Editing is said to be an invisible art, due to the fact that editors in the early times worked as invisible assistants of film makers, and were often depicted as the unappreciated workers of the film industry.
Based on the film “The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing”, there are several things that have to be considered to make a film a good cut. One thing is that it should be realistic. The scene should show the audience that what they are seeing is real, and the expected response from the audience is that they have to believe that it is real. The example shown on the film pertains to the film “Jaws” where editing made the shark scenes more realistic and believable, and it elicited fear from the audience because the scenes were cut just in the right places where the fake shark wouldn’t be seen as a fake one but a real one.
Another thing the editor considers is the shot which is being used. A good editor knows when a long shot or a close-up would be appropriate, or whether the focus on one actor or the other would be better enhanced. Melodramas made ample use of the close-ups during the early years of film, and this practice has been adapted to focus on the element of emotions up to now.
There is also the aspect of fluid movement. The editor is concerned with the fluidity of movement from one scene to the next. In old films as well as in recent ones, there are scenes where a long shot is made which cuts to a next frame which utilizes a much closer shot. The fluid movement from one frame to the next is the handiwork of the editor and the almost invisible cut in between determines how skillfully the editor performs his craft.
A good editor also knows how to maximize the use of sounds and images to get the film’s message across. During early times, films were used for purposes of propaganda and in influencing people. Whether it is suspense, action, comedy, drama, an erotic film or a horror flick, the editor knows the exact sound and image to show the audience so that they are moved to respond in a certain way. In short, the editor’s job is choosing the precise shot or series of shots, putting them at their appropriate places and in the approved time or duration.
Continuity from one scene to the next is also one essential thing to consider in editing. From one scene to another, the editor knows where to cut and where to continue the story so that the audience will not be confused. Related scenes will be grasped easily compared to unrelated ones which will leave the audience asking ‘what happened’, or ‘where did this character go’.
Another element is pacing, where the editor has to make the scenes slower for emphasis, or faster to enhance the excitement. The good editor makes the scenes appropriate for the requirements of the film’s storyline. Thus, if it’s an action film like ‘Terminator’ the cuts will be fast, and the editing will show exciting scenes with a fast pace. If it’s a drama film, then the scenes will be slower, with more emphasis on the emotions of the actor/actress, thus the cuts will be more on close-up shots, and the expected pacing will be slow.
Lastly, the editor knows it’s a good cut when the audience responds in the way that the film makers wanted them to react. Editing can take many forms and the editor can make scenes boring, organized, chaotic, sexy, exciting, evocative or whatever direction the editor wants to take in consultation with the director. The editor holds much power in his position because he can manipulate the audience through the film’s ‘rhythm’ – the so-called ‘peaks and valleys’ (Zemeckis) of the story which he creates. Furthermore, the editor has in his hands the power to make or break an actor through the exposure he/she is given in the edited final product.
Zemeckis, Robert, “The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing” Wendy Apple, 2004.