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Micro Element

Editing (Adapted from Studying Film, Abrams, Bell and Udris)

AS Film Studies Unit FM1: Exploring Film Form High Pavement 6th Form College Stuart Grenville-Price

EDITING


After the completion of filming, the final stage is editing, the selection and piecing together of shots to form the completed film. Just as a range of choices exist for the cinematographer when manipulating light and using a camera, so editing offers many possibilities.

Continuity Editing One of the key principles is continuity editing. Most films, in one way or another, attempt to have us fully engrossed in what we see. The intention is that we escape into the film for the duration of the screening. The concept of ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ sums up the experience of much film-going. We know that what we see on screen isn’t real, in other words we disbelieve it, but in order to fully engage with the film we willingly suspend that disbelief - we happily ignore our doubts about the authenticity of what we see. We allow ourselves to enter the world (the diegesis) of the film. In order that we can experience films in this way, it is important that we are not reminded that we are watching a film and that we are not confused by an incomprehensible presentation of events in the narrative. Annette Kuhn writes: ‘Continuity editing establishes spatial and temporal relationships between shots in such a way as to permit the spectator to “read” a film without any conscious effort, precisely because the editing is “invisible”.’ (In Cook and Bernink, 1999, p. 40)

Example: Cinema Paradiso (Guiseppe Tornatore, 1998) For this to be possible, it is essential that the shots flow smoothly from one to another and that our attention is not drawn to the edit points. In effect, the shots support each other. One shot logically leads to the next shot and the next. A number of techniques help make this possible. Movement and Speed of Editing


To ensure such ‘transparent’ editing, it is necessary that the locations, props, actors and movement in one shot are consistent with what has gone before. The speed at which something happens and the space within which it occurs should be consistent across the relevant shots. In effect, continuity editing supports the meaning produced by the audio/ visual interpretations of the narrative. The principle can be illustrated by reference to a scene in Cinema Paradiso when Salvatore rescues Alfredo from the fire that has started in the cinema projection room. The pace of editing is fast, people are panicking, events move with speed. Within this scene there is a consistency with regard to time and movement and similarly there is a consistency in the locations and space within which the events will unravel. Failure to maintain this consistency would interrupt our involvement in the film and draw attention to the artificial and constructed nature of film.

An over the shoulder shot from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels Shot Size and Editing This particular scene also serves to illustrate another common principle behind editing, the use of a variety of shot sizes. On one level a variety of shot sizes helps maintain our interest visually through avoiding repetition, but it also serves another function. We have already noted the various meanings that shot sizes can produce, and through editing a logical progression is created out of shot size. In the scene from the above example we are provided with an extreme long shot of the village and cinema to provide context. The shots are then edited together to eventually take us onto a more personal level as we see Salvatore in close up battling his way through the crowds to Alfredo.

Shot / Reverse Shot Editing Editing also helps to clarify situations by joining together shots form different angles to provide us with different perspectives, thereby creating a fuller understanding. This is common during conversations where a shot/reverse shot edit is frequently used. The shots themselves are frequently ‘over the shoulder shots’ in which we see part of the back of one person’s head and shoulders and the front of the other person talking to them. The editing provides an understanding of the spatial relationship between the characters while also giving information on movement and facial expression.


An eye-line match from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels Eye-line Match Conversations, and for that matter any interaction between characters, will usually also require an eye-line match in order to maintain continuity between edits. If character A is in a chair looking up at character B, who is standing, when we cut to a close up of character A s/he should still be looking up, even if character B is out of shot – and vice versa for a close up of character B. in other words, the direction of a character’s gaze needs to be matched to the position of the object they are looking at.

Match on Action Another form of edit that provides additional information about an event is a match cut on action. Here the edit brings together two shots from different angles or shot sizes of the same action being completed. Again, this gives us a slightly different perspective on an action and can often provide us with more detail through the use of a close-up. We see a hand raise a gun – next we see an extreme close up of a finger pulling the trigger.

Cutaway Shots A cutaway shot may be edited into a scene. This type of shot is not directly related to the action taking place but it has an indirect link. We may see two people having a conversation in an apartment and, while we still hear their dialogue, for several seconds we may see a shot of the exterior of the apartment before returning to their conversation. The shot cuts away form the action but still retains some connection to the scene. Cross-cutting Cross-cutting is an invaluable editing technique and is commonly used for building suspense. It consists of editing shots of events in different locations which are expected eventually to coincide with each other. See links to omniscient narration and how it creates suspense by providing an overview of different areas of action, and cross-cutting is the realisation of such a narrative approach.


At the end of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, (1998) we are aware that Tom is desperately trying to get rid of two shotguns which he believes are incriminating evidence. However, we then cut to a pub where his associates have just learned that the guns are worth a fortune. Suspense is built through editing between Tom trying to dump the guns into the Thames and his associates desperately trying to phone him to stop him getting rid of the guns. In one respect, cross-cutting breaks the film’s continuity by suddenly jumping to another scene; however, the close linking together of the two scenes ensures coherence.

