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 Rhythms, have 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.