Science of Editing: Why It's Good to Have an Editor Around During the Writing Process

Is editing just instinctual, or is there more to it?

There have been a multitude of books written, classes taught, and workshops given that try to explain what exactly good editing is, and though there are many different opinions, one concept that you hear a lot is that good editing is instinctual, that it comes from feeling the edit. However, editors Sven Pape and Dr. Karen Pearlman, a lecturer in Screen Production at Macquarie University and author of Cutting Rhythmshave teamed up for a series entitled The Science of Editing, which aims to explore how humans respond to editing and how great editors think and feel, all through the scope of cognitive science.

In the first installment, Pape and Pearlman discuss the basis of their study, how to judge good editing, and how editors can actually play a pivotal role in the screenwriting process.

There is a lot of information to digest in the video, but I think one of the most interesting things mentioned was this concept of "onscreen drafting," which was born out of the popular notion that editors "write the last draft of the script." She posits that "editors' thinking" can enhance the screenwriting process by including their unique expertise and knowledge of how a scripts unfold in the edit. So, a writer and editor team up to produce an onscreen draft, which is a "no-budget digital rendering of a whole story or screenplay," in order to test things like thematic coherence, information clarity or redundancy, dramatic questions and whether they sustain interest, plots, character motivations, and more. Pearlman explains all of this in her book:

An onscreen draft is testing the relationship of the scripted actions to real ones. The question is: Will this script make an onscreen experience of image, sound, movement, and time that tells a story with strong structure and engaging rhythm? In other words, will this script work onscreen?

It's definitely an interesting concept that basically takes previz to the next level. Instead of rendering a complex scene to make sure the cinematic elements work, you're rendering an entire story to make sure the narrative elements work—and anything that focuses on story and aims to make them better is alright in my book.

Be sure to keep an eye out for the next video in Pape's Science of Editing series    

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Your Comment


I hate to be that guy – but yes, of course shooting your movie twice will lead to better results. However, that's not mainly because then you've seen it edited – it's also hearing the words aloud, seeing the acting, the blocking, the camera angles. The example she takes, of changing blocking, putting the main character in the center of a scene instead of her being sidelined:

1) Usually blocking is not something that is explicitly written in the script.
2) That is something the director is supposed to figure out on the day, on location. Yes, an inexperienced director might miss it, but that really is what she or he is there for.

A good, experienced director, actress, DP don't need to shoot the movie twice, because they ARE thinking of the edit the first time. That is to say, they envision the end result; the movie – not the story, or the scene, or the light etc. This of course comes with experience, but for someone to then say "hey, guys, if you don't know what you're doing you just do it again!" is not very practical advice...

September 17, 2016 at 6:32PM


I totally agree with you. It is the directors job to find the best way to tell the story through blocking and composition. This is also a standard practice in the industry, its called a 'pre-vis'. As for how an editor learns to feel where to cut, you do that by editing. Its the same for a painter, writer or musician or any craftsman. You have to do the thing to get good at it. Whilst I can appreciate what this series and the guys who made it are trying to do, this episode has just found a solution to a problem that didn't exist. Most scripts do not contain blocking information unless you are working with a 'shooting script' which will have information on shot type (wide, mid, close up etc). But it is still the directors vision which will interpret how the scene will be shot. 9 times out of 10 this will be decided weeks in advance and on high end productions you will more than likely have pre-visualised it. But then you're all on set you have to have an open mind and if something isn't working, you try stuff right there and then. So many great moments in classic films only exist because of 'happy accidents'.

September 18, 2016 at 8:34AM

Adam Fletcher

I can see the value of going over the script with an editor. If scenes seem disjointed and are not editing smoothly together, it may be a script issue, and an editor can find ways to get transitions in the script (in the editing room may be too late). A good example is "Game of Thrones" with its many storylines interwoven; you see very strong transitions in the script. Often the character or situation in the next scene is mentioned by characters in the preceding scene, helping a smooth edit between scenes.

September 18, 2016 at 10:38AM, Edited September 18, 10:40AM

David Barrington

Good read. Slightly off-subject question: Where is that movie from in that photo of the man and woman editing at the end of the article?

September 19, 2016 at 3:08PM

Vince Roque

It's from the film "Woman with an Editing Bench",

September 23, 2016 at 9:56PM