Flatness and Pacing
One of the things I've been told by editing mentors and teachers is that there's a problem if your film is flat.
The way a (good) thriller is edited is the clerest example of this. There are moments where characters are talking and then WHAM, action happens gun shots/running/shouting, followed by a lull as we take it in again. Peaks and troughs.
Before I answer my own quesiton, what techniques are there to better understand this momentum? Is it even something that can be put into words? Because it's not just a case of the music and it's not just faster cutting or beats alone, it's... something more than that!
Way back before modern medicine, there was a theory about the many curves and folds that constitute the human brain. Basically, each fold was believed to be a direct result of a life-changing experience.
There's a bunch of books and articles out there that can add insights to flat editing. (Half of them are written by Walter Murch.) But the best learning process - the one that got me the most "brain folds" - was through other editors saying "why the hell did you do it that way? That's stupid. I would have..."
The other way is via a "brick wall" producer. One who says "I know I'm asking you to do thirty hours of work in nine hours - I don't care. Just make it happen, and make it look like you did it in thirty hours."
A picture says 1000 words. Editors give them meaning.
A good way that I like to watch for pacing in an edit is to turn the sound off. Watch the images and pay special attention to cuts/shot selection and what the pace looks like without any other distractions. Of course, sound is crucial, but you will be able to focus on the images themselves and help determine pacing if that's the ONLY thing you are paying attention to. If it 'makes sense' and flows visually with no sound, there's a greater chance that it will also translate when you have it cranked to 11.
I have tried many times to understand what I was actually thinking when I edited something. I really have no idea, it just feels right. People can give you all kinds of text book answers to pacing, motivation, technique. If it don't feel good it ain't right. If it feels good it is next to perfect. the reason I say next to perfect, perfection is only a goal, it can never be totally obtained, but keep trying.
How do you really explain that in words? I don't think you really can.
Just make it feel good.
sometimes its good to get people who know nothing of theproject to watchit, and see if what you are trying to do, works.
people can only watch something once.
if you kind of know how you want the pace to play out, i've found it helpful to kind of draw out what i call a rough frequency timetable. this gives me an overall grasp of what i'm going for in my pacing and impact. Meaning, long and low frequencies for the slow quiet dialogue segments and then sharp attacks and high frequency for the action or feeling of rapid pace. Remember, a quick pace doesn't always mean faster cuts. it's about what is in between the cuts and how quickly the audience should register the emotional information.
i also will do what JeremyG said earlier. this is a good way to sense how fluid your cut is feeling by pictures alone. trim a few frames here or there, or remove a shot and look at it again. fix the audio afterward.
another way is to just scribble down an edit outline. man one enters frame, man two reacts, sfx of door slams, man 3 enters frame with man one, cut to man two reaction this time tighter, music starts....essentially this is editing, but purely from a structured perspective. and it lets your mind tell you what you are going for, rather than the images. of course you should be familiar with the shots, and you can change up the order at any time, but this will at least get you a structure and pace you foresee as being effective. this can also be done away from the edit suite. with mood setting music playing in the background. a more pure environment.
to me it's not unlike comedy. I have always heard that comedy is the hardest to cut as far as timing. I have never felt this way. It's eter funny with a bigger or shorter pause or it's not. Same thing here. Of course you want it as quiet and chilled as possible before ya rattle their cage but its notexactly using the force (which does have to be done from time to time). It's waiting, waiting, not yet, noooot yeeet, Bwaaahaahahhahhahaha!. Freakin cat.
You cannot repeat this same timing in a horror film, where you can ina comedy. I mean, once one knows it's a 5 second null then a whamo, they kind of expect a whamo after 5 secods of null. Ya gota hit em at 4 then 6, type of thang. You can think more abstract with horror. It's not suppose to be imed perfect whereas a great p[unchline absolutely ha to be placed at the very pefect frame for it to b it's best.
In general I stay on a shot until I feel it has run out of energy and I'm bored with it and I want to see something else. Perhaps I want to see person 2's reaction to person one, or see what someone is talking about. Bottom line, it's all based on my gut reaction to what I'm watching. This reaction can and often does change every time I watch it or depending on my mood at the time I'm watching. It's a little crazy making, but I love it. And if you make it move and flow well without music, it will really kick butt when music is added.
Thanks everyone - some great stuff there. I got a feature coming up that needs re-editing. It's a horror/thriller and the producers are complaining it's missing something. I've been playing with cuts and noticed there's just too much information and too much going on in many of the scene which kinda detracts from the scaryness - the audience itsn't engaged enough. Also inconsistent timing of the shock moment / build-up is important I'm noticing.
In a nushell, there seem to be two consistencies when it comes to editing: Experiment and use your instinct. So that's what I'll be doing with this.
what do these editors mean by "flat?" do they tell you anymore than just that word? What does flat mean when they say it?
Here is a book i just picked up that has totally changed my way of thinking when it comes to editing. Before i read it, i usually would take a project and just edit it together, throw graphics in and just wing it. THis book has made me realize that each video you edit, be it a 10 second logo or a 2 hour film, they each need a visual structure. Each needsa an exposition, conflict, climax, and resolution. Not matter how long it is, even if it's 2 seconds!
Read this book, it has expanded my mind manyfold and i think it will help you create films, videos, logo spots, etc. that are amazing.
---The Visual Story: Seeing the Structure of Film, TV and New Media---
Also, another tip i figured out is record commercials on ABC. There commericals are really good. Commercials for LOST, Grey's Anatomy, etc. are awesome and going through them frame by frame you can learn a lot by looking at what the editor has done through the 30 second spot. They're being paid the big bucks, so they have to be doiing something right.
By doing this i learned that these spots utilize VO, Music, SFX, and Actor Dialogue throguht the whole piece. A common trick is to use VO with music and then stop the music when a great Actor Dialogue line is said, then bring the music back in with VO after that....etc.
I bought this book on your recommendation and... Wow. I've nearly finnished and it pretty much addresses my question completely. I've done good work and bad work in the past, but I never knew why the bad was bad, but now I can see why...
Thanks for the suggestion, I too have winged it in the past but now I have a better understanding of visual structure etc...
read in the blink of an eye. pretty much the best book ever.
be different. don't watch tv or movies to get your inspiration, the movie comes from the footage, it's like making a sculpture, not painting a painting, in my opinion.