Editing films can be hard like an unexpected slap in the face or soft like a loving look. It can change time and be a complete contrast to movement in front of the camera. The cut can guide the eye or hinder us from seeing something. Therefore, editing films and videos is more than a mere trade, it “additionally” incorporates the potential of a form of art.
The four-part article series on the trade of editing begins with the most important principles of film cutting:
Film cutting is based on the setting. In films, a sequence of uninterrupted individual images is called a setting: the beginning of the setting is defined by switching the film camera on and off. The recorded video or film image between these two moments is the setting.
The length of the setting used to depend on the length of the reel of film in the camera and therefore never exceeded 11 minutes (a standard roll of 35mm is 1000’ long and runs for about 11 min at 24fps, 400’ rolls are also available) until the 35MM film cameras became obsolete. Assuming a storage medium with sufficient capacity, 120 minutes can also be shot these days at a single stretch. One of the best-known examples of this is the full-length feature film Victoria by the director Sebastian Schipper which, after three rehearsals, was filmed in one shoot without any interruptions and celebrated its acclaimed premiere at the Berlinale in 2010.
Editing is the film director’s language. Vsevolod Pudovkin, Director
If, theoretically and technically, all conceivable setting lengths are now possible, how is the length of a setting determined? The following rules have proved reliable in practice:
All genres must deal with the public’s expectations, which also effect editing. Fast cutting sequences, as commonly used for pursuit in action films (frequently combined with slow motion explosions), are not suitable for a sympathetic, lyric love drama. The viewer expects longer settings for historical archive recordings than for a music video.
A product film or image film may come along at a lively pace. If the same cutting frequency is applied for a testimonial, the viewer asks himself whether the contents are either so boring or whether constant re-cutting was applied in order to trim the interview and cut out certain sentences.
The cut is the style of a film, its tempo and rhythm. Béla Balázs, Film Critic
Cutting and dramaturgy move hand in hand.
The cut length can and may therefore also deliberately differ from the specifications for the genre and the remaining part of the films for dramaturgical reasons.
The varying character of the scene concerned is deliberately strengthened with various rhythms.
For perceptive psychological reasons, cuts introducing us to the exposition of a scene are normally somewhat longer than later cuts.
Looking and processing the newly gained information takes a certain time.
The total of the time which “belongs” to an actor or an item is also referred to as screen time.
The more important a person or object is for the story telling, the longer she or it should be seen on the screen.
Recordings whose contents are essential for transporting emotions and information must remain in place longer than settings which tell a side story or merely illustrate the main plot as a texture.
The colour scheme of a film is not only important for psychological reasons. Depending on the colour difference between two successive settings, the cut can form a smooth and subtle image transition, or throw the viewer out of the plot with contradictions and contrast.
Therefore, the cut must not only observe the design of the film image (photogenics, movement in front of the camera), but also the colours.
Editing films: Conclusion
To a great extent, the art of film cutting is finding the length of a setting within the context of the plot and with it the dramaturgy without becoming unfaithful to the style of the film and the director’s vision. At the same time, the video maker, editor or cutter must find and edit the only right image from a confusing number of individual pieces, comparable to a jigsaw puzzle.