Walter Murch. In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing. 2nd Ed. Los Angeles: Silman-James Press, 2001.
The number of movies digitally edited movies grew until it was about equal with the number of films mechanically edited in 1995. The proportion of films digitally edited continued growing after then. The first film digitally edited to win the Oscar for Best Editing was in 1996. Most Oscars for editing since then have gone to films digitally edited.
Editing the film for “Apocalypse Now” took one year. Mixing its sound took another year. 1,250,000 feet, or 230 hours, of film had been shot. This led to a 95 to 1 ratio of film shot to film seen in the movie. Most movies generally have a 20 to 1 ratio of film shot to film seen. The number of cuts per editor per day on “Apocalypse Now” was 1.47.Most films average about eight cuts per editor per day. For every cut made, about 15 others were made, undone, and removed from the film. The time required to make a cut is less than ten seconds. Thus, an editor’s job mostly involves evaluating more than actual editing.
In the US, film editing is said to involve a “cut” whereas Great Britain and Australia call editing that the films are “joined”.
An edited sequence requires the brain to reevaluate a scene from a different context, which is difference from the brain’s normal continuous space-time view. Good editing allows the brain to accept this disruption from its normal perspective. Editing that jumps, or are mentally jarring in its content presentation, can be disturbing to a viewer.
European directors tend to have longer takes. Longer takes, though, increase the odds of something going wrong during the take, thus causing the entire scene to be re-filmed.
How discontinuity is presented when a movie is edited can create an emotional reaction. There is no guarantee the same viewer will have the same reaction as another viewer. Indeed, what may appear as a discontinuity indicating reverence to one may appear to another as comedic.
Editing involves cutting out the bad parts. It requires determining what makes something bad that should not appear in a movie.
There are 24 frames of film per second. When viewing a film determining what gets into a movie and what a final or first frame of a cut should be, the film edit is usually making 24 decisions a second.
Generally, editing strives to achieve three-dimensional continuity. Murch places this goal as the least important of six goals e has for editing. Yet it often is what is taught first in film editing classes.
Murch’s six editing goals are 1.) achieving the desired emotion, 2.) advancing the story, 3.) continuing a proper rhythm, 4.) acknowledging the “eye trace” from the audience’s focus of interest as to location and movement, 5.) achieving two-dimensional plurality, and 6.) respecting three-dimensional continuity.
An editor has to consider how the makers of a film desire an audience to feel and then edits to help create that emotion.
Murch considers the importance of his six goals being achieved as emotion at 51%, story advancement at 23%, “eye trace” at 7%. “three-dimensional” screen plane at 5%, and three-dimensional action space at 4%. If one aspect has to sacrificed in favor of another, the more important factors should be preserved before the lesser important factors. Often, though, all six objectives can be met. Often, emotion, story, and rhythm are interconnected.
Murch advises editors to consider how a movie will look on a screen. It is easy to forget this while viewing it on an editor’s screen. Murch places proportionally correct paper dolls by his screen to remind him that people will be watching this screen size.
An editor has an emotionally more objective view in watching a film than does the director. The director may have had particular emotional feelings (i.e. distress over an actor’s mood) or other particular feelings (i.e. cost or time involved in filming a scene) that biases a director towards or against different shots. An editor needs to avoid unnecessarily considering the conditions of the shot. An editor needs to consider the results of the shoot.
A film editor often has to coax the director’s vision of the film out of the director. Often, it is like a hidden dream that the director has yet to articulate. The editor must challenge the hidden dream with alternative scenarios until the desired vision is revealed.
Often a movie will have several film directors, each with the same authority. This is often due to time considerations. Speed is a trade-off for continuity.
A $25 million movie costs $250,000 a month in interest costs. Two editors working so a movie can be released a month earlier will save about the same amount of money as it costs to pay the editors.
Murch uses photograph still from each scene to help identify a sequence when discussing it with a director. The photos have set-up numbers and frame and series numbers attached to them.
It is important to keep mentally fresh while reviewing numerous possibilities to choose in making cuts in a movie.
The Moviola editing machine started being used in the 1930s. Today, digital editing machines such as Avid and Lightworks are used.
