The History and Techniques of Editing Explained in Less Than 7 Minutes

Why does editing work? 

Why aren't moviegoers completely thrown for a loop when they see an edited film? I guess you could say it's because they don't really see it—the editing, anyway.

But this was a huge gamble made by filmmakers in the early days of cinema, who were blazing the trail of post-production and experimenting with continuity (a concept that didn't even exist back then), shot size, and angle.

This video from CineFix takes us on a tour of all that is editing, from its birth during the silent era to the development of the montage theory by a bunch of innovative Soviets.

One thing to take away from this, other than the bountiful facts about cinematic history, is the two major editing concepts: continuity editing and montage editing. Continuity editing is structural—it's meant to get you from point A to point B without wondering where you are. Soviet montage, on the other hand, works to elicit an emotional response from the audience.

These videos give great examples of each:

(Note: This video shows the different "methods" of montage developed by Eisenstein: metric, tonal, rhythmic, and intelligent.)

Video is no longer available:

If you're new to theories on editing, we highly suggest reading Sergei Eisenstein's essays and books, which explain in great detail his theories on montage.     

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Thanks for sharing! I've been doing a lot of research on the coming wave of 360 video and virtual reality, and a Oculas Rift developer said that when you cut in VR, you don't just see a new image, you feel as if you teleported. The innovation in editing has just begun :)

April 8, 2015 at 9:39AM


I know nothing at all about editing, but one thing that's begun to fascinate me lately is transitioning between scenes, and I think that slightly different considerations apply than for intra-scene cuts. Here's some initial thoughts:

-- Graphic matching seems a common inter-scene device.
-- Often sharp contrasts. For instance, of mood, brightness, colour, or camera movement. One of Tony Zhou's recent videos, maybe the one on Kurosawa, I think talks about going from a moving shot to a static shot to announce scene change.
-- There's often closing and opening notes in emotion/story/acting/camerawork/editing that announce start and end of scene. For instance, a change of pace in the editing, a door closing or extra walking past to act as a screen wipe, or a cut to a wide-angle establishing shot.
-- "Intellectual montage" still applies, but often with slightly different effect. Often, it's almost like an L cut, with the last scene echoing over the first part of the new scene, or the images at the start of the new scene implying something about the last. (True Blood does this a lot.)
-- There's no "cutting on movement" continuity as such, but there might be other continuities, like continuities of eye direction or screen direction. You might flow with these continuities, or you might break them to announce that this is a new scene.
-- There's often a bit of misdirection, so that the first shot of the new scene seems to belong to the last scene. Or there's a bit of playing with the audience, each scene being a new opportunity to hold off on answering the questions "Where am I?", "What's going on?".

April 8, 2015 at 7:49PM

Adrian Tan

V's posts are so hot it's making me sexist.

April 9, 2015 at 9:14AM, Edited April 9, 9:14AM


I have seen that montage sequence from Potempkin. The one with the statue of a lion. And I have always been fascinated by the dissonance between how I interpret it and how everyone else says it's to be interpreted.

In my eyes the lion looks terrified. First sleeping. Then awoken and chocked. Implication there that the lion represents the sitting government and the outcome becoming that suddenly, the people in power have to take notice to this civil unrest lest full blown revolution will happen and the mob will take over. Think of it like Scar noticing the hyenas finally being fed up, ganging together to take him out one night when he's sleeping.

But the one analysis I always read is that the lion is supposed to represent the revolutionaries who was once cowered but now has risen to fight for their rights. Finally the fury of the people has awoken. This interpretation has for me always been a bit strange since the facial expression of the lion doesn't look like fury at all.

Also, in my eyes. The way the preceding shot is set up. With the destruction to the left and the lion seeing it on the same side I have seen it as the destruction was the thing that woke it up. Not that the lion was part of the destructive force in the sequence. Although even Eisenstein himself has written that the official interpretation is the correct one.

In short, whenever I see deep discussions about films and sequences. I am often reminded of this sequence and the discrepancy between my view and everyone else. And also that even if I as the filmmaker sets up a shot in a way that I think is totally obvious in its symbolism I cannot be sure that the viewer will necessarily pick up on things the way that I wanted. Film is 24000 words per second. But what words, that seems to be very hard to predict.

In even shorter. I wouldn't necessarily read too much into anything in a film. :P

April 10, 2015 at 11:09AM


The term I was taught for continuity editing was linkage.

April 13, 2015 at 8:17AM

Noah Diamond