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What is the single most important skill an editor needs to develop?

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Simon Ubsdell
What is the single most important skill an editor needs to develop?
on Dec 1, 2018 at 12:24:42 pm

I'd be fascinated to hear your thoughts, but first here's mine:

You need to be able to watch and listen for the first time every single time you hit play.

In other words you need to develop your own personal version of that Men in Black memory-wiping "neuralyzer" gizmo.

This applies at every stage of the process.

When reviewing your source material, especially if you've shot it, you need to look at it each time as if you've never seen it before and you don't know what its purpose is. Every single time you watch it.

When reviewing your work in progress, you need to put yourself in the position of the audience and make yourself have no prior knowledge of what the film is trying to convey. Every single time you watch it.

When reviewing an individual edit you've just made, you make yourself watch it without knowing that you've made the edit and you try to experience it for the first time. Every single time.

(Side note: Never fall in love with anything. Always be critical enough to ditch it.)

And it applies not just to the creative side but to the technical side as well.

When QC-ing your work, don't let your mind fall asleep because you've seen and heard it all a thousand times before. Watch it all for the first time.

So that's my essential editing skill. What's yours?

Simon Ubsdell
tokyo productions
hawaiki


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Mark Suszko
Re: What is the single most important skill an editor needs to develop?
on Dec 1, 2018 at 9:08:42 pm

Rhythm.

So much of the "Art of the Cut", is a difference of 1 to 5 frames, or an extra beat here, a shortened one, there. And having the courage to -NOT- make a cut, sometimes, because the particular moment is telling so much of the story. It really helps to have musical experience to understand the pacing and timing of cuts has a rhythm.


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Simon Ubsdell
Re: What is the single most important skill an editor needs to develop?
on Dec 1, 2018 at 9:23:06 pm

Yes, the musical thing is really important, I think. You might be interested in this piece that I wrote for Oliver's blog that takes an in-depth look at just that subject from a musician's perspective:

https://digitalfilms.wordpress.com/2018/11/22/editing-and-music-composition.....

Simon Ubsdell
tokyo productions
hawaiki


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Mark Suszko
Re: What is the single most important skill an editor needs to develop?
on Dec 1, 2018 at 9:50:31 pm
Last Edited By Mark Suszko on Dec 1, 2018 at 9:51:11 pm

Indeed I did read it; it's very good and accurate IMO.

I think if you polled pro editors 90 percent of them have had *some* musical training and/or talent.


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Simon Ubsdell
Re: What is the single most important skill an editor needs to develop?
on Dec 2, 2018 at 2:42:21 pm

[Mark Suszko] "Indeed I did read it; it's very good and accurate IMO."

Thanks very much, Mark.

[Mark Suszko] "I think if you polled pro editors 90 percent of them have had *some* musical training and/or talent."

My experience is as bit different in that the majority of the editors that I've worked with haven't had formal musical training, but what they all do have is a real passion for music, which gets them close enough to the same place.

Back when I was hiring new editors, the one thing I looked for more than anything else was exactly that - a serious interest in music. It always seemed like a very good indicator of whether someone would be up to the job or not.

Simon Ubsdell
tokyo productions
hawaiki


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greg janza
Re: What is the single most important skill an editor needs to develop?
on Dec 2, 2018 at 9:27:58 pm

I second the idea of rhythm being the single most important skill of the craft. And personally I think this video is the single best piece I've ever seen that fully explains how this concept of rhythm works in editing and why it makes all of the difference:

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Simon Ubsdell
Re: What is the single most important skill an editor needs to develop?
on Dec 3, 2018 at 3:50:00 pm

I love that piece from Tony Zhou but I think he's overusing the term rhythm when he really means something a bit different.

What he's actually saying, and it's a hugely important point, is that you need to allow the space for things to happen, especially the space between words.

I'm not sure "rhythm" is the right away of explaining that.

Rhythm is strictly speaking a word to describe repetitive patterns and in most cases that's not what he's talking about. Perhaps more accurately he's talking about "timing".

Simon Ubsdell
tokyo productions
hawaiki


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Mark Suszko
Re: What is the single most important skill an editor needs to develop?
on Dec 3, 2018 at 4:33:35 pm
Last Edited By Mark Suszko on Dec 3, 2018 at 7:24:06 pm

My experience is largely based on cutting for news, public affairs talk, and commercials, though I've dabbled in documentary formats as well.

