September 3, 2016

3 Things You Can Learn About Editing from Watching 'Die Hard'

Studying movies can be the best film school and can teach you so much about filmmaking, even when it comes to editing.

When it comes to editing, being able to tell between what works and what doesn't can be a little tricky since what works is often invisible. But a few of these sometimes obscure concepts and techniques are brought to light in the video below, in which Joey from RocketJump Film School re-edits scenes from Die Hard's 5 Star Collection DVD, which contains an editing workshop that provides plenty of extra footage to play around with.

Here are a few concepts discussed in the video:

Shot formula for POV shots

There's no one way to edit a shot/reverse shot sequence, but RocketJump does show you the conventional way to do it. The formula for the classic reaction shot is this: A-B-A, which simply means after you cut from the first shot (A) to the POV shot (B), you should cut back to a shot from the first angle (A). This is important to consider if you captured several takes and, say, the first part of a delivery of a line on the first take (A) is good, but the delivery of the subsequent line is better in another shot you captured from another angle (C). Essentially, A-B-C might be confusing for your audience to watch.

Keep moving

Camera movement is great; it creates a lot of aesthetic and kinetic energy that audiences engage with more, but you should definitely pay attention to when you move your camera in different shots. This is because cutting from a moving shot to a stationary shot and then back to a moving shot just—doesn't look all that great, which is why editors typically cut between moving shots. (This doesn't necessarily apply to transitional shots, though.) But how do you eventually cut to a stationary shot? Simple: just end the camera movement at some point in a moving shot. 

Edit for character

Editing is much like putting a puzzle together or cooking a delicious meal—you put things where they fit and make sense, you add elements and take them away, etc. But it's not just about solving problems and adding flavor, you also have to pay attention to character performance. The best editors know which shots to use to convey the motives, emotions, and spirit of each character.

Again, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to editing, or really anything in filmmaking for that matter. These are just some concepts that are proven to make the most sense to audiences.      

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2 Comments

I find it both hilarious and alarming that I have edited feature films and documentaries – editing is my main source of income – and I only had a sub-conscious awareness of the "rule" about a cutting from a moving camera to a moving camera. It makes perfect sense when I see it laid out like this, and it's why I've rejected or rethought tons of edits, or faked a zoom in post, but I couldn't have articulated why for the life of me.

Being self-taught leaves weird, sometimes dangerous gaps in your knowledge...

September 5, 2016 at 1:22PM, Edited September 5, 1:22PM

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I am a self-taught editor, as well. I've found that most of the rules I read about end up being very instinctual. If you've watched movies, you're entire life, you've subconsciously developed a FEEL for how they should flow. Trust your instincts, because the majority of the time they are correct.

I tend to worry about gaps in knowledge, too. Technical jargon and specific terms sometimes evade me. A new director I was working with asked me if I knew what a J/L cut was. I had never heard the term before so it made me feel unconfident, but the truth was I had been using them since the first time I cut a scene together because it felt natural to me.

September 6, 2016 at 5:06PM, Edited September 6, 5:06PM

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