“Film is a popular medium, and the audience is never far from our thoughts, the way the ocean is never far from the thoughts of a shipbuilder.”
Feature film editor Walter Murch
Behind the Seen
Film editor Walter Murch has won three Academy Awards, and in a career that has spanned six decades he’s edited a list of well known films including The Godfather Part III, Jarhead, The English Patient, and Apocalypse Now. And along the way he’s worked with some of the greatest modern film directors (Coppola, Lucas, Sam Mendes, Kathryn Bigelow) so you figure he knows a thing or two about filmmaking. Fortunately for us, he’s written a couple books specifically on film editing.
In his first book he shares his six criteria for what he’s after when editing a film that is helpful to know even if you’re a director or screenwriter.
“At the top of the list is Emotion, the thing that comes last, if at all, at film school largely because it’s the thing hardest to define and deal with. How do you want the audience to feel? If they are feeling what you want them to feel all the way through the film, you’ve done about as much as you can ever do. What they finally remember is not the editing, not the camerawork, not the performances, not even the story—it’s how they felt.
An ideal cut (for me) is the one that satisfies all the following six criteria at once: 1) it is true to the emotion of the moment: 2) it advances the story: 3) it occurs at a moment that is rhythmically interesting and ‘right': 4) it acknowledges what you might call ‘eye-trace’—the concern with the location within the frame: 5) it respects ‘planarity’—the grammar of three dimensions transposed by photography to two (the questions of stage-line, etc.): 6) and it respects the three-dimensional continuity of the actual space (where people are in the room and in relation to one another).”
In the Blink of an Eye
Walter even puts a “slightly tongue-in-cheek” value on his six criteria because it’s not really quantifiable. But all the same, he says that editing for emotion and advancing the story are 74% of what makes a good cut.
P.S. If you’re interesting in learning more about editing I recommend you follow the excellent blog Digital Films by Oliver Peters. A good place to start is here:
12 Tips for Better Film Editing
Film Editing Tips Round II