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What is Editing?
Lucy Harris
What is Editing?


I often equate editing with playing the card game “old maid”. The cards are face down and you have to try and remember which ones you’ve already seen and match the pairs. In editing terms developing a visual memory of your footage is important. Whether it’s a documentary interview, a static landscape, or coloured lights flickering the first stages of the editing process are about becoming familiar with your footage.
It sounds obvious but the first time that you view your footage is incredibly important as that initial experience is the closest you’ll ever get to the experience of your audience seeing your film. So being alert for those initial responses is crucial. Also, watching a shot over and over again as one does in an edit, can make one immune to it’s qualities, so having a record of those first responses can be really useful trigger to remembering it’s initial impact.

In classic “film making terms” people discuss storyboards, shot logging and shot lists. As a fine art filmmaker and editor, a ‘storyboard’ may be a series of drawings, notes, collages, diagrams…whatever helps you visualize your ideas.

The film /sound editor Walter Murch describes watching film rushes and taking copious notes, but the ones he refers to most, are always his first instinctive responses. He separates his note taking into “emotional “ and “surgical”. “Emotional” are his instinctive ‘unquestioned’, uncritical responses - whatever peculiar lateral aside occurs as he’s watching. (e.g. a colour/shape/object in the shot may remind him of something seemingly irrelevant) “Surgical” notes are with a critical perspective – framing, lighting, sound quality etc. New ideas and thoughts may occur during the logging process which will be incorporated into the edit later on. Therefore start to view making notes as part of the edit, not just as ‘preparation’.

Reviewing these notes can also help decide on the ‘intention’ of the film. This can help give the initial rough cut a direction/aim. Having an aim for the film also helps avoid getting to the stage of feeling ‘lost’ in the edit, and just ‘pushing’ things around. However abstract that intention is (patterns of light, dots on a screen, to create a particular mood, to reveal the materiality of film, to assault the audience's sensibilities) it is useful to have a reference point to judge whether the rough-cut structure is working.

see Margaret Tait

Image from ALL IN ONE CINE BOOK, Paul Petzold - Focal Press 1974
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