Never mind the mismatching clothes, hair, or misplaced hands from shot to shot. The eyes have it!
Excerpt from Editing Chapter, Cyber Film School iBook Textbook.
So far we covered a few approaches and techniques that help an editor manipulate the emotional impact of a scene. An editor understands the language and can control the rhythm and pace of the visual story.
But sometimes the editor is handed a set of shots – long, medium, close, cutaways, cut-ins with continuity errors. Mistakes do happen, even on big movies. That’s why the editor is a problem solver as well as artist.
The most common mistakes have to do with continuity and rhythm. Continuity is in the coverage provided to the editor. Rhythm is created by the editor.
During production, a few continuity details get missed while covering a scene – a cup in an actor’s left hand in one shot changes to her right hand in the next. Clothing does not match as we cut from one shot to the next. Screen direction problems where an actor or camera has crossed axis. New editors often fret over these flubs, but seasoned pros love the challenge. Their solution is to focus on performance and eye lines.
In the following example we forced the cut without strict continuity on the action. However, the eye line is consistent and we follow the flow of the story through the actors’ connection.
Now replay the above and examine the woman’s hands. Notice that in each cut, they do not match action. Even when they embrace, we jump forward in time. We don’t notice the mismatched action because the editor draws us to the performance. We are caught up in the scene’s rhythm.
“Dede” Allen was an one of cinema’s all-time celebrated ‘auteur’ film editors, and the very first editor to be awarded a single-card head credit as Editor, which is now commonplace. She’s known for The Hustler (1961), Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), and Reds (1982). She was also known as Hollywood’s ‘go to’ film doctor to fix problems on major studio films.
To solve continuity issues between shots, she advises to ‘cut’ with the performance, with the eyes.
Picture this: an editor cuts a scene following the script exactly as written. His cuts are smooth and perfect. The director screens it, then yells to the editor, “You missed the whole point!” Telling a story, much like cracking a good joke, is all in the timing or rhythm, which may not be evident on the script page.
The editor in this scenario mistook pauses in the performance as “dead space.” Editors must screen everything and know the story and directors intent in order to spot the subtext, and cut accordingly. Subtext is what the character really thinks or believes. It’s often found in silent pauses, over which the editor has full control.
In the back-to-back clips below, spot the truth and the lie in this dialog: One dialog scene is cut two different ways – same setup, same script same dialog. The first cut sounds like a straight-up explanation. The second cut lets us read the behavior of the players and what they are really saying to each other. Subtext is what the character really thinks or believes. It’s often found in silent pauses, which the editor can fully control.
This article is a reformatted excerpt from Cyber Film School for iPad, a filmmaking e-textbook published on Apple’s iBooks and available at Apple’s iBookstore. Learn, Shoot and Edit on just one device.