Using a KEM linear system caused greater review of material while searching for other parts of the material. This allows more consideration of options at other decision making points. Murch often found material he initially viewed and thought was unusable that was what was needed, upon later consideration.
Avid and Lightworks have the advantages of being non-linear, like Moviola, while speedily using large amounts of material, like KEM.
Murch recommends looking at material at least twice. He makes initial observations, reviews them with the director’s notes, and reconsiders the material while considering subsequent progress.
To color correct. Murch advises placing the answer point in question over a light box with the correct color temperature and syncing the color. Murch notes this allows seeing tonalities much better.
Murch doesn’t totally trust test card reviews from test audiences. The process skews the responses. The process skews their responses. He notes often a scene that audiences didn’t like is removed with the film. He observes that sometimes a removed scene that audiences didn’t like may have been find but the audience didn’t comprehend how it fit. Instead, he prefers learning their views a few days later.
Murch suggest that film cuts work when they remind people how things suddenly shift in their dreams. We spend a third of our life sleeping and living with dream segments.
A person blinks at the instant the person comprehends a point or where a point is completed or where an idea ends. In film, this is where a cut should occur.
William Stokoe notes that sign language is communicated in a narrative with a varying vision field. It is communicated in a fashion similar to film editing.
Since blinking related to a person’s emotions, blinking rates provide clues to inner thoughts. Murch notes bad actors blink at the wrong time because their thoughts are on matters other than their character’s emotions. Editing should note the film’s pacing which included when a good actor blinks.
Editing should note the reactions of a person hearing the dialogue. Cutting to a reaction shot before a dialogue is complete causes a viewer to consider the worth of what is being said. Keeping a view on a speaker after a dialogue is complete allows a viewer to watch the speaker’s expression and judge the speaker’s truthfulness. Cuts an be made to free a viewer to observe and consider something else. The choice of where to cut should be one that follows the film’s story.
People usually blink from 4 to 40 times a minute. Similarly, an action scene may average about 25 cuts a minute while a casual dialogue scene may average six cuts a minute.
Murch recommends watching how an audience blinks while watching a film. Blinking in unison shows they are thinking in union along with the film. Scattered blinking shows the audience has lost interest.
Good editing gives a movie a proper pacing that allows an audience to feel they are vested in the story.
Early editing, until around 1925, involved a rewind bench, viewing film with a magnifying glass, and editing by cutting with scissors and putting film together with paper clips. The film would later be cemented together by another person, a technician. Editors knew then that the length from one’s nose to the end of an outstretched hand represented the length of about three seconds in a movie. The majority of editors then were women.
The Moviola was initially considered as too expensive. Plus, it’s main advantage that it could examine frames individually was not widely viewed as that important. The addition of sound to film suddenly made Moviolas essential to most editors. Other brands of editing machines included the Steenbeck and the KEM (German manufactured), the Prevost (Italian manufactured), and the Moritone (French manufactured). This type of editing dominated until the end of the 20th century. Electronic editing on computers became popular in the 1990s. Now, almost all films are edited on computers.
Avid is the most popular editing system. Final Cut Pro works only on Macs and Lightworks works only on Windows. All three systems create a unique address for every digitized frame in a film. Each system creates an edit decision list and makes the film compatible for use in either theatrical or conventional projection.
Steven Spielberg, David Lynch, and Alan Parker choose Moviola over computerized editing. Spielberg bought 12 Moviolas plus spare parts and has trained technician to repair them.
If n is the number of shows for a scene, and c is the minimum number of differing manners a scene can be assembled, with e being a constant number 2.71828…, then c+(e x n!) – 1. Thus, a scene of 25 shots can be edited in 4 followed by 25 zeros minus one ways. This is how many choices confront a film editor.
Computerized editing, as opposed to mechanical editing, is quicker, less costly, requires less workers, allows better access to material, allows better reviewing of material (which is important to directors), keeps previous editing decisions in case one wishes to review a prior edit, handles the film much better (machines can scratch, burn, and tear film), is physically easier to cut film, and is easier to include special effects.
Murch notes having too much access to film can be a problem for an editor if an editor hasn’t yet decided what to do with so much film. It is good to move quickly through film yet one should know where one is going.
A problem of film editing is the difficulty in seeing details while viewing a smaller image compared to what is seen on the screen.