Skip to main content
Lux Online Home Themes Artists Work Education Education Tours Help Search
How To Edit
Lucy Harris
How to Edit


How long is a piece of film? Intention and achieving

As mentioned at the beginning of the tour, there are infinite ways that the same material can be edited together. So it can be very difficult to know when to stop working and when a film is actually finished. The artist Joseph Cornell film’s were edited by his assistant, the filmmaker Larry Jordan. Cornell’s only guidance as to when a film was finished was “I think we can live with that ..” , or “I don’t much like that..” So, it really can be a very intuitive decision.

There is the temptation to put every idea that has occurred in the editing process, into the same film. In fact some of these ideas may be better realised in a new film, or perhaps there is more than one film in your material. It is also worth remembering that spending longer isn’t necessarily better. Films can be ‘over-cut’. This usually occurs when a filmmaker is too close to the film. The rationale for the editing decisions may have got lost, and edits can begin to look self-conscious and more like stylistic devices. This is the time to step back, stop working on the fine detail and focus on the overall intention of the film. View the complete film and return to the early question ‘’does it do what I intended?’’ Are changes becoming arbitary?

Films are often ‘finished’ because of a fixed deadline, or booked access to equipment. Artists film’s may be a little more flexible, with no specific screening outcome initially. Margaret Tait took many years to edit some of her films - viewing and fine cutting until she felt the rhythm was perfectly balanced. However, sometimes it can be useful to create a self-imposed ‘deadline’, (even if this gets shifted), to help give the edit a structure.

The guidelines below consider how to approach the end stages of an edit, and how to judge when to stop fiddling


It can be a delicate area to judge at what stage feedback is really useful. As early rough cuts could be more like sketches of different ideas when the film is not really /hasn’t yet found its form. Sometimes showing others at this early stage can inhibit experimentation, and take the film off on someone else’s thought processes. However showing others at key stages during the edit can be very helpful, as it can stop you reworking the same areas, and help move the film forward.

Turning point

When you’ve decided what you think the film is ‘about’, it is a good moment to show someone else, as even if they are still viewing a rough cut, their feedback can test the ‘concept’ of the film, and whether key ideas are coming through.

Rhythm of film

This could be done before the fine-cutting (see below) but where overall timings are worked on. Test the ‘shape’ of the film; are there sections that are crushed or go to quickly, or too slowly? Is the timing of shots accurate? Is there space in the film to absorb information? Are there any problematic shots or sounds?


Are there any particular cuts that jump out or jar? Watching repeated sections may make you immune to problems so it’s very good to show someone else completely fresh to the project.


These guidelines apply whether watching on your own or with others Watch the complete film when awake and alert (not at the end of a days editing) Play the film all the way through, with no interruptions or explanations once film has started. Sit away from the screen (one tends to get used to working very close when editing) Try and view the film on a larger monitor or projected, and hear the audio through speakers (not headphones)
Don’t try and make extensive notes during a viewing – this is distracting. Make very brief notes as reminders or pointers while watching, and then these can be expanded on at the end of the viewing.

How to fine cut the picture and audio

Fine-cutting is very intensive, as one is making frame by frame adjustments. It’s easy to get caught up in the fine detail of particular sections, and lose track of how small changes are affecting the rest of the film.
I recommend viewing the film and making a list of all the cuts to be adjusted. Don’t keep working on the same section repeatedly. Make adjustments and move on. When you have completed the list, have a break and view the film again to see what still needs work. You may be surprised at what else you now notice. Sometimes you only spot tiny details, once you are not ‘blinded’ by other changes that have been made.

Try not to view on a small screen as this can be very deceptive and result in over-cut films.

Delivery, working with others – passing it on…

If the project is being passed on to someone else (e.g for sound mix, picture grade, even for DVD copies) it may need to be prepared in a specific way (e.g. track laying for audio.) Have these discussions early on, and leave enough time to prepare the project properly. Its best to always try and test any work-flow where projects are going through different stages. This will avoid confusion and mistakes at the end of the project when approaching deadlines.
Be cautious and always keep a careful record of what material you pass to others (e.g. original master tapes, sound recordings, still images etc.) It’s very easy for material to get lost especially if it is poorly labelled. If working digitally, keep regular backups of the project file onto CD’s.
When the film is completed, keep an archive copy for yourself (film print or video tape) and have separate screening copies made for distribution.

Lucy Harris
| page 8 of 8 | < previous page
Go to top of                             page
Home Themes Artists Work Education Education Tours Help Search