An eye-line match from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels The 180 Degree Rule There are a couple of important ‘rules’ associated with editing. The 180° Rule specifies that the camera should not have ‘crossed the line of action’ when two shots are edited together. This is particularly important during a scene where two characters are interacting with each other in some way. We will have subconsciously noted that one character is on one side of the screen and the other is on the opposite side. The line of action is an imaginary line passing through the two characters. If the camera were to be placed on the other side of the action in the next shot, then the position of the characters would be reversed (see below).

Position A

Position C Position B Imaginary 180 degree rule The 30 Degree Rule The 30 Degree Rule indicates that if two shots of the same location or action are edited together, then either the camera should move position by at least 30° or the shot size


should radically change. If this does not happen then the effect is a jump cut. The elements within the shot appear to jump slightly, producing a disconcerting effect on the viewer.

Position A

Position B The

Position C 30 degree rule Alternatives to Cutting

Other techniques can be used at the editing stage to create a seamless unity for the film, whose narrative will usually contain many scenes within the overall story. If scenes were edited straight up against each other, then the transition from one to another could be confusing. The usual convention is to use a fade to black and a fade from black to end and begin a scene. Fades are introduced during the editing stage. Dissolves and wipes are often used too: one shot gradually gives way to another to indicate a transition, sometimes from one scene to another, but more often than not this is used to indicate the passing of time.

Meshes of the Afternoon, Meya Deren Discontinuity Editing If most editing can be described as continuity editing, then it is equally true that a minority of films use discontinuity editing. As the name implies, there is no smooth flow to the shots that are edited together; there is a disruption between one shot and the next. However, discontinuity editing can be used to good effect.


If continuity editing principally supports the meanings residing within the shots that represent the narrative, then discontinuity editing can be regarded as producing meanings from the ways in which the shots are linked together. The shots are not necessarily unified; rather, meaning comes from the way in which the shots interact.

Montage The best known example of discontinuity editing is montage, which was much used by Eistenstein, most famously in Battleship Potemkin (1925) in the Odessa Steps sequence. Here the shots that are edited together do not flow smoothly, instead they clash; they conflict with each other. The sequence switches, in a spacially disorientating way, between views of Tzar’s advancing troops and views of the fleeing citizens. The troops are armed, menacing and inhuman; the citizens are unarmed, vulnerable and all too human. The juxtaposition of meanings between the shots results in new meanings, produced by the viewer on seeing the montage of shots that are pieced together.

it is also possible for the pace of the editing to create a rhythm which itself produces meaning. In the shower scene in Psycho there is no logical progression to the way in which the stabbing of Marion is presented; it is a montage of shots. The shots are short and are filmed from a variety of angles – a rhythm is set up by the editing which emphasises the frenetic rhythm of the stabbings. The knife comes form different directions and these shots are intercut with short shots of Marion struggling. The effect of th sequence is to create a feeling of confusion, madness, panic. No doubt precisely what Hitchcock wanted (the intended meaning) Graphic Match Another editing technique that can break continuity is that of linking shots containing similar visual content. The shower scene in Psycho ends with a graphic match when the camera zooms in to a close up on water swirling down the circular drain in the shower and then dissolves to a revolving close up of Marion Crane’s eye. Shot size, movement, shapes and composition are matched.


Graphic match from Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock, 1960

Symbolic Insert Edit As the name implies, this term describes a shot which is edited between other shots and which directly represents something else. Jean-Luc Godard used this device in Weekend. Rather than show the murder of Corrine’s mother, Godard inserts a shot of a dead rabbit covered in blood. The edit breaks the film’s continuity as it makes no obvious sense in the context of the accompanying shots – it comes from outside the world of the film (diegesis). However, throughout the film the editing frequently lacks continuity, and time and space often lack coherence from scene to scene.

Freeze Frame One final technique remains to be mentioned that is achieved at the editing stage. The Exercise Analyse the editing in the climactic scenes of a science fiction film and a romance and identify the similarities and differences in technique.


freeze frame for obvious reasons creates a discontinuity – the moving image suddenly comes to a standstill. It is not a common technique but can be a useful device. In Jules et Jim (Truffaut, 1962), at one point Catherine is pretending to pose like a model. Truffaut momentarily freeze-frames the shots of her posing to create the impression of a photograph. At the beginning of Trainspotting (1996) several freeze frames of the characters are used, with a voice-over providing information about the characters. A freeze frame can usefully give us time to analyse an image. Finally, and less problematically, since Truffaut’s own The 400 Blows (Les 400 Coups, 1959) a freeze frame can often be used to signal the end of a film.

Are you happy identifying and defining the following editing terms? :

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o

continuity diegesis freeze frame coherence 180 degree rule 30 degree rule continuity editing crossing the line of action eye-line match orientation Intended meaning smbolic insert edit discontinuity editing match cut on action graphic match match cut wipe Iris fade


Definitive Editing Reference