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How To Edit
Lucy Harris
How to Edit


Construct a complete ‘loose’ cut following the script or outline, choosing the best takes, but concentrating on getting your planned structure down quickly, even if it’s rough. Often what works in preproduction will change form, so the initial rough cuts can test the ‘narrative’ structure or outline, and then imbalances become apparent. Structural changes can follow on from this. As the desire for a narrative logic is so strong, it’s tempting to choose ‘best takes’ based primarily around the audio qualities, because audio is ‘often’ carrying the story. This can be misleading, as important subtleties in the picture may be overlooked. When choosing ‘best takes’ some editors even prefer to watch the initial rushes silently, (assuming that voice can be dubbed over at a later stage.) so that they are ‘alert’ to the picture qualities.

SYNCH-CUT For interview based work, or where the spoken voice is providing a narrative, there is the traditional documentary approach of making a “synch cut” as a first stage. Choosing all the sections of audio that you are interested in and putting them together to make a structure for your film that is directed by voice. In a sense the voice acts as a “backbone” to provide the initial structure of the film.

This may sound conventional, (but think of the layered narratives created in Agnes Varda's “Les Gleaners”). The other aspect to this as a stage of working is to help unpick or discover the themes that exist in what is being said and explore how these can be visually extended. Remember this is a first stage, so don’t bother to chop up the audio, but put down ‘blocks’ of footage to provide an overall framework

If the synch cut is through interview, visually this can look a bit daunting, as you can have a sequence of jump-cut sections of interviews. But this is where you have to remember this is a first stage, and think of it as constructing a radio play. If one is working with a lot of spoken word, it can also be very useful to have a transcript that you refer to and alter as the edit proceeds.


VO can lead the visual edit first or can ‘grow’ from picture cuts, but it’s really important not to get too far without putting/testing the two together. Voice will shorten picture durations, and suddenly beautifully cut sequences may look clumsy and crowded. Be brave enough to lay down a guide voice to work with, rather than waiting until it’s all perfectly written and recorded.

see Alia Syed,
John Smith and
Patrick Keiller

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