There are natural and artificial patterns in human conversations. Listen for them and when you know the visual cues, the "tells", you can develop a reliable instinct for the timing of the cuts. I feel this most clearly when live-switching a conversation between two or more cameras. I can successfully switch the show without even hearing the dialog at all, though changes in pitch etc. do give clues. But watching the micro-expressions and breathing and postures of the people talking, I can tell when someone is going to interrupt or take over the conversation, even in a foreign language, and I can cut to them or another shot, the beat before they actually move their mouths. And you want that, you need the audience to see the face, the split second before the words start to come out - sometimes, even a few beats more, because you're also showing the face demonstrating recognition or understanding or reacting emotionally in some way. An exercise I recommend to beginning editors is to watch TV interviews and dramas with the sound off, and just count the different camera angles, and try to snap your fingers at the place where you anticipate the cuts will happen.

The show "Dragnet", especially in the beginning, had a peculiar style of cutting that was very mechanical: Guy talks, finishes talking. Camera switches to Joe Friday, Joe talks, etc. and there was little overlapping, everything was straight A, B, A, B..... giving a stilted, artificial feeling. The relatively few cut-aways I saw were just as likely to be there to cover a mistake or script change, as to convey reaction from whomever wasn't talking. That style loosened-up as the series progressed, but you can see beginner editors doing a lot of "Dragnet Cutting", until they get more used to using L-cuts and J-cuts and overlapping dialogue and pushing reaction shots more.

When I do training videos, where it's mostly lecture with slides, (what I call "radio, with pictures") I choose to impose an artificial pattern or rhythm of shot choices, that subliminally guides the viewer. It goes something like this:

Slide full-screen, long enough to read it twice,
medium shot of the speaker,
close-up as they hit the main point,
tighter detail on the slide with voice-over,
back to the tight shot of the speaker, finishing that thought,
wider shot as they recap.
Rinse and repeat. It's a visual version of a 12-bar blues riff.

In a nod to Murch's theories, I'm placing the cut points in a way where the eye/brain is startled, and attention re-acquired or forced, at the point where the narrative is most important, the key idea. Subliminally, after this pattern repeats over a few slides, the viewer is almost conditioned to expect the shot and make note of the information at those points where I've forced the attention.

I don't *have* to cut this way. It does take a little more time. I could do a really minimal job and just leave a locked-off medium shot the whole time, and pop the slides in and out as needed, and call it done. Other editors I know will do that. But I don't want to bore the audience more than they already are. So I punctuate the sentences visually with pops to tighter and wider shots, as I feel the need. I wouldn't cut like this for everything, of course. For dramatic readings or story-telling, that's too constrained an approach.


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Simon Ubsdell
Re: What is the single most important skill an editor needs to develop?
on Dec 4, 2018 at 2:46:24 pm

A lot of very interesting ideas there, thanks for sharing.

Following on from the Tony Zhou piece that Greg mentioned, I wanted to say a bit more about what I think is important to look for in terms of the cut.

We tend to focus on the actual moment of the cut, as in "where do we want to exit the outgoing shot?" But sometimes that can distract us from something just as important, namely "what is the effect of going from the outgoing shot to the incoming shot?"

And I think a very useful way of looking at this is in terms of the "energy" of both shots.

In essence there are two types of cut:

A) where the energy of the incoming shot matches the energy of the outgoing.
B) where the energy of the incoming shot differs from the energy of the outgoing.

Both these types have two subtypes:

A1) where the energy of both shots is high, as for instance in a match cut on action.
A2) where the energy of both shots is low, for instance cutting between two wide shots of landscape.

B1) where the energy of the outgoing shot is high, but the incoming is low energy, for instance cutting from a busy highway to an empty street.
B2) where the energy of the outgoing shot is low, but the incoming is high energy, for instance cutting from a placid lake to someone running.



"Energy" can be defined in a whole variety of different ways.

We might look at whether or not there is movement within the shot, or whether the camera is moving.

