Watch: SNL Editor Adam Epstein Breaks Down 6 Rules of an 'Ideal Cut'

Oscar-winner Walter Murch's set of criteria for a good cut is essential knowledge for any editor.

Have you ever heard about the Rule of Six? It's a set of editing "rules" created by editor Walter Murch that essentially reveal the Oscar winner's creative process while in the editing room, and though he would be the first to tell you that following these criteria is more of a personal choice than a requirement, the Rule of Six can be incredibly helpful for those who want to grow in their craft.

If you've never heard about Murch's famous rules, SNL editor Adam Epstein explains them in great detail in his MZed editing course "The Cutting Edge" and luck for us, the Film Riot crew offers this portion of his presentation in the video below. Check it out!

We've covered Murch's Rule of Six here a couple of times, but Epstein, being not only the editor for Documentary Now! but an SNL alum as well offers plenty of excellent insider advice on how to approach each "rule" in your own work.

Perhaps the greatest insight he shares, though, is that there are no rules when it comes to editing. You can still edit great work without following any of Murch's criteria—except for maybe one. He explains that there is one rule out of the six that will always be true no matter what you're working on and that's the first one: emotion.

The next time you're editing, ask yourself a couple of questions:

  • How will this cut affect my audience emotionally?
  • Are the emotions of this scene guiding my editing choices?

If you're interested in getting more editing advice, I highly suggest checking out "The Cutting Edge." I attended the course a few years ago when Epstein's tour went through San Francisco and it was definitely worth the turbulent flight and $80 cab fare to get to the event.     

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What this speaker fails tremendously is to state the percentage of each rule. So when he says: "there really should be only one", he fails to understand that what Murch is stating, is you should go for the cut if it moves the emotion forward and think less about the spatial continuity or raccord.

Here are the percentages for reference:

1 - Emotion - 51%
2 - Story - 23%
3 - Rhytm - 10%
4 - Eye Trace - 7%
5 - The Axis - 5%
6 - 3D Space - 4%

September 11, 2017 at 7:27AM, Edited September 11, 7:27AM

Henrique Prudêncio

I almost completely agree, but I think I would put rhythm at a higher percentage, personally. A recent trend I've been seeing with many modern films of all genres are extremely long takes, and not of the Goodfellas variety (A Ghost Story comes to mind). While I understand that there's an emotional intent tied to these longs shots, I personally don't think that it should have outweighed the pacing/rhythm of the scene and overall film.

September 12, 2017 at 12:55PM

Andrew Sellers
Writer/Director/Assistant Camera