February 22, 2007


The Class This Week


Assignment for Next Week

Additional Material

There is a cliche that there are as many different ways to approach editing as there are editors. This is probably true, yet all of the approaches that we are working on in this class are designed to get us closer to the story that the movie wants to tell.

The challenge of editing any film is, quite simply, finding the story that exists in the film that best gets across what is real for the audience and important to the filmmakers. We have spent much of the last six weeks discussing SHUT UP AND SING. Now it is time to see how each of us saw how our footage reflected those discussions.

The reality is that each of us, as editors, get paid to craft the film, but it is not our film. We all serve a higher cause -- whether that is a director's or a producer's vision. On some films, I've had to take over the director's job when he left for his own reasons. On other films, I've had to navigate between two equally strong visions and find my own place within them.

What we will do here, today, is to begin to find the film that Bruce Leddy shot. Next week we will watch it all put together. Tonight we will begin to get a sense of what is taking shape. We will look and find the things inside the footage and each of our cuts that being to illuminate the messages in the film. We must be selfless about what we see. If something we've done doesn't work, we must change it. If something that someone else has done shows us a better way, we must grab that. This is not our film, it is Aaron Woodley's. However, since he is not here to guide us, we must say that it is not each of our films, it is the combination of all of our work. And we must be prepared to sacrifice our work for the good of the whole.

One thing that we will begin to examine is what the actors put into their work. In an interview, Walter Murch talks about looking for the larger work in what the actor is doing.

Author Michael Ondaatje writes that every scene for you has a larger pattern at work in it that governs your cut. Is there a pattern guiding your work on “Cold Mountain”?

I remember Al Pacino saying that what guided his performance of Michael in “The Godfather” was the idea of an imaginary spotlight always trying to find him, and that he was always trying to evade it. So I believe no matter what the discipline — acting, editing, or whatever — these “meta-strategies” will give your work an extra depth and resonance, if you are lucky enough to find them. And if the material itself is rich enough to support them in the first place.

The audience doesn't have to be consciously aware of them — in fact it is better if they aren't. This seems paradoxical: why expend the effort for something that is not going to be directly perceived? It’s probably something like the effect of harmonic overtones in music. If a violin plays the note “A,” we are consciously aware of the note itself, but there is a whole array of harmonics that comes along with the note, and these overtones are what gives each violin its particular tone. They allow us to distinguish an oboe from a violin, and in fact even to distinguish a Stradivarius from a fiddle.

The “Godfather” script gave Pacino the lines of dialog, but it was his “meta-strategy” — those harmonic overtones — that told him exactly how to say them, and with what body-language.

One strategy I worked with on “Cold Mountain” was the idea that Inman was actually killed in the battle, and that it was his ghost — a ghost who doesn’t know he’s dead — who goes through all these adventures trying to get back home. It’s contradictory, of course, because the Inman we see is a solid physical being who interacts with everyone he meets. But the overtones of that idea are always hovering around the edges of each scene, informing in subtle ways where the cut points are, what reaction shots we used, and so on.

The other aspect that we are going to be dealing with in the coming weeks is the repetition of watching the film over and over again. We must learn to stay fresh and look at what is there as if we were a fresh audience. It is the only way to succeed in recutting. Over the next weeks we will be developing strategies to keep the movie alive in our minds. The key is to forget the edits we've made and immerse ourselves in the essence of the film. I know that this sounds rather airy. The next two months will help bring meaning to those words.

In the interview with Murch I quote above, he also discusses something akin to what we call the Rule of Threes in this class, that is the necessity for contrast and change in order to make the audience feel what we want them to feel.

If there are no valleys, then it doesn't matter how high the mountains actually are; they won't seem high. In every film, I try to find two or three places--and I often like them to be paradoxical places--where you can get absolute quiet, or as close to absolute quiet as possible. A good example of that is the Do Lung Bridge sequence in Apocalypse, where the character named Roach is brought over to kill a sniper. You can see all these explosions going on in the background, but gradually over the three or four minutes leading up to this moment, we've been taking the sound out. So that creates a valley, and it's interesting to me because you're in the middle of a battle, so how can there be a valley? My rationale is that we have evoked out of the darkness this human bat. A man whose hearing is so acute that he can echo-locate a voice to within a foot or two, and that's his skill so he doesn't even need to see. He can tell exactly and shoot the grenade right at that place and blow the person up, which is in fact what happens. At that moment, you are hearing the world the way Roach hears it: just the voice in the darkness. The other quiet moments in the film are just before the the tiger jumps out of the jungle, and the approach to the Kurtz compound.

You can barely even hear the water on the boat.

The best sound is the sound inside somebody's head. What does it take to trigger that? That's the key to it all because those sounds will be unique to each person in the audience. They'll naturally be the most personal and the most high-fidelity of all the sounds.

Post Producing HD (PDF File)
This article interviews Pablo Toledo, a USC alumni, who shot his first feature in HD. This article gives some great advice about how to set up a shoot so that it works in post production.
Original Logline (PDF File)
Now that we are about to screen the entire film, it is imperative that we take a look at the cuts that we have and start to ask ourselves how it stacks up against what we wanted for the film to do to our audience (based on our reading of the script). Re-read this logline and ask yourself where we have made the footage agree with our original goals, and where we haven't. The next step is then to ask ourselves whether we can, or should, try and do the analysis we originally came up with, or whether we need to change it. One word of caution -- in the real world, this logline is often informed by discussions with the director. In those cases, I'd be very careful about throwing out the original analysis so quickly.

Complete the editing and re-editing of our first cut
Remember that in order to put everybody's edits together into one cut, we will need to have your cuts finished by this coming Tuesday at noon. We will attempt to put everything together into one long cut.

Dense Clarity, Clear Density
Walter Murch discusses the theory of sound perception.
Film Freak Central interviews Murch about directing
This interview is about Murch's film RETURN TO OZ.
First Cut: The Great Train Robbery
This article, from the Editors Guild magazine, posits that THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (1903) was the first film that was created to be a film, rather than a filmed stageplay. The key difference, aside from camera lens size, was editing.
Murch on the technical side of editing with Final Cut Pro
As you are, I'm sure, aware, Murch cut COLD MOUNTAIN on a Final Cut Pro 3 system. While I'm not that interested in discussing the whys of the choice, and the differences (it's just another non-linear editing system, after all), this article also discusses just what the system was that enabled him to cut with so few problems.