You've gone through the arduous weeks/months/years of pre-production, scraped together some money, and worked long, long days putting your vision on film (ok, it's 2018... but "putting your vision onto solid state memory" just doesn't have the same ring to it). Now you're cutting together your masterpiece. The edit bay is where the puzzle is assembled, and your hard work takes shape.
You can have the best writers, A-list stars and top talent across the board, but if you make these 3 mistakes, you're going to have a dud that no one will want to watch. This goes beyond bad continuity. Let’s jump right in.
HAVE THE WRONG PACING
Holding a shot for way too short or waaaaaay too long is a common editing mistake. If you’ve got a scene were a character enters a room and glances at a knife that is poking out from under a pile of papers, give the audience enough time to know what they’re looking at.A quick clip of b-roll can have a lot going on in it, and if there’s a ton of information for people to take in, they might miss the subject of that particular shot. They might see the first character walk into the room and look down, then a SUPERFASTICOULDNTCATCHIT shot of… a pile of something on the table… then you see the character dialing someone frantically on their phone. Why are they doing that? Did s/he spot an overdue electric bill and are calling the Eversource Delinquent Hotline? That’s not really a thing, but the movie is fiction, anyway. You get the idea.
If you decide to hold it too long, now the shot cuts to the pile of stuff on the table, the knife poking out, the headphones with the knotted cable, the half-eaten bowl of Oreo-Os, and… hey, I’m hungry. Let’s head to the concession stand and get some Skittles. When the audience gets back, the long shot of the coffee table is still staring them in the face. Holding shots for too long is super common in beginner and novice editors, where they think the audience needs to see everything happening in real time. We don’t need to see a drawn out sequence of a pickup truck pulling in to the parking lot, finding a spot, correcting their parking job, climbing out of the car and walking into the building. Rookie move. Instead, only show the important parts of the action. A quick shot of the truck pulling into the parking spot, before another cut (from another angle) of the door opening and the person getting out. Depending on the pacing of the scene (it is a slower and somber or a fast-paced chase?), you might even just cut now to the person swinging the door open to the building.
So too fast, you’ll start losing people and they will have trouble keeping up. Too slow, and it’s going to be a snooze-fest. The pacing should match the feel of the scene, while not confusing or boring the audience.
INCONSISTENT EDITING CHOICES
Editing a serious documentary, then decide that a “3D box” transition is the right move? ::incorrect buzzer:: Working on an action scene and want to drop in an out-of-nowhere, pink-tone shot of someone kicking in a door? ::whomp whomp::
If you’re not creating – on purpose – an experimental film where the audience is aware they’re getting these kinds of wild transitions, filters and cuts, don’t do it. When I sit down to the latest Star Wars movie, I’m aware I’m getting those dated-yet-perfect-for-Star-Wars wipe transitions from time to time. However, it’s going to look out of place in a Jason Bourne flick. Think long and hard about transitions, even when to use a cut vs a dissolve, and even then, how long the dissolve will take. It all matters in how the audience will experience the movie. It’s been said that editing is an “invisible art.” When done correctly, the audience is unaware of the cuts. Of course they know a shot just cut from a close up to an establishing shot, but their mind totally accepts it as they continue the ride that is the film.
TRYING TO PLEASE EVERYONE
Simon Sinek once said, “When we try to please everyone, we end up pleasing no one… least of all ourselves.” It’s true, kiddos. Don’t worry about appeasing everyone with your edit choices, what shots, angles or even entire scenes remain in the film. You could be looking at a 7 minute scene that took a good chunk of the budget and a week to shoot, but it’s slowing down the overall pace of the film and doesn’t add much in real substance. It’s gotta go.
I was told once to never fall in love with a shot. You may even be trying to please yourself with a particular clip that you’re just so in love with. The lighting, the hint of fog, the look on the actor’s face… it’s just a gorgeous shot. However, it seems out of place, messes up the flow of the scene and now that you’ve seen it in the edit, it iskind of jarring. Just click on the clip and hit the delete key.
While editing is an art and not a science, not taking care and making the above mistakes can sink all of your hard work. And remember to always have several sets of extra eyes review your edit to make sure there’s not an issue you hadn’t noticed. I’ve found the best results when mixing feedback of filmmakers and the layman, so I hear from a pro, but also the audience.
Now get back to the edit bay and keep cutting! I can’t wait to see what you create.
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