Unit 16: film and editing techniques
Editors are crucial to the filmmaking process. Editing can make or break a film and editors have to – painstakingly – go through every minute of footage: decide what scenes to keep, what to cut, what visual effects should be used, what Audio effects should be used, create a smooth and flowing narrative and to discover and edit- or remove- any king of factual, grammatical and typographical from the film.
The genesis of film editing began with – what is believed to be – the first ever motion picture. In the December of 1985, the Lumiere brothers, exhibited their a selection of their single-reel films to the viewing public. In the short clip a piano can be distinctly heard playing in the background. This piece of audio would have been added in post production, making it one of the first ever examples of video editing in history. One of the most important examples of special effects used in film are the effects used in the short film ‘A trip to the moon’. It’s not the first example; but it is arguably the most important. It’s a film of many tricky edits, directed by George Melios- often affectionately known as the cinemagician. Melios’ was a noted illusionist and employed his skills in his films. The most important effect he perfected was the ‘stop trick substitution effect’. Melios claims to create the effect by stopping the camera and changing the: set or characters to create an effect of instant transition. In ‘A journey to the moon’ the effect is used in the third act; when smoke is activated the camera is stopped, the actor leaves the set and the camera resumes rolling- giving the impression that the character disappeared in a puff of smoke.
Of course in the days of Melios and the Lumiere brothers they were held back by linear editing. Linear editing is the process of editing and modifying images and sound in a predetermined manner. Sequentiality is key in linear editing. In linear editing it is essential that you own a VCR- other a similar device to play tapes, it also requires handling the raw footage that you film and can be long and arduous- but it is notably cheaper than non-linear editing. It was the only form of video editing; until the early 1990s. Non-linear editing is the process of editing recorded film through digital software. It didn’t really get it’s advent until the early 90s, yet it only took it a decade and a half to- almost- completely replace the form of editing that came before it. However it’s not hard to see why, non linear editing is named as such because, unlike linear editing, non linear editing allows you to edit chunks of a film at will with little inconvenience, whereas if you wanted to edit using linear methods you can’t easily build a program out of sequence or in separate chunks. The only way to change a previously made edit is to perform a new edit over the old one. If the new edit should happen to bigger than the old one than you’ll cover up a bit of the next scene on the tape. Though non linear editing used to be the more expensive of the two, but with the advent of the smart phone and basic computers, digital editing software is now available- cheaply- to anyone who wishes to seek it.
Creating special effects is not the end of video editing however. Another big part of editing is presenting a cohesive narrative in the context of a visual medium. Editors employ a number of skills in order to do this. It is crucial that an editor keeps a constant narrative flow throughout their work. To tell a story an editor must first understand the complete context behind the story: the themes, the genre etc. If the genre is a horror movie, the editor will look to use the most frightening, isolating and tight camera shots as possible. An editor may also use cross cutting to build tension in a scene; an example of this technique in effect would be the first Jaws movie, where the scene oscillates between the shark’s POV and a wide angle shot of a woman swimming in the sea. If, however, an editor is editing a comedy then they may want to include a laugh track. Or in the case of animation- for example in Tom and Jerry- the editor needs to make sure all the audio matches the action on screen. Fundamentally film editing determines the structure and pace of the story.