|In a Blink of an Eye - Walter Murch|
Walter Murch's book, "In a Blink of an Eye" was a great reading for me through the last coupe months. The best part of the book was how the write emphasized on "How to think as an film editor" Here's the major highlights I liked.-----
Most with the Least
The underlying principle: Always try to do the most with the least—with the emphasis on try. You may not always succeed, but attempt to produce the greatest effect in the viewer’s mind by the least number of things on screen.
Why? Because you want to do only what is necessary to engage the imagination of the audience—suggestion is always more effective than exposition. Past a certain point, the more effort you put into wealth of detail, the more you encourage the audience to become spectators rather than participants. The same principle applies to all the various crafts of filmmaking: acting, art direction, photography, music, costume, etc.
Frequently, it takes more work and discernment to decide where not to cut—don’t feel you have to cut just because you are being paid to. You are being paid to make decisions, and as far as whether to cut or not, the editor is actually making twenty-four decisions a second: “No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. Yes!”
****The Rule of Six:
The first thing discussed in film-school editing classes is what I’m going to call three-dimensional continuity: In shot A, a man opens a door, walks halfway across the room, and then the film cuts to the next shot, B, picking him up at that same halfway point and continuing with him the rest of the way across the room, where he sits down at his desk, or something.
For many years, particularly in the early years of sound film, that was the rule. You struggled to preserve continuity of three-dimensional space, and it was seen as a failure of rigor or skill to violate it. Jumping people around in space was just not done, except, perhaps, in extreme circumstances—fights or earthquakes—where there was a lot of violent action going on.
I actually place this three-dimensional continuity at the bottom of a list of six criteria for what makes a good cut. At the top of the list is Emotion, the thing you come to last, if at all, at film school largely because it’s the hardest thing to define and deal with. How do you want the audience to feel? Vi they are feeling what you want them to feel all the way through the film, you’ve done about as much as you can ever do. What they finally remember is not the editing, not the camerawork, not the performances, not even the story—it’s how they felt.
An ideal cut (for me) is the one that satisfies all the following six criteria at once:
- it is true to the emotion of the moment;
- it advances the story;
- it occurs at a moment that is rhythmically interesting and “right”;
- it acknowledges what you might call “eye-trace”—the concern with the location and movement of the audience’s focus of interest within the frame;
- it respects “planarity”—the grammar of three dimensions transposed by photography to two (the questions of stage-line, etc.);
- and it respects the three-dimensional continuity of the actual space (where people are in the room and in relation to one another).
The values I put after each item are slightly tongue-in-cheek, but not completely: Notice that the top two on the list (emotion and story) are worth far more than the bottom four (rhythm, eye-trace, planarity, spatial continuity), and when you come right down to it, under most circumstances, the top of the list—emotion—is worth more than all five of the things underneath it.
What I’m suggesting is a list of priorities. If you have to give up something, don’t ever give up emotion before story. Don’t give up story before rhythm, don’t give up rhythm before eye-trace, don’t give up eye-trace before planarity, and don’t give up planarity before spatial continuity.
Underlying these considerations is the central pre-occupation of a film editor, which should be to put himself/herself in place of the audience. What is the audience going to be thinking at any particular moment? Where are they going to be looking? What do you want them to think about? What do they need to think about? And, of course, what do you want them to feel? If you keep this in mind (and it’s the preoccupation of every magician), then you are a kind of magician. Not in the supernatural sense, just an everyday, working magician.
Sometimes, though, you can get caught up in the details and lose track of the overview. When that happens to me, it is usually because I have been looking at the image as the miniature it is in the editing room, rather than seeing it as the mural that it will become when projected in a theater. Something that will quickly restore the correct perspective is to imagine yourself very small, and the screen very large, and pretend that you are watching the finished film in a thousand-seat theater filled with people, and that the film is beyond the possibility of any further changes.
****Seeing Around the Edge of the Frame
The editor, on the other hand, should try to see only what’s on the screen, as the audience will. Only in this way can the images be freed from the context of their creation. By focusing on the screen, the editor will, hopefully, use the moments that should be used, even if they may have been shot under duress, and reject moments that should be rejected, even though they cost a terrible amount of money and pain.
Don’t unnecessarily allow yourself to be impregnated by the conditions of shooting. Try to keep up with what’s going on but try to have as little specific knowledge of it as possible because, ultimately, the audience knows nothing about any of this—and you are the ombudsman for the audience.
Between the end of shooting and before the first cut is finished, the very best thing that can happen to the director (and the film) is that he say goodbye to everyone and disappear for two weeks— up to the mountains or down to the sea or out to Mars or somewhere—and try to discharge this surplus. Wherever he goes, he should try to think, as much as possible, about things that have absolutely nothing to do with the film. It is difficult, but it is necessary to create a barrier, a cellular wall between shooting and editing.
Do everything you can to help the director erect this barrier for himself so that when he first sees the film, he can say, “All right, I’m going to pretend that I had nothing to do with this film. It needs some work. What needs to be done?”
The relationship between director and editor is somewhat similar in that the director is generally the dreamer and the editor is the listener. But even for the most well-prepared of directors, there are limits to the imagination and memory, particularly at the level of fine detail, and so it is the editor’s job to propose alternate scenarios as bait to encourage the sleeping dream to rise to its defense and thus reveal itself more fully.
But sometimes it is the editor who is the dreamer and the director who is the listener, and it is he who now offers the bait to tempt the collective dream to reveal more of itself.
The Decisive Moment
The editor’s job now is to choose the right images and make those images follow one another at the right rate to express something like what is captured in that photograph.
In choosing a representative frame, what you’re looking for is an image that distills the essence of the thousands of frames that make up the shot in question, what Cartier-Bresson—referring to still photography—called the “decisive moment.” So I think, more often than not, the image that I chose wound up in the film. And also, more often than not, quite close to the cut point.
And to keep your awareness, to really be alive to the possibilities in each shot, you have to keep jabbing yourself. You try to remain fresh and see the wonderful things and make records of those as well as the things that may not be so wonderful. Which is what you have to do when you are casting a film.
But if you have to choose a representative set of stills from every setup, you will automatically start thinking differently—you have to be analytical right from the beginning, which is what you should be when you are looking at dailies. But, everyone being human and dailies sometimes going on as long as they do, we sometimes tend to just sit there and let the dailies roll over us.
You are already beginning to edit at the point that you say, “I like this frame rather than that frame.”
To Be Continued...