May 20, 2019

10 Lessons from Today's Top Film Editors

Lessons from today's top editors can be hard to find, but we snagged a helpful video with ten tips from experts in the industry. 

Editing is one of the most misunderstood art forms in film and television. Many people think it's just someone is a dark room assembling footage, but it's a complicated process that involves strong storytelling skills. There are lots of videos on the internet that can teach you the basics of editing, but today we're going to focus on one that gets at the theories behind the actual edits. 

Inspired by the book Art of the Cut, check the video essay from This Guy Edits which interviews top editors and gleans some excellent lessons for us to share. 

10 Lessons from Today's Top Film Editors 

1. Keep your ego in check 

The first lessons and maybe one of the most important. Editing isn't a battle between you and the director; it's a collaboration. That means do your pass but be ready for notes. This is a push and pull to create quality content. 

2. Trust the Process 

It takes time to edit a movie or TV show. It's not about the first pass or looking toward the last pass. You have to trust that during the process you're going to find the answer. 

3. Bad ideas lead to good ideas 

While cutting Arrival, there's a story about how the director and editor came across a scene they knew was missing. A dream that's spoken in the alien language. But they didn't have it. Instead, they were able to get ADR lines and build this scene from scratch. Not only did that scene underline the connection between the protagonist and the aliens, but it also helped blend the theme of the story about connections in general. This great idea came from a few bad ideas in the edit. So take big swings.  

4. Editing is Editing 

This is a process of revision. While it seems cliche, you need to be okay cutting things. Editing isn't just assembling the footage. It's making tweaks, dropping lines, and crafting the story. The screenplay is the first draft. Editing is the last. Don't be afraid to make those cuts and to keep making them. Tighten it up. 

5. Organization = Editing

There's nothing sexier than a well-organized timeline. There's lots of footage to scan through. Genius can be messy but compartmentalizing pieces of a movie or tv show and putting it together needs to be efficient as well as beautiful. So bite off piece by piece and then try to make it a whole. 

6. Just do it. 

If you're trying to break into the business, edit as much as you can. Shoot things on your iPhone. Volunteer for short films. Amass a lot of experience. You can only get better by doing. 

7. Storytelling is a muscle 

What do you know about the story? Watch, create, watch more, edit even more than that. The good thing about storytelling is that it's a skill you can learn. start by working on things that are small. Like even telling a joke. Then as you edit in your mind, you'll start seeing the cuts you have to make before you. 

8. Beware of reaction shots 

In editing, you want to make sure lines land. To get this right and to do it, that sometimes means staying on the character delivering that line. Otherwise, you can undercut the meaning and weight. So beware cutting away from the person speaking and not cutting back to them. 

9. How helpful are YouTube "How-tos?" 

This seems like a bad lesson given the nature of this post, but actually those video essays we spend time watching matter. They're great free classes that can help you contextualize your own strategies and learn how people got where they are in their careers. Just make sure you spend time practicing editing and not just watching people edit. 

10. Learn when not to cut

There are elements of sustained drama that can be achieved by just holding on a shot. While an editors job is to slash and move, know when you're needed and when these moments can pop. 

What's next? How to Get Hired As A "Go-To Editor"

The best career advice I ever received was simply to “be prepared.” There’s no special technical expertise or secret handshake clique that magically gets you hired. Better to cultivate your craft and business acumen so that when opportunity knocks, you’re home.

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