The Editor, Unsung Hero of Great Storytelling

The editor: a job that if done well goes unnoticed. To be a good editor, one must feel the rhythm of a scene, be able to convey seamless emotion, and convince you, the viewer, of the truth unfolding on the screen. In this super-cut by Every Frame a Painting, the job of the editor is broken down by example. The greatest scenes in cinema would be lifeless without the masterful and instinctual slicing and splicing made by the editor.

"There is an in-built relationship between the story itself and the rhythm by which you tell it," says noted Editor Walter Murch. "Editing is 70% about rhythm," he estimates. The greatest storytellers can use this principle of rhythm to draw you into the story. Predominantly in the smallest nuances of life portrayed on screen, the flow of the editor's cut is what allows you to enter the world created. It is an instinct: knowing when to cut at the right moment and when to wait. "One of the things Marty has always encouraged me to do is to hold the scene just a little too long," remembers Thelma Shoonmaker from working with famed director Martin Scorsese. Each decision to hold or cut can have dramatically different effects on the viewer.

A great editor considers many great questions. How is the emotion playing out? How many frames does a specific feeling need? Considering each and every move of the story being told allows room for a viewer to enter the world being depicted. The editor operates on instinct; it's a natural process of knowing when to cut. The best editors are the ones that can feel the story. So, If editing is so instinctual, how do you learn it? Every Frame a Painting answers this question and will change the way you consider your favorite films.

[via Every Frame A Painting]

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6 Comments

Jason Hudson's picture

Your comment sounds very type A. An editor is hired for his/her expertise. A director is ultimately responsible for the finished product and of course will have final say on how a scene unfolds. However, just as the old saying goes - "successful people surround themselves with talented people" - and like wise a successful story telling formula is seeing that the right people are on the team.
The editor is not just a technician that pushes buttons or preforms a task. This video is a testimonial that supports that an editor is an integral and irreplaceable part of what makes a film believable.

Steve Rehberger's picture

Honestly, a director or producer simply doesn't have time for that. In general they choose an editor they trust and whose creative choices mesh with their own, give any needed instruction and let them work. After they view the rough cuts, make any needed suggestions and, again, step back and let the editor take care of it. There are a few exceptions where the director may be more involved but not often

Let's put it this way...the director says "noir lighting!" and let's the lighting director take care of it. They don't nitpick about gear choices, stand placement and so on. They say "reduced but saturated color palette like and old technicolor" and let the cinematographer take care of it. They don't nitpick about choices in lens, filmstock etc. They have learned that the most important part of THEIR craft revolves around choosing skilled professionals and trusting them. That way they can concentrate on the bigger picture and focus on their vision for the project.

No director has time to sit and watch an editor relabel clips, sync multi camera sequences, micro adjust in and out points for impact, key and track the color of individual objects in a scene to reduce or increase their prominence in a scene and so on. Like you said...it's not about ego...and theirs needs to be strong enough to step back and have some faith.

Christian Hartmann's picture

I think his lighting example is perfectly comparable. If you want to sit an and add everyone else who wants to participate you will most likely fuck up the movie. Since everybody who sits in wants to stroke his own ego and add something to the final product. Furthermore you will raise the costs because you will have a lot of discussions that slow down the whole process. We have a saying in Germany that goes like " Too many cooks spoil the broth". If you want to compare it to Photographers and smaller bugets. You don't hire an Wedding Photographer for thousands of dollars and then let you family and friends fuck up is images by jumping into the frame with their smartphones and Dslrs during the first kiss and other key moments of your Wedding-Day.

Vincent Price's picture

When to cut and when to keep rolling! I just come back for youtube watching the new Tony Zhou's video essay and I find this article ! Such a great way to continue the conversation ! Thank you ! So I will to this sentence of yours : "It is an instinct: knowing when to cut at the right moment and when to wait". It shows us how much an editing is personal. Some people are focussing of moving the plot forward to tell their story and some are more contemplative filling no shame to old their shots. A very good exemple of that is the video essay : What is neorealism ? https://vimeo.com/68514760

. Cheers

Jason Hudson's picture

wow! so incredible. thanks for sharing this video.

Which reminds me... why do so many stills photographers insist on referring to post-processing and retouching as editing? I've always thought of editing as the process of narrowing down the results of a shoot to the handful of images that are going to make up the final selection.