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The (Very) Basic Stages of Editing

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Editing the Short Film: The (Very) Basic Stages of Editing

    Two things generally happen in the editing process: you see problems you didn't know you had, and you figure out ways to fix them. But working through this process is difficult and requires many stages. While it's beyond the scope of this Web site to offer you a real "how-to" guide for editing, we outline the basic stages here:

  • Choose your shots. Even before your film comes back from the lab, you'll have a rough idea of which shots you'll want to use. On set, your script supervisor will have made detailed shooting notes that will mark the takes you think are best. Still, when the film is processed you'll look over all your takes to see which ones you want to use.

  • Create a "bin" for each scene. A"bin" is a folder in which you place the shots you think are necessary or effective for each scene of your film. Most editors do their work on Avid, using software like Final Cut Pro. This technology allows you to store several versions of a scene, if you like. But we suggest being as decisive as you can be when creating your bins. Decisions you make now are decisions you won't have to make later.

  • Create a rough assembly. Once your bins are created, you'll assemble each scene, working viscerally (at first) to see how your scene should be constructed. It's important not to get bogged down here; just get a visual "draft" together. You'll find that what you have is merely the "shape" of a film, a sketch in which the finer elements have not yet been realized.

  • Critique the rough assembly. You'll find plenty to criticize in your rough assembly. For example, you might find that a shot that looks beautiful all by itself just doesn't work organically within the scene - it calls too much attention to itself, and throws the scene off-balance. As you watch the film again and again, you'll take note of your film's problems, and you'll begin to strategize solutions. (Note: most filmmakers realize at this stage that their film and their screenplay have parted ways in moments. Be flexible: though you'll find that your scenes are evolving in ways different from what you originally intended, you may find that what you have "in the can" is actually better than what you had on the page. We'll give you a powerful example of this in a moment.)

  • Start shaping scenes. Some scenes will require minor changes to make them work. You might need to trim a shot at one end or the other, use a cutaway, or change a shot sequence, and the problem is solved. But other scenes pose more serious problems. Sometimes, in fact, you'll discover that the scene you have doesn't make sense visually, and you don't have the shot or shots you need to fix it. At this point you need to be inventive and tireless. To tweak your scenes effectively, you'll need to be able to have one eye obsessively focused on the small details, and the other eye firmly locked on the "Big Picture." It takes time to develop this skill, so be patient.

  • Keep tweaking scenes. But know when enough is enough. Editing a film generally takes as long, or longer, than shooting a film. Theoretically, you can edit ad infinitum: a film is never really finished, and there's always going to be a cut, or a shot choice, that bothers you. Still, you need to know when to stop. Ask yourself four questions: Is the storyline clear? Is the structure coherent? Are the scenes effective? Are you satisfied? If you can answer "yes" to these questions, you're finished with your film.


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