Editing not cutting

Last week I was re-cutting an old comedy project (just for fun) and in comparing it to the original I noticed that I tend to hold on a two-shot much longer than the other editor had. We had a great cast on this particular piece, and the interplay between the two of them and their rhythm together seemed to me to work much better when it was simply allowed to play. Later in the scene I cut into close-ups (for dramatic intensity and to cut down the script a little) but by establishing the two of them together in the two-shot, it had a much greater impact to separate them in their two singles – no longer a team and rather two individuals.

It got me thinking about the pace of editing today. I joked to my wife that I would have loved to edit “Before Sunset”, because it plays in lots of long takes, and even when it switches to coverage, it doesn’t rush – performances are allowed to play out naturally. That and it’s a fantastic film.

Editing gets a lot of attention when it is fast and therefore obvious, but I find that if you’re aware of the cutting, you’re being drawn out of the story. I think it’s a sign of great writing, performance and directorial confidence, when a scene can just play in one take. It seems to me a more elegant way of making a film than artificially adding pace in post – because it’s often obvious that’s what you’re doing.

At the end of the day it comes down to the same drum I’ve been beating in many of these posts. It comes down to what’s appropriate for the story you’re telling. There’s nothing wrong with cutting quickly, but if you’re going too, you need some scenes cut slowly for contrast. Editing grammar is a great way of giving the audience clues as-to the subtext of a scene and story. Editing can be a subtle art, but I think all the more rewarding for it.