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HomeAwardsAcademy 2007 StandAlone - Film Editing

Academy 2007 StandAlone – Film Editing

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Editors take raw footage, finessing it based on a screenplay while working in collaboration with the director to make the best possible movie from the available material. This organic process goes on for months after production wraps in the private confines of the editing room and is rarely covered by the crews that haunt film sets. So the average viewer and even members of the industry are kept in the dark about the mysterious role editing plays in shaping a film. So how can the approximately 6,000 members of the Motion Picture Academy that are tasked with voting for the Best Editing Oscar from among the world-class work that is nominated, make their choice?Editor Joel Cox, an Oscar-winner for Unforgiven and nominee for Million Dollar Baby stresses how important it is for voters to “see all five nominated pictures to vote in a category, so that you are sure that you are voting for the best film. Be honest with what you see.”According to Mark Goldbatt, whose films include X-Men: The Last Stand and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, for which he was nominated for an editing Oscar, “It is always best to see films on the big screen with an audience, which results in a much more enhanced experience. The theatrical experience is best in a collective environment.”The craft of editing has evolved over the years. “If you look at some of the brilliant films that were made in the ’30s and ’40s, there were not nearly the amounts of cuts or coverage as in today’s visuals. Movies were like stage plays recorded on a camera. Now you look at things like 24. It has a machine gun of cuts at times,” says Tom Rolf, who won the Best Editing Oscar for The Right Stuff. “It is the editor’s job to tell the story in the best possible rhythm without intruding on the story. It really is all about rhythm.”Editing is an invisible art. “The best edit is an edit you don’t see, you don’t feel,” says Cox. “It is seamless.” It is about actualizing the director’s vision. If the editor is doing the job right, the work may not be noticed, therefore you can only base whether the editing is good or not on the emotional reaction to watching the film. Cox continues, “We’re in the business of emotion. Good editing creates an emotional ride for people.”Many factors affect the viewer’s perceptions of film editing. “It is important to be as objective as possible, but ultimately, what we perceive to be good work is very subjective,” says Goldblatt. For instance, the predisposition different individuals have for different types of narrative material—such as a fast-cut action picture as opposed to a serious drama—can affect their judgment. Ideally every movie has its own editing style developed from what the movie is about, but how do you compare the unconventional editing of a film like Crash with a more conventional style like Brokeback Mountain?There are many things the viewer doesn’t see. Although editing brings all the elements of a movie together, clearly these elements are not equal between films. An editor putting together a dynamic and coherent story on a project with limited footage and marginal performances might have more skill than someone who is handed volumes of coverage with top-notch actors; but the audience only sees what ends up on screen. An editor might work with a very precise director who knows how every shot goes together as opposed to a director who shoots with multiple cameras and leaves the editor to sort out the myriad choices.There is also trial and error in the editing process. “You start putting a scene together, fixing it, trimming it and finally you say to yourself, ‘Oh, boy, that really works.’ Then somewhere down the line you put it into the story where it is supposed to live,” explains Rolf. “Then you run it and say, ‘What the hell was I thinking!’ It doesn’t gel with the scene preceding or following it. That happens all the time.”Nevertheless, there are things that viewers can look for that will help in judging the editing. Are the performances working well in relationship to other performances? Is there a fluid, consistent pace to the film? Are there sub-textual things that are happening through the editing? Is the film too long, too short or just right? Is the story clear? Do I understand the story points and am I supposed to? Goldblatt says, “Hopefully, if the movie is doing its job, I will be taken on a ride of sorts. If I feel that the components worked so well, that everything was in proper balance with the narrative intent of the picture, then I would say it was well edited.”One of the more subtle techniques that experienced editors employ can be as simple as not cutting. “It’s equally as important to know when not to cut as when to cut,” says Rolf. “If you stay on a shot longer than what might be considered the norm, the audience will say subconsciously, ‘Why am I still looking at this same image? What’s wrong? Why hasn’t there been a cut?’ Well, what happens most of the time is the audience then realizes that here is a reason for them being forced to watch this particular image, so they start seeing things they might have missed the first time. It can have a very profound effect.”Goldblatt concludes, “In editing there are infinite possibilities and infinite choices in how you deal with the material. The viewer will not know the circumstances that existed for the editor. All you see is what’s in the final movie. Comparisons of the editing contributions in different films might not take place on a level playing field, but the hope is that good editing will transform any inherent problems and result in an engrossing and entertaining film experience.”

Written by Mary Ann Skweres

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