Or it can derive simply from the shot sizes, with a close-up having more energy than a wide shot, so if we cut from a close-up of someone running to a very wide shot of them running, we're effectively going from high to low energy.

But we can also consider the "energy" of an actor's look, which is something far more subtle.

And of course energy is not a constant - it can increase or it can dissipate towards or away from the cut. A rolling ball can come to a stop. An actor's gaze can lose intensity.

If we set ourselves to think not just about "where do I cut?", but "what is the energy of the outgoing shot as compared to the incoming shot?" we can make much better choices about our editing.

Do we want to sustain energy across the cut?

Do we want the low energy of the incoming shot to kill the energy of the outgoing?

Do we want to match two shots of low energy to create a feeling of tranquillity?

Do we want the high energy of the incoming shot to disrupt the calm of the outgoing shot?

"Where do I cut?" puts all the focus on the outgoing shot, but arguably that's only half the equation.

Simon Ubsdell
tokyo productions
hawaiki


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Mark Suszko
Re: What is the single most important skill an editor needs to develop?
on Dec 4, 2018 at 3:01:00 pm

This is a fun and educational thread and I appreciate the discourse.

As you talked about going to and from low and high "energy", and gave examples, I could think of a few more: the use of color, and the use of overall brightness. Some of this will be "baked-in" by the art director and the cinematographer; an example that comes to mind is the use of the color red (and it's the -same- shade of red, every time, no matter the location) in the background of the most emotional scenes of "Broadcast News". Once you notice it, you can't stop noticing it.

But the editor of course controls the sequencing of the shots and can decide when to go from a shot with a limited color palette, to one that's vibrant, or the reverse. And of course the famous lit-match-to-desert-sunrise cut in "Lawrence Of Arabia" shows something of the power of cutting between dark and light.

Maybe a case could be made for choosing the relative angle of the shot as well, changing from high or low to eye-level, etc.? Again, much of this is pre-set in the way the DOP chooses to frame and compose. But framing is half the answer; the other half is the sequencing and timing,.


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Simon Ubsdell
Re: What is the single most important skill an editor needs to develop?
on Dec 4, 2018 at 3:36:01 pm

Those are really interesting points.

I hadn't thought about colours having relative energies in his context but of course they do (red has much more energy than blue, to cite the obvious example) and it's something that hugely affects the cut. A lot of the time we think about grading to try and match shots to one another, but creating "energy contrasts" with colour is a fascinating idea.

Relative illumination is definitely another one that works. Cutting from a dark prison cell to a blindingly bright desert is an obvious "low to high energy" cut.

And there is certainly something to the question of relative angles (in addition to the point I made about shots sizes). The further we move away from a front-on 50mm mid-shot the more energy we add. High and low angles as you mention clearly have higher energy values. But I'd even argue that cutting from a front-on close-up of a character to the same size shot behind their head is a very pronounced energy jump. I think it's also true to say that long lens shots have more energy than wide angle shots.

Lots to think about, thanks for this fascinating discussion.

Simon Ubsdell
tokyo productions
hawaiki


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greg janza
Re: What is the single most important skill an editor needs to develop?
on Dec 3, 2018 at 5:23:48 pm

[Simon Ubsdell] "I'm not sure "rhythm" is the right away of explaining that."

With all due to respect to the many people out there that have made very engaging editing video tutorials, in my mind Tony Zhou's piece gets to the essence of what the craft of editing is all about and so even if his piece refers to a slightly altered definition of Rhythm it's so good that I think it still pertains to the subject at hand.

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Simon Ubsdell
Re: What is the single most important skill an editor needs to develop?
on Dec 3, 2018 at 6:10:36 pm

I don't disagree at all.

I think it's a fantastic piece, and as always he manages to get us to see things we wouldn't otherwise have seen.

As a musician, I was just being a bit pedantic about the terminology. I think as editors we can sometimes throw the word "rhythm" around a little loosely, but we all grasp what we mean when we use it. But really it doesn't change anything.

Perhaps we prefer "rhythm" to terms like "timing" and "pacing" because it conveys the feeling we have about it, which is that it's something instinctual and "felt". Whereas those other terms feel more cold and clinical and less descriptive, even if they're often more "correct".

Does that make sense?

Simon Ubsdell
tokyo productions
hawaiki


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