Lesson #8

October 20, 2014


Editing Action

Sometimes it seems as if half of the films released in Hollywood in the last twenty years have been action film -- films in which things are chased, pummelled, beaten up, or blown up. Ironically, in many ways, these films are easier to edit than many others. Issues of matching action sometimes don't apply -- take a look at any recent action film and you'll see that, so long as the energy keeps going, no one sees mismatches.

Geography is important -- the audience needs to be oriented along the lines of who is doing what to whom, and how successful our heroes and villains are. In fact, in this way, editing action isn't that much different than editing anything else. You're still going to be creating a scene analysis, in which you'll need to be clear about what the arc or the scene is, whose scene it is, and where important changes occur (that's the "lean forward moments" that we're always talking about). It's just that the analysis might tend to be more action oriented, rather than character oriented. Instead of figuring out where Character A learns something that changes the scene, we're looking for the point where Character A falls saves Character B, or where Villain C comes close to killing Hero D.

terminatorTo illustrate this, we're going to take a look at one, perhaps two, action scenes. One of them you have probably seen before -- in your CTPR510 class. It is the chase scenes from TERMINATOR 2, directed by James Cameron and edited by Conrad Buff and Mark Goldblatt. [The script pages for this scene are available at this link.] This scene comes about thirty minutes into the film -- the film runs 2:17, so we are near the very beginning of the story. In it, John (who we have begun to sympathize with as we've gone through the film), is chased out of a shopping mall by the T-1000 robot who has tried to kill the boy. He has been saved by the Terminator. The chase moves out onto the streets of Los Angeles and, from there, into the "L.A. River" where the three move closer and further apart as the drama of the sequence unfolds.

You will ask yourself several questions as we watch the scene beginning with our usual one -- within the context of the film's overall story, what is this scene about? Then, within that scene analysis, ask yourself who is winning at each stage of the chase and who is losing. Where do things change? What are those lean forward moments? Mark them in the script that you received last week.

This scene follows the film's logline (which is, more or less, "Will The Terminator be able to save the boy from death and, in doing so, save the world's future?"). The scene, coming early in the film, reinforces the message -- it is about whether the Terminator will be able to save the boy from the T-1000 during the chase scene in the LA River. Notice how every piece of trash in the River is placed there to help us figure out how close the T-1000 is to capturing the boy. The lean forward moments come in two main places -- both of which are about his safety. The first comes when he thinks that he is safe, having escaped into the LA River. But the T-1000's truck comes crashing through the bridge and the boy must flee. The second lean forward moment comes when it looks certain that the T-1000 is about to capture the boy. Then we see the Terminator come flying through the air and landing in the river, ready to save the boy.

Both Lean Forward Moments happen around key times when we are trying to figure out if the boy is going to be safe or not. And both are accompanied by slow motion cinematography and drastic change in the soundtrack (the music and sound goes almost dead). These moments are Lean Forward Moments because they track the story's arc, and they work because the filmmakers changed elements in the filmmaking in order to help and force us to feel the change.

It is important to note that our Scene Analysis is, once again, key to determining how to edit the scene, but the analysis (in the case of an action scene like this) is plot driven, rather than character driven. We don't treat the editing any differently, once we structure the analysis, but the analyis itself is much less about a character's arc, than it is about a plot arc. This is the key difference (I might say the only one) between analyzing a character-based scene from an action based one.

Next, we will use this reinforcement of our TERMINATOR analysis to look at a scene from THE MATRIX. In this scene, which is a fight between our hero, Neo, and his nemesis Agent Smith, in a subway station. Notice how the fight is made up of several sections -- it is not one continuous piece of action. Look for the Lean Forward Moments in this.


Terminator 2 Script Pages
Here are the script pages for the scene we are looking at tonight.
This chart lays out the dramatic structure of the scene from Terminator 2 that we looked at tonight.
Script pages for this week's scene
These are the script supervisor's notes and lined script.
Mark Goldblatt talks about the changes in editing
In this interview, Mark talks about CGI, stylistic changes, and many of the developments in editing over the years.
Luis Mandoki Interview
What does a director look for in an editor?
Anne Coates talks about editing UNFAITHFUL (PDF File)
Anne Coates is a thoughtful, but internal, editor whose personal passion has informed films as wide ranging as LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and OUT OF SIGHT. In this interview, a portion of which was handout out tonight (the full version is available here), she talks about the balance of editing a film like UNFAITHFUL. One comment I particularly like is the following:
Editing on film is an inward process of carefully thinking about your cuts beforehand, then making them in the right place at the beginning. With the Avid system, I often put the rough cuts in immediately where I think they should go, then work out the details afterwards. I like to have thinking time when I edit and the Avid gives me both the opportunity for quickly trying different things and for taking the time to feel the overall emotion, drama, or humor of a particular scene

Assignments for Next Week

Start Editing the Scene from BANNEN WAY
This is your first edit, so make sure that it contains all of the dialogue and action as scripted. Remember what we talked about tonight -- how issues of geography, clarity of the characters' stories, and the shaping of the audience emotions will effect the basic analysis of the scene's story. But we are still asking the same questions we always ask:
• Whose story is this?
• How does he/she start the scene (adjectives, adjectives, adjectives)?
• How does that person end the scene?
• Where does the change(s) occur?

That will help you identify the Lean Forward Moments.

Added Material

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Editing "Courageous" on the Red
Steve Hullfish, who has done a lot of tutorials for Avid, has a great article on a film that he recently cut on the Red, which talks extensively about the workflow and the need to prepare, prepare, prepare. The link above is to part one of the article, which talks alot about the shooting. Part Two, which is availble at this URL, is more about the post production.
Best Edited Scenes
This article chooses scenes from RAGING BULL. BODY HEAT, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, FLASHDANCE, JFK, two scenes from THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, TERMINATOR 2 (the same scene we watched tonight), NOSFERATU, SHERLOCK JR., BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN (of course), GLADIATOR and a bunch more.

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Last Modified - October 20, 2014