again on the kid actor. Not much else going on, not movement, no talking, nothing, just exchanges. This big change in the pacing gives contrast to all the quick shots that just happened.
  • That combined with the rest of the scene going back to slow pacing, allows us to take in what just happened. If the cutting was always fast with no break, you’d go crazy. If it was always slow, you’d be bored as hell. It’s always finding a balance.
  • The slow (almost still) pacing now has that shot of the chess piece being hit by the actor who’s been defeated. If you think about it, there is not only texture to the editing, but also a musicality to it, just like we find in timing.
  • Ultimately it is finding ways through the editing for the story to be told.

They always make it look so easy. And it’s not. Editing done properly takes so long. What’s difficult is to find the right reasons as to why you do something. It’s not enough to say “I want to edit things quickly”. Everything in film should have a purpose and editing is no different than acting, framing, composition, color.

Hope this is useful.