Movie Making Manual/Post-production/Editing

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What Is Editing?[edit]

Editing is the process of choosing which picture and sounds will go into the finished film. Initially this includes picking what is good and what is bad, removing the poor material and putting it into script order. Later it also includes the creation and control of moments that may or may not have been intended during the shoot (see below). This page deals primarily with picture editing, and the Sound Design module may be found here.

How do I edit a Film?[edit]

What follows describes the typical process of editing a scripted drama.

Logging and Assembly[edit]

Watch and listen to all the material. In a notebook make a log of your reactions to them and any ideas that pop into your head. Use timecode to link your thoughts to specific shots and do not be fooled into thinking you will remember these thoughts later. For a long project the first edit will be a simple version consisting of all the wide shots strung together. This assembly will contain the fewest number of edits required to tell the story. The assembly edit allows you to get a sense of the project as a whole before you begin to focus on the specifics.

The First Rough Cut[edit]

Now the rough cut begins. Taking one scene at a time begin to work through all the takes so as to find the best, most consistent material. The scenes may be cut in any order and the point is to let each scene work on its own. When you have a good working version of a scene swap it into the assembly so the cut gradually builds in complexity. Be sure to save versions of your edit several times a day so as to keep a record of all choices made.

Throughout the rough cut be careful to keep the sync sound together with its picture. Do begin to mute or delete unneeded audio, but don’t bother putting in any additional sounds yet. The first rough cut is completed when each scene has been looked at individually, and placed into the edit.

Take the opportunity for a break, overnight if possible, and view the cut without stopping. Afterward take your notebook and begin to re-view the film, stopping to make notes of changes you’d like to try. For a feature film this process can take many hours.

The Main Edit[edit]

Now the process of approaching a fine cut begins. Scenes will have individual problems, and now that they are all part of one film, issues will become clear that are inter-dependent between scenes. This stage of the edit can be difficult as some problems can seem unsolvable. Be sure to keep moving.

Key sound effects and music may be introduced at this stage, and the complexity will grow. Be sure to try out lots of ideas, secure in the knowledge that each version is safely saved and may be returned to if necessary. The stage when a rough cut becomes a fine cut is not exact, but is often when the editor feels each idea has been fully explored.

Bring in others to watch your fine cut. Merely sitting next to someone new while watching your film can bring out problems in the edit you have previously missed. Pay careful attention to any questions they ask. Even apparently casual queries can reveal holes in the storytelling that you and your team have missed or unsuccessfully tried to solve.

The Fine Cut[edit]

You haven’t finished cutting until several new viewers have seen the edit and you’ve worked with the problems raised. If there are major issues that are never quite dealt with then now is the time that you must be bravest with the material and experiment boldly. It can mean going back to rough cut stage with a scene or two.

Fine cutting itself is the process of getting down to perfect frame accuracy for every single edit in the film, of making sure each moment flows as best it can. Don’t bother working at this level of detail until all story issues have been satisfactorily solved. Once the fine cut is approved the picture is considered locked and no further changes will occur. The project will move into full sound post and the editor’s work is done. Back up all the project files. You’re done.

How Do I Edit a Scene?[edit]

Look at the new section for How To Edit a Dramatic Scene. In this section, you will learn the specific details of creating the rough edit for a conversation and then creating L Cut and adding Cut Away Shots to obtain the maximum impact for a conversation.

Software & Equipment[edit]

Films are edited almost exclusively off-line using computer-based editing systems. These Non-Linear Editors (NLEs) allow for fast experimentation with ideas and the saving of multiple versions of films. Although the basics of editing require only cuts and dissolves, commonly NLEs include tools for colour grading, keying, speed effects and sound mixing.

These programs allow you to import raw digital video footage from many types of files, or to record in from tape. You can then edit the video using a timeline, which is where the story is built up. The program then allows you to play out the final edit onto tape, or to export the edited video in the form of a digital video file.

Post Production Project Management Software[edit]

  • [1] (Mac and PC - Used to build budgets, supports industry standard tasks, tracks time and costs, schedules editing suites, equipment and staff, manages inventory and handles billing.)


Free and Open Source Editing Software[edit]

  • Kino (Linux Only - Excellent for capturing DV, only basic editing functionality)
  • Kdenlive (linux only - HD capable, Intuitive interface, A New project under development )
  • Cinelerra (Linux Only - HD capable, Interface takes getting used to)
  • VirtualDubMod (Windows Only)
  • Blender3D (only Linux version with full ffmpeg support- capable 3d modelling)
  • ZS4 Video Editor (Windows, Linux, and OS X; Not OSS but free for any kind of use)
  • Avid FreeDV (Windows/Mac OSX)No longer available. Site now leads you to a trial version of Avid.
  • Cinepaint(Linux,Windows/Mac OSX, deep paint manipulation and image processing)
  • Article from professional perspective

Commercial Editing Software[edit]

Commercial All-in-one Editing Systems[edit]

Useful information:


For more information, take a look at these pages:

A Short History of the Craft of Editing[edit]

Editing is unique amongst the creative arts. At the beginning of cinema at the end of the 1800s, there were writers, actors, directors, producers, set designers, musicians and choreographers all from the stage. Even use of the new technology, the motion picture camera, was a straightforward step from stills photography. But there were no editors. Those that share the name, literary editors, share some of the concerns of film editors such as story and coherence, but in film parlance they are more akin to producers than editors.

Origins[edit]

Then one day a gentleman was filming a street scene and the camera jammed, as those hand-made machines did quite regularly. After fixing the problem the filmmaker continued to film the street. On developing the film, he discovered that a carriage in the centre of the road seemed to disappear before his very eyes. Much enamoured with this trick, he used it to great effect and other filmmakers copied the technique. This was the first known edit.

As a Special Effect[edit]

Among the finest exponents of this new technique was a stage magician named George Melies who created such lavish fantasies a La Voyage Dans La Lune. It was the Titanic of its day, of great length, with astonishing special effects, excitement, laughter and tense drama. In it, cuts are used more often as an effect device than in the narrative sense that we are used to today.

Telling a Story[edit]

It was the American Edwin S. Porter who created the first cinematic narrative box-office hit The Great Train Robbery. Although scenes were still largely played in long shot as if performed on a stage, the scenes of the hero riding to the rescue were intercut with scenes of the girl being terrorised by the hoodlums. Narrative editing had begun!

New Russian Ideas[edit]

Russia is our next stop in the history of editing. In Russia in the teens and twenties filmmakers such as Vertov, Kuleshov and Eisenstein experimented with editing styles. The influence of Vertov’s apparently random connection of images can be seen in modern documentaries such as Koyaanisquatsi and Baraka. Eisenstein's almost brutal editing of images looked forward to the editing of today's action blockbusters and Kuleshov managed to codify Russian Montage Theory (or Intellectual Montage) to demonstrate how editing, through juxtaposition, creates meaning from two or more separate pieces of film.

In a famous experiment, Kuleshov showed how by cutting from a man’s face to a bowl of hot food, the emotion of hunger was conveyed to the audience. These two shots had not been filmed at the same time and so it was entirely through editing their meaning was created. Now the real magic happened. Kuleshov used a close-up of the same actor and cut it with a pretty girl, showing affection. It was in fact the exact same shot of the actor that the audiences were interpreting as two different performances. Kuleshov had demonstrated that control of film's meaning lies in the control of the edit.

The Dominant Style[edit]

D.W. Griffith and other pioneers of American Cinema through the 1920s settled into using what is now considered the Classical Narrative style of filmmaking, in which editing aspires to be invisible to the audience. This style of editing (also known as continuity editing) has become so dominant across the world that to use other styles is seen as radical and even anti-commercial.