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Film editor


Film editor

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Film editing, also called montage, is the connecting of one or more shots together in a sequence.


The development of film editing processes

Film editing evolved from the process of physically cutting and taping together pieces of film, using a viewer such as a Moviola or Steenbeck to look at the results.

Steenbeck film editing machine rollers Steenbeck film editing machine rollers

All initial editing is done with a positive copy of the negative called a workprint. This allows the editor to do as much experimenting as he or she wishes, without the risk of damaging the original.

When the workprint has been cut to a satisfactory state, it is then used to make a negative cutting list. The negative cutter refers to this list while processing the negative, splitting the shots into A and B rolls, which are then optically printed to produce the final film print.

Since the film was physically cut and pasted, a 'nonlinear' style of editing evolved. At the workprint stage, strips of film could be placed in any order. This approach is generally considered superior to the strictly linear approach that was necessary in video editing through the 1970s. A video 'cut' is really the copying of scenes from various camera tapes onto a master. Before the development of powerful computer systems that could store large amounts of visual data for transfer, it was necessary to make the transfer in strictly linear order. Trying to insert a shot between two shots already on the master tape would create noise, etc. A system such as Avid allows the creation of a workprint.

In recent years, 'film editing' has come to mean what a 'film editor' does, even though the work involved is now generally performed on a computer-based non-linear editing system, such as Avid, Lightworks or Apple's Final Cut Pro and, at the semi-professional level, by programs such as Adobe Premiere Pro, Pinnacle Edition or Sony Vegas.

If the end product is to be a traditional movie, the final negative cutting list is produced from the software, and the negative cutting process occurs as before.

In other cases, an edit decision list may be generated for a video editing system.

With the emergence of digital cinema, there is now a movement towards all-digital assembly of the final product, such as in CFC's Digital Lab process.

Film Editor

A film editor is a person who practices film editing by assembling separate takes into a coherent film. In making a film the editors play a dynamic and creative role.

Typically, the editor follows the screenplay as the guide for establishing the structure of the story and then uses his/her talents to assemble the various shots and takes for greater, clearer artistic effect. There are several editing stages. The film editor often starts work while shooting is still in progress, and, in the first stage of editing he or she will work alone to create an "editor's cut" of the film. It's often many times longer than the final film will be. When time permits, the editor colloborates with the director, who gives "notes" on the editors cut. The editor and director will also have seen and discussed "dailies" (raw footage shot each day) together as shooting progresses. The editor continues to refine the cut while shooting continues.

When shooting is finished, the director can then turn his or her full attention to collaborating with the editor on cutting the film. Scenes are re-ordered, removed, shortened and otherwise tweaked. Often the need arises for new scenes to be shot. After usually several weeks of long days a "director's cut" is created, though this is not to be confused with re-edits some directors have made long after a film is finished - often decades later - to their films that were, in their view, improperly edited in the final stages by the studio and its producers.

After the director's cut, the subsequent cuts are supervised by one or more producers, who represent the production company (studio) and its investors. Hence, the final cut is the one that most closely represents what the studio wants from the film and not necessarily what the director wants. Because of this, there have been several conflicts in the past between the director and the studio, sometimes leading to the use of the "Alan Smithee" credit signifying disownership or the aforementioned "director's cut" re-issues in subsequent years after the original theatrical releases.

Some directors are also the producers of their films, and, with the approval of the funding studio, have a much tighter grip on what makes the final cut than other directors. The most well-known example of a director who lorded over all aspects of his films, with little studio intervention, and worked completely outside of the Hollywood system is Stanley Kubrick. On the other hand, Orson Welles is an example of a director constantly dogged by studio supervison and many times had films taken from him.

Often a film editor is blamed for improper continuity. That is, cutting from a shot where the beer glass is empty to one where it is full. Continuity is, in fact, very nearly last on a film editor's list of important things to maintain. Most important are the emotional and storytelling aspects of film-making - things which are much more abstract and harder to judge - which is why films often take much longer to edit than to shoot.

Methods of montage

In motion picture terminology, a montage (from the French for "putting together" or "assembly") is a film editing technique.

There are at least three senses of the term:

  1. In French film practice, "montage" simply identifies a movie's editor. That is, if you see "montage" in a film's end credits, then that is the film's editor.
  2. In Soviet filmmaking of the 1920s, "montage" was theorized to be the essence of the cinema. Different filmmakers had various ideas about what that essence was.
  3. In classical Hollywood cinema, a "montage sequence" was a short segment in a film in which narrative information was presented in a condensed fashion.

Soviet montage

Lev Kuleshov was among the very first to theorize about the relatively young medium of the cinema in the 1920s. For him, the unique essence of the cinema — that which could be duplicated in no other medium — is editing. He argues that editing a film is like constructing a building. Brick-by-brick (shot-by-shot) the building (film) is erected. His often-cited Kuleshov Experiment established that montage can lead the viewer to reach certain conclusions about the action in a film. Montage works because viewers infer meaning based on context.

Although, strictly speaking, U.S. film director D.W. Griffith was not part of the montage school, he was one of the early proponents of the power of editing — mastering cross-cutting to show parallel action in different locations, and codifying film grammar in other ways as well. Griffith's work in the teens was highly regarded by Kuleshov and other Soviet filmmakers and greatly influenced their understