March 16, 2019

Two Pro Editors Analyze the Editing in 'Whiplash'

How do professional editors study the editing in movies?

What's the difference between good editing and bad editing? Unless you're a professional film editor, you may not entirely know. 

I mean, yeah, we know what bad editing looks like...cutting too early or too late, discontinuity, breaking the 180-degree rule. The fruits of good editing are a little more difficult to pinpoint compared to the overt mistakes we see in bad editing.

Unless it's Whiplash...the good editing is relatively easy to spot.

In this video, editor Sven Pape of This Guy Edits and editor Aaron Fitzgerald discuss the many factors that come into play in Tom Cross' editing of Damien Chazelle's Oscar-winning film, Whiplash. They also share a few tips on how to study film on your own so you can learn more about the editing craft.

Much like cinematography, editing is both a technical and creative craft. So, while you're working hard navigating a very powerful, very complex piece of software to complete your edit, you're also having to think about which techniques will help you tell the story in a dynamic and entertaining way.

Pape and Fitzgerald go over a bunch of great insight in the video, including subtext and studying films independently, but one thing I think is especially important to take note of is Fitzgerald's point about the way Tom Cross structured the scenes in Whiplash. 

Structuring Your Edit

As you can see in the example from the video, Cross managed to not only produce tension but also increase and decrease it as he pleased. How? As the narrative drama increases, as the stakes get higher, as the emotion begins to escalate, that must also be reflected in the edit.

In that explosive scene in Whiplash, we see Andrew going through the ups and downs of the morning:

  • He thinks he's late to class...
  • So he rushes to make it there as fast as he can...
  • Only to realize that he's not late...
  • In fact, he's hours early...

The tension builds with his tardiness, rises as he gets closer to his destination, then falls way down once he realizes he's very, very early.

But this scene doesn't end there, nor do the ups and downs. As Andrew begins to relax...

  • His classmates arrive...
  • Then Fletcher, his scary as hell instructor, arrives...
  • But he seems like a pretty decent guy...
  • Until he shits all over one of his students (verbally)...
  • And then corners Andrew in the hallway...
  • But totally strokes his ego and gives him confidence...
  • Only to throw a metal chair at him during class...
  • And calls him a worthless piece of shit...
Credit: This Guy Edits

There are so many other fascinating things going on in Whiplash editorially, including the rhythmic editing that of course you're bound to see in a film about drumming.

Cross certainly earned that damn Oscar.      

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