Tag Archives: picture editing

Editing notes – who wants candy? Part II

Once you start piecing together a feature length film, it’s astonishing how many little inevitable technical issues rear their heads up and start clamoring for your attention.  They are as distracting as hell.  From cuts that stubbornly won’t match to constantly changing ambient noise to varying cloud cover it all seems like a quilt made by a madman.

So, once you’ve made the most simple, honest, workmanlike cut possible, you start getting tricksy.  Oh, it starts innocently enough.  You’ve done your best to preserve the integrity of the actors’ performances by using masters whenever possible, or trying to stay with a particular take for each actor’s one-shot.  Then one day you realize that the dialogue from an alternate take is cleaner than in the take you’re using, and to your astonishment it matches the actors lip movements perfectly in the better-looking take. So you swap the audio.  Suddenly you’ve taken the inherent Frankenstein monster aspect of movies, of your movie, to another level.  Next thing you know, you’re having the actors re-record vast swatches of dialogue to get rid of troublesome ambient noise.  Then you realize that the only way to deal with the noise in a particular scene is to add more noise.  Tastier noise.

So you add some noise that has nothing to do with the original environment of the scene, a low level tone, say.  Uh oh.  It sounds very cool, and injects a new visceral tension into the scene.  Next thing you know, you’re designing soundscapes for almost every scene in the movie.  It adds impact, makes the movie slicker, more professional, more impressive.  But now, what are people responding to?  The story and the actual moments between the actors?  Or some sexy noise you added?  Certainly, it’s all part of yer cinematic arsenal, and when deployed effectively this stuff gets the audience totally jazzed up and can make you millions of dollars and win Oscars.  So why should I be concerned about some notion of purity?  Does it have any value at all?

I believe in the end it comes down to personal taste, and what kind of movie you’re making.  So many of these effects, both sound and visual, are cues to the audience.  Used excessively, and more and more viewers are going to feel like they are being spoon fed, while there will always be some viewers who never feel like they’re getting enough candy.  Myself, I’m the kind of movie watcher who feels Spielberg really screwed up in Schindler’s List by making that little girl’s coat red in an otherwise B&W movie.  Others think it’s the best thing in the picture.

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Editing notes – who wants candy? Part I

Here’s how you finish editing a movie:  you set a date on which the movie will be finished and on that date you stop working on it.  I haven’t set that date yet, and so here I am still tweaking away.

I’m not embarrassed by the continued work.  I was sufficiently happy with The Devil’s Tail as of October 12, 2008 that I attended its world premiere in Orlando and was able to watch it on a 20′ x 30′ screen without completely losing my mind.

However, the writing, prep, and shoot of The Devil’s Tail went by like a speeding bullet, and it seemed like the real work only began for me in post.  From the first draft to wrap of principal photography (December to March) I didn’t have much time for careful reflection on the process, and the resulting footage certainly bears the marks of a piece that was directed almost completely from instinct.   For the most part I’m intrigued and delighted by the way that quality comes through.  Sure there have been days in the editing suite where I cursed the lack of a particular angle or a lack of cutaways overall, but these annoyances are overshadowed by a very relaxed, unselfconscious feel to most of the footage.

As I become more and more aware of the power of the editor, especially the modern editor who has extremely detailed effects, colour, and soundtrack controls at his fingertips, I’m starting to hear little voices in my head that never used to be there.  The voices want something.

They want candy.  And loads of it.

Ear candy, eye candy:  slo-mo, fancy dissolves, extreme colour treatments, in-your-face smash cuts with sound effects that make you jump, freeze frames, low level hums and sighs and crystalline shrieks, electronic pans and zooms and cropping and image stabilization.  I can do it all!  It’s right there in the effects menu!

But should I?

It’s the same essential aesthetic question I always face on every project, be it live theatre or video.  I know what will impress the audience as far as form goes, believe me.  But I’ve always been confident enough in the content of the work I’ve done with Samantha Swan and our various collaborators, and have tried to make the form as unobtrusive as possible:  no distracting flash, just storytelling clarity and the simplest, most elegant solutions I could come up with to narrative problems.  My aesthetic has always been to avoid anything which drew the audience’s attention away from the characters and the story in the moment.

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