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Screencraft Series: Editing & Post Production

by Declan McGrah

Screencraft has undertaken a venture aiming to unravel the multi-layered language of filmmaking by exploring the fusion of those crafts that combine to create the most important art form of the twentieth century. Each book in the series will focus on one key creative discipline within the medium, explaining and illuminating it in the best way possible–through the work of its leading practitioners. In revealing their roles in the filmmaking process, they will shed light on the way films evolve through a fusion of forces which at first glance might appear to be incompatible: art and industry, vision and compromise or design and accident.

Editing & Post-Production
This book is about what happens in post-production, or after the film has been shot. The actual shooting of a movie may only take eight weeks, but it could easily be another eight months before the post-production is complete. What happens during those months is a mystery to many, including most of the shooting crew, Everything they shoot was meticulously planned with the final film in mind, so why do they have to wait up to as year to see the results of their work? Is it not just a question of picking the best material, joining up the shots and adding some music? Fifteen of the world’s top editors reveal exactly what happens during the months of post-production. By sharing the secrets of their trade, they tell us how films are put together. Not all the editors approached wanted to take part in this book. After much deliberation one world-class editor felt that by talking about their work they risked destroying the magic of film–leaving for the audience the mere mechanical flashing every second of 24 frames of picture and sound on to a white screen. It was a risk they were not willing to take. The editors featured in this book are: Ralph Winters, Yoshinori Ota, Walter Murata, Anne Coatis, Cécile Decugis, Thelma Schoonmaker, Paul Hirsh, Jacques Witta, Jim Clark, Dede Allen, Pietro Scalia, Jill Bilcock, William Chang, Skip Livesay and Mark Berger.

Perhaps after having read this book you will notice every cut or visual effect the next time you are at the cinema. Be warned! This could seriously hamper your enjoyment. But consider the opinion of mark Berger, who was the re-recording mixer on Apocalypse Now. He believes that to learn the techniques of post —production is similar to learning the techniques of classical music. When you first learn about a Mozart symphony or a Bach cantata, you are distracted. Noticing each of the instruments. Noticing the construction and rhythms of the piece. Eventually, though you return to hearing the whole symphony or cantata as one piece, though with greater appreciation. Similarly, being aware of the individual cuts and sounds that make up a film can enrich your overall enjoyment as a viewer. That awareness would never prevent a good film from casting its spell, because in a good film the story and characters become real and the mechanics no longer matter.

The contributors not only let you in on the secrets of the cutting room, but they also makeup alternatives hi story of cinema. Every craft or department feature-film will argue its central importance to the making of a film. That is as it should be. Such pride and self-belief makes the contribution of a camera operator, production designer, or any other film craftsman great. But while every craft is essential to the making of a film, editing, unlike photography or sound recording, has the distinction being unique to the making of films. When cinema was invented, there existed already, writers, actors, musicians, photographers and set designers. There was no such thing as a film editor. Editing grew along with cinema as part of a new cinematic language, which manipulated time and controlled the viewpoint of the audience. The first films contained no cuts. Once filmmakers realized they could cut together shots it allowed them to create longer films of similar single shots assembled in story order. This was the earliest editing.

A huge step was the discovery that the filmmaker could cut away from one scene in one location to a completely different scene in another location and that the viewer would accept it. You can show a girl under attack in a room, then cut to a shot of the hero riding to her rescue, Somehow the audience realizes that the two events are happening simultaneously and that the hero is going to the girl. Keep cutting between the threatened girl and the hero and you buildup tension and excitement. The story and the drama are created in the cutting room. The new language of cinema develops. Next it was discovered that the Wayne perceive reality could be totally changed in the cutting room, when film-makers dared to actually cut within a scene. Start with a wide shot showing two characters and suddenly cut into a close up showing just one character. As Walter Murch, The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, points out nothing in the previous history of the human race prepared us for the visual shift in point of view that happens every time the editor makes a cut. It is hard to imagine now, but it would not have been a surprise if people d not accepted these dramatic jumps in time and space. All the pioneers of editing featured here agree on one thing; that the innovation made in the cutting room–from the slow pace of cutting in the early talkies to the frenetic MTV style often seen today–are only made with the collusion of the film-going audience. It only works when the audience accepts it.

The cutting room is a place where the editor constantly experiments; trying to find the way of putting together the finest bits of all of the available shots in the arrangement that best suits the picture. This process id the third and final rewrite of the film. Jacques Witta tells us that the editor is searching to find the magic that is contained somewhere on those bits of plastic that make up the film. In the course of this book, hopefully you will get a glimpse of how that magic is discovered.



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Screencraft Series: Editing & Post Production
Publisher: Focal Press
Pages: 192
ISBN: 0-240-80468-6


 

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