6 'Rules' for Good Cutting According to Oscar-Winning Editor Walter Murch
Let two-time Oscar winner Walter Murch tell you what makes an edit a good one.
If we've learned anything from the forefathers of montage, it's that editing can be used for so much more than continuity. Each cut and transition is a storyteller that can inform your audience about the story, characters, and emotion of a scene. This is something iconic editor and sound designer Walter Murch understood when wrote In the Blink of an Eye, in which he details how to use editing to build a story, a concept he calls the "Rule of Six." In this video essay, we get to learn about each of the elements Murch talk about in his book, and how they can be used to inform your decisions while editing.
"The ideal cut is one that satisfies all the following six criteria at once.”
Murch talks about six different "criteria" that make a good cut: emotion, story, rhythm, eye trace, 2D plane of screen, and 3D space. However, not all of these are equal in importance in his eyes. For example, emotion is ranked #1 on the list, because he considers it the most critical element to consider when editing. It's the thing he says you should "try to preserve at all costs."
What I’m suggesting is a list of priorities. If you have to give up something, don’t ever give up emotion before story. Don’t give up story before rhythm, don’t give up rhythm before eye-trace, don’t give up eye-trace before planarity, and don’t give up planarity before spatial continuity.
Following the Rule of Six means trying to incorporate all of the criteria, and if you can't, start sacrificing elements from the bottom of the list first and work your way up. It's interesting to look at the percentages Murch gives each criteria, because at 51%, emotion is more important than story, rhythm, eye trace, 2D plane of screen, and 3D space put together.
So, if you're looking at all of your editing options, and some cuts give you a nice rhythm, others make the story a little confusing, and still others really capture the emotion of a scene, Murch says go with the emotion. Even if the edit fails on everything else, cut for emotion.