Think Like An Editor - The Importance of Post Production

Hey there folks, I'm back, and even sooner than I thought I'd be. I know you're all thrilled, too. Don't everyone applaud all at once. 

So, for this next post, I'm going to talk about something I am very familiar with, but am realizing I know jack fucking shit about - editing. I say this because I'm an editor at an advertising agency and it's my job to cut, splice, fix and assemble commercials and videos. Sometimes I feel like I know what I'm doing, other times it's just trial and error with a bunch of floundering and feeling like I'm a complete waste of life. It happens. But, I dig it. It challenges me and forces me to approach material from different angles and to try new things - it's all about figuring out what works and what doesn't. I've been editing for years, and I'm still fucking learning about most of it. That's not a complaint either. I love learning new things. In fact, I hope I never master it, because then that means I have no more learning left to do. And what's the point in continuing with something if you feel that way? 

Alright, now time for the nitty-gritty. Editing is one of the most important parts of a film production. With editing, we assemble the shots and takes we've filmed during principal photography (That's the filming stage of production for all you newbs).

The role of an editor is to cut the film or material (whatever it is) into an effective video for viewing. Not an easy task by any means. In this, the editor needs to think like an audience member or consumer. You need to know when to hit the peaks, when to turn up the music on that dramatic dolly push in shot, when to cut away from something. It's all about being effective. In doing this, the editor needs to look through the footage to see what they have to work with. They have the script to go by, and a shot list, and so forth. Plus, the footage "should" begin or end with slate marks that tell what scene of what shot they are viewing. Then, it's time to start piecing the thing together. 

When it comes to editing, it's all about pacing and timing. You practically build from the first shot and go from there. And you usually start one scene at a time. At least, that's how I do it. I, personally, like to edit my films in chronological order. To me, this helps build a tone that I can follow and gives me a sense of pacing. 

When editing someone else's videos, I take a different approach. I tend to still start at the beginning, but I have a script with me that I make notes on. Then, I go in and look at and watch ALL of the shots in the scene that I'm about to edit. I find what I feel like would be a good starting point or shot, depending on the amount and type of footage, and go from there. 

Another thing with editing, is finding out when to cut to a shot from another, and why. I've talked to a lot of friends about this over the years when watching their rough cuts. Sometimes shots will cut just to cut and it is unmotivated, or they are just cutting to things to cut to them. This isn't economical editing. You want to try and tell the scene in the least amount of shots possible, but still keep it interesting and engaging. But again, it depends on the footage you have to work with.

The shots you use and cut to need to be motivated. Motivated by a lot of things - character movement, camera movement, so on and so forth. A lot of thought goes into the shots process in filming and there's a reason the one's that are used get used. 

There's a psychology to editing, believe it or not. With editing, we can show and hint at things you might not be noticing right away. I'll give you an example from a short I made YEARS ago. So, I made this flick a long time ago titled "The Visitor" (What an abomination), and in the opening scene, some teenagers are walking and talking - just three people. They are all friends, with two of them actually dating. But, what the audience and our main character aren't aware of yet, is that the protagonists girlfriend has been sleeping with his best friend. I used my shot selection to tell this and then furthered it in editing. Some shots, the couple would be together in one shot, while the best friend was left out, feeling jealous and isolated. Then, on the flip side, I would show the best friend and his buddy's girl in the same shot, isolating the unknowing protagonist. Then, of course, there would be shots of all three together, showing them as a friendly trio - a lie to our eyes. Because it is in the next scene that we find out about the deceptions and affair. There's a reason for everything. 

I love music. Music, to me, is just as important as films. And when it comes to music in editing, I take it with the utmost seriousness. The music that is chosen can do nothing but hurt or help the film. It should help. The tone of the music chosen should follow the tone of the film, but also elevate it to another level. Music already gives you feelings when you listen to it, but when you add to moving images and the two coincide, it's doing something so much more. Think about it - that scene in "Wayne's World" when Wayne first sees Cassandra and he and the audience realize it's love at first sight. In that scene, the song DreamWeaver comes on, drowns out everything else, and we see her through Wayne's point of view - which in this case is sparkling kaleidoscope eyes. It give you a feeling. It makes you feel what the main character is feeling. We instantly, just like  him, know that it's love. Or what about the sweetly nostalgic and brooding instrumental melodies in the film "Stand By Me" - which has one of the best scores around? That score IS nostalgia. It makes you feel and miss a time that you might not have ever experienced or been alive during. And it makes you feel how the characters feel. 

The music in your film should be appropriate for the time period in which the film takes place, because it makes that world all the more realistic. But there are times when it's fine to just throw that out the window. Take, for instance, Quentin Tarantino. In most of his films, Tarantino uses music in ways that no other filmmaker is doing. He'll have a modern day film with a 70's mentality and oldies tunes. Or a revenge western with modern day rap - like in Django. And it all works. It works because Tarantino is saying something by doing this. He is the creator of that world and can do whatever the hell he wants. Isn't it great to be an artist, folks?

Color correction is incredibly important in editing. With your color, you build a mood to go along with the tone you have already established in your film. You give the film a look. Would The Conjuring 2 be scary if it were set during the day and had a bright color palate? Hell no. Everything is drab and drained, to give a sense of dread and discomfort. But, having said that, there are films that look beautiful and have beautiful color pallets, yet terrible things happen. This is for a reason. It is in those instances that the filmmaker is trying to say something. Would "Schindler's List" be as effective had it been shot in color? Probably not. That film oozes dread and despair. But, you'll notice, there are hints of color in the film at times like with the red jacket, which signifies innocence. See? It all means something, even if you might not know what it is. 

One of the last couple of things I want to mention when it comes to editing, is sound. Sound is probably THE most important part of post production. And the most important part of a film. One of the things I have learned during my time as a filmmaker is that people will forgive bad or out of focus images, but they will never forgive shitty sound design. If you can't hear what's going on, then you can't believe the world that is being presented to you. For example, if I were to show you a scene from a film where the characters were on the streets of New York, but I didn't have sounds of cars and people passing by, birds chirping and so on, but instead had different sounds - like maybe lions or some shit. You'd feel taken out of the scene. One, you know it doesn't belong there, and two, it's distracting. But what if I did have all of the sounds and noises that were supposed to be there, but they were two loud and the actors' dialogue was too low and garbled? You'd hate it. It would frustrate you because you can't pay attention to what is really going on and being said. You're fighting for it by that point. Which is why the reasonable way to go about it, is to boost up the dialogue and level it out, and then layer the scene with the sounds of the environment - car horns, traffic, people walking and talking, wind, birds, etc... But don't make it to where they are too noticeable - just enough to know they are there. Because the focus is on what is being said, not the background noise. If we know what the background noise is, but it's faint, we automatically understand and don't think anything else of it. We only think about it when it sticks out. Good sound design should be subtle and unnoticeable. 

Alright, one of the last things I am going to talk about, is editing performances. Editing enhances performances. Unlike theatre, film is a controlled medium. When an actor is in front of the camera, they are doing their thing, but the music, lighting and everything else helps out - it helps you buy into it - that time and space. If you have a standard conversation scene between two people, you'll probably be cutting from about 6 shots, maybe some over the shoulder stuff, some singles, and hopefully some moving wides or master shots. With this, you can build a rhythm with the dialogue and the shots, but you also have to make the characters' intentions come across during. Maybe one character says something crazy, and we cut to the other character for their reaction, or maybe one character is controlling and dominating the conversation and so the camera stays on them in order to further that across, with only a few cutaways to the other character. It is then that we are understanding how that character feels towards the other. And vice versa. You could edit a single of a character looking offscreen at something, and then cut to a shot of anything else and you would believe that the character was looking at it, even if the cutaway is not even in the room. But you would believe it because the actor, their look and position, and the next shot all link up and tell your mind its real. 

With editing, you can understate a performance. Or you can overstate it. In editing, you control all of this. You build up a pace, a rhythm, so on and so forth. You can get into post production and decide that a large chunk of the film isn't needed, so you take it out and restructure what you have and the audience will never know the difference. That's the magic of editing. Hell, just the other day at work, we were editing a commercial. On set, we had a green screen vent that was just going to sit there in the commercial. Now that vent talks and sneezes and has a face. No one had even thought about that idea UNTIL we were all in the editing process. And you would never know that that wasn't our original intention with the spot. That's the magic of filmmaking. That's the magic of creating. Of editing. 

I would get into the importance of green screen and graphic design when it comes to editing, but I am just not as well versed in it. I'm trying to learn, though. Taking those baby steps to get there. If you have any questions about CGI and green screen, I recommend finding my buddy and co-worker John Green. Hound him about it. He'll love it.

I hope you all dug this post and found it informative. If you didn't already know anything about editing and what goes into it, now you have a bit more insight. Now you can look at films, commercials, and TV shows a little bit differently. It's a fun way to think. 

Well, I've said all I need to for now. Until next time,