Submitted by Peter John Ross
Very rarely in the film industry does the filmmaker get to edit their own pieces. There are exceptions. The obvious ones are Robert Rodriguez and the Coen Brothers, who use the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes. But then there are the director’s who co-edit their movies with another editor, like Kevin Smith and his producer Scott Mosier, or James Cameron who always edits alongside other editors.
On the micro-budget level, where the funding for the DV short is in the tens of dollars, there is the mythology that you should edit your own movie. Hell anyone with a ten dollar firewire card and a home computer five years out of date can now edit, so obviously all you need to do is learn what button to push. And this is why most DV shorts suffer, especially in the editing.
I guess for newbies, which we all were at some point, it’s hard to hand over such a crucial part of the moviemaking process to someone else. And since the technology is so readily available, the newbie often does not. Now, some people have a natural knack for editing and this is not always bad. Then there are those who cannot separate the objectivity of the big picture and the minutiae of the script when it comes time to do the editing.
If you are one of those directors that can look at the raw footage, or even edit a scene together, look at it in the context of the movie and make a decision to cut out one of the best moments the actor gave because you realize that the scene is erroneous, then skip this article. Or if you have what you thought was one of the funniest jokes on paper, and even if it’s not a one-hundred percent great delivery, but you choose to use it anyway because it might be good, then please read on.
There exists a misconception that you just hand the movie over to the editor and then you sit and wait to see if they made it the way you want. The editor’s job is to work with the director and producer to shape the movie with the NLE chisel. An editor brings objectivity and a fresh perspective to the table that isn’t there with a one-man show.
Since this article is geared more towards the extremely low budget movie, the first concern is money. An option for us no-budget moviemakers is to help each other out. Find another no-budget filmmaker and edit each other’s movies, rather than taking it all on by yourself. Give each other that new opinion or fresh idea that might enhance the movie. Creating movies in a vacuum can hamper the outcome for the best possible movie.
Much like working with an actor to help shape a character, collaborating with an editor can help make a better movie. It may not be what you, the director, exactly intended, but movies are a team effort. It’s less about the director’s singular vision, and more about the story and the finished movie. Much like a character, the movie can take on a life of it’s own. I say let it breathe and give it some freedom, rather than choke on the ego of one individual.
Objectivity is difficult for a director when they go to edit. The director was on the set. He knows the actors and he remembers what happened on those days. This jades the viewing of the raw footage. An editor will look at the raw material and try to build something and not see it as the shoot, but rather the pieces of the puzzle that need to fit just right. Another, more basic concept is the job of the editor to orient the viewer. A director may not realize that the edit they did does not reveal the location or the positions of the characters, because the director was there. Whereas the editor was not there and will more easily recognize that you need an establishing shot or a wide angle to give the audience a sense of spatial relations.
Now some people learn through time and effort that they can be objective. Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier are two of the most brutal editors of their own work. They will chop scenes out that do not stand up in the editing room. James Cameron also attacks his movies with fervor. To bring a movie down to its essence, he will cut out whole subplots in the editing room, even ones that cost several million dollars to produce. Just take a look at The Abyss: Special Edition, if you don’t believe me. Please take note though, that on the big movies, even though a director supervises the edit, if there is a fight between the editor and director, the producer is the boss that has to settle the dispute.
Everyone should at least attempt to work with a separate editor once. You can find that a different approach or a new idea will only serve to enhance the story, which is all a movie is supposed to do, tell a story.