Our guide to film editing
Jane McGuire

Our guide to film editing

First published date December 09 2015 Amended date December 10 2015

On the subject of film editing, Joe Dante said ‘editing is where movies are made or broken. Many a film has been saved and many a film has been ruined in the editing room.’ In the most simple terms, film editing is the practise of assembling shots into a coherent sequence in order to tell a story, however the job of a film editor is so much more complicated than this.The editor will spend hours looking through footage and piecing the film together shot by shot in order to best capture the directors vision. Once the rough cut is complete, they will then work with cinematographers and sound editors to bring the dialogue, music and special effects together. A skilled job, there are many different courses out there that focus on the techniques and technicalities of film editing.  


What does a film editor’s job involve? 

As mentioned above, film editing can be a long and complicated process, many films spending months and months in post-production. Yet despite the complexity of the work, film editors are required to work quickly and efficiently. A film editors job will begin with a script, a brief and a meeting with the director who will go into a great amount of detail about what they want to convey in the film. Next, the editor may visit the set whilst shooting, to get a better idea of what is happening. Once the shooting is complete, the editors job really begins as they go through hours and hours of footage, selecting scenes based on dramatic value and storytelling. 

The editor will then trim segments and assemble them in the correct order. This can take many months and involve skilled cuts and shots to add dramatic elements to the story - think of the film Jaws and how the increasing terror is built as the film flicks between perspectives. 

Once the first cut is complete, the editor will work with sound editors and musical directors to add music, dialogue and sound effects to the film. The directors and producers will then sit down to watch the first cut and make suggestions and revisions for the editor to go back to. 


What will I learn on a course? 

As mentioned in the opening quote, the power of the film often lies in the editing. A course will teach you the technical skills needed to cut the shots together artistically and seamlessly. To give you a rough idea, we have outlined some basic film editing techniques below - 

Match cut - A cut used in film editing between two different objects, spaces or compositions, helping to establish a strong continuity of action. 

Flash cut - An editing technique where the duration of shots in the sequence is brief, so they appear to be flashing by. 

Cross-cutting - An editing style that alternates shots of two or more lines of action, that are happening in different places. 

Jump cut - A shot that appears to interrupt another. During a jump cut, the shot will occur within the scene, rather than between two scenes. 

Invisible editing - Also referred to as seamless editing, this is a style where the edit is so smooth the audience will get so absorbed in the drama they will not notice individual cuts. 

A course will teach you how to properly implement all the different cuts and when is best to use them. A skilled film editor will be able to envisage these cuts whilst reading the script and will be able to relay this information to the director before shooting begins. 


How do I choose which editing software to use? 

To a complete beginner, the number of different types of editing programmes available can seem overwhelming. Although the edit is in the skilled eye of the editor, not the software they use, it’s important to be able to use whichever programme you choose to it’s full potential. All of the editing programmes are slightly different, some more advanced and more expensive than others and every editor will have their own personal preference. 

If you already have a particular editing software in mind before choosing a course, it is a good idea to check the course description carefully to make sure you will be covering it in the classroom. If you have no experience, the options will usually be Final Cut, iMovie, After Effects and Premiere Pro. Do your homework beforehand, chat to your tutor and work out which one best suits your needs - if you are hoping to take your first steps into the industry as an editor, it might be worth focusing on one of the more advanced programmes.  

Regardless of the software, all film editing courses are usually practical and hands on, giving you first hand experience of editing shots. 


Five of the best film edits of all time 

More often than not, it is the actors and directors that get all the praise for making an award winning film, so we thought we would take a look at five films renowned for their editing. 

Jaws - For very obvious reasons, Stephen Spielberg’s Jaws sits at the top of many lists when it comes to film editing. When editing a horror film, the terror lies in the timing of the shots. Vern Fields is greatly credited for having a massive part to play in creating the magic of Jaws. 

The Godfather - A film that has been earning critical acclaim for years, the editing of The Godfather is one of the many ways the audience remains captivated as we get an intimate and in depth look into the world of organised crime.

All that Jazz - According to film critics, All that Jazz wouldn’t have been half as good if it hadn’t been for it’s editing. It’s no surprise then that Alan Hien won an Academy Award for Best Editing for his work on the film in 1979.

Apocalypse Now - All war epics have to be flawlessly edited for the audience to believe in the narrative. Although the making of the film was notoriously disastrous, Apocalypse Now is remembered for it’s beautiful editing by Lisa Fruchtman, Gerald B Greenberg and Walter Murch.

Raging Bull - A boxing epic, the skills of Thelma Schoonmaker are heavily praised for cutting together the dramatic scenes in the ring, juxtaposed with the more tender moments between characters. As Martin Scorses’s longtime film editor, Schoonmaker’s work is world renowned. 

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