January 18, 2016

Furious Film Editing: Watch Five Films That Average 2 Seconds Per Shot

Vashi Nedomansky Fastest Cut
The pace of editing these days is frenzied — to say the least. 

It's not unusual to see films using shot length as a way to give energy to scenes that might otherwise feel flat. It's a style that many blockbuster films have used, and it seems like we've only gotten more of it as web video has exploded, and shot length has decreased (though films like The Revenant or The Hateful Eight take the opposite approach). Vashi Nedomansky, an editor whose work we've featured tons of times, has produced an interesting experiment taking a look at five fast-paced films with shot lengths averaging just 2 seconds, and a total of 3000 shots per film. The point here is pretty simple — when used correctly, this technique can still deliver a coherent film:

They are being played back in their entirety at 12X speed. The resulting video is 10 minutes long. Only one of these films remains comprehensible at this speed. You don’t have to watch the whole video…feel free to scroll through and view different sections and compare the films. You will see that the painstaking craftsmanship of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD survives the massive speed up.

There are some spoilers in this, so if you really don't want to be spoiled, you might just want to watch only a small portion near the beginning (or not at all, your choice!):

The first thing that stands out is just how crazy Domino looks from afar. I personally think that Tony Scott's later films had a frantic energy that worked for the characters on screen, even if you're getting way more information every few seconds than you can really process. As for the other films, Fury Road does seem to stand out in its coherence. As Vashi mentions, part of this has to do with the way the shots are framed. We don't have to spend too much time finding where we need to look, and thus it's not as uncomfortable as it could be — and I personally think it actually works better than if the pace was slower. Here's his previous video on framing:

Certainly it's something to think about if you're planning on having a film with lots of quick cuts. Where you place the camera can have a dramatic effect, and just cutting for the sake of cutting can take an audience out of a scene, and maybe even out of the movie altogether.      

Your Comment

8 Comments

The other thing Mad Max has going for it is that it's a very simple story that is almost told entirely through visuals (or at least if you missed a lot of dialogue somehow you're not going to be totally clueless as to what's going on). The other movies don't have that luxury. Mad Max's lines could probably be replaced with grunts and we'd still understand what's motivating the characters.

January 18, 2016 at 1:18PM

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I don't think it proves much more than that Mad Max is told mainly through visuals and those other films rely more heavily on dialogue. After all Max was scripted in storyboards :)

January 18, 2016 at 1:18PM

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I'd love to see these films lined up with other modern and classic films so a comparison could be drawn. For example, I don't know the numbers but The Martian, Prometheus and Gravity all had intense action sequences, but didn't feel rushed.

More classically, how do movies like Die Hard, The Matrix, Terminator, and Aliens (NOT Alien... :D ) compare to the modern styles of action editing. Or heck, what about Ben Hur, Robin Hood and His Merry Men, or World In His Arms line up...

I hated the cutting of The Taking of Pelham 123 - since they obviously tried to artificially pump the angst of the story (seriously, they're stealing a subway train... it already sounds like it lacks energy) through constant and mindless cutaways that only served to interrupt the story and didn't do anything except optically frustrate the drama. (I felt, anyways...)

Final note: Mad Max's composition is nothing short of genius. I couldn't believe on leaving the theatre how intense the cutting was, but how my vision didn't feel exhausted like it tends to in so many action films (like Avengers and so forth...). I like to sit fairly close to the cinema screens to enjoy the spectacle and size, and I'm used to walking out of a movie with tired eyes. Mad Max felt fast, but it was SO easy to watch!

January 18, 2016 at 5:43PM

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Jared Adamo
Creative Director / Producer
99

I know what you mean about the tired eyes thing. I think what it is is busy compositions. Too much is going on in the frame and your eyes have no idea where to look. In Mad Max, it was very clean and your eyes immediately went to where the director wanted them to go.

January 20, 2016 at 5:49PM

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Ethan Cardoza
Cinematographer/Editor
180

First video had no point. Comparing apples and oranges. Second video reinforced good points in filmmaking.

January 19, 2016 at 1:35PM, Edited January 19, 1:35PM

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William Scherer
Producer, Writer, Director, Aerial Photography
255

To me, it looks like Mad Max seems to hold scenes longer compared to the other films. And as the article states, part of that may be due to the shot framing.

But it looks like there are more cuts in a single scene with the others compared to Fury Road. It was a pretty frenetic film, but it still managed to hold on to scenes longer giving them time to breath.

January 20, 2016 at 1:25PM

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Jon Whatley
Editor
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Here's an attempt to illustrate the editing data by using a histogram (length of cuts + the number of times that length happens). https://www.pinterest.com/pin/562809284663737566/

January 21, 2016 at 10:58AM, Edited January 21, 10:58AM

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I don't think any film would be comprehensible when played side-by-side with 4 other films. This video almost gave me epilepsy.

January 23, 2016 at 12:41AM

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Alex Fagard
Filmmaker, Editor, Motion Graphics, Dabbles in VFX
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