Inside the Mind of an Editor: How Do They Know When to Cut?
"When I cut — I feel, I feel, I feel, and I say, 'Here.' For no reason. Just feeling." — Chantal Akerman
Editing is very much a technical craft. However, if you ask filmmakers like Akerman about their technical editing process, they're most likely going to tell you their decisions are based more on intuition rather than intellect — which isn't all that satisfying for those just wanting to learn a few techniques that'll make their editing better. But, perhaps first understanding how editors think and feel will help beginners form a solid foundation on which to set the technical knowledge they'll pick up along the way. In this enlightening video essay, Tony Zhou addresses that all too important aspect of editing.
You can't really teach an individual how to feel, nor can you instill in them intuition. However, you can teach them new ways of looking at a scene — interpreting facial expressions and reading an actor's eyes. You can remind them that, as editors, they are making art out of time and space, rather than with acrylic or clay, and they can use as much or as little of it as they want. You can linger on a shot of a subject for five seconds longer, or shave a couple of frames off the end in order to relay the message an actor is trying to convey to the audience.
But Zhou provides some great tools that you can start using right now in your own editing. Challenge yourself to:
- Read a subject's eyes to determine the emotion of a scene.
- Ask how much time you're going to give an emotion.
- Find the relationship between the story and the rhythm of your edits.
- Decide whether invisible or visible editing is right for the story or a specific scene.
- Make sure that every single edit you make is motivated.
Don't be worried if you feel like you haven't attained that mystical intuitive sense that great editors seem to have. That comes with time and experience. The most important thing for any young editor to do is to work and work and work and work. The more you work, the better you'll get, and eventually the way you think and feel will start to evolve and mature to a point where you're making decisions not because it follows textbook rules and archetypes, but because they just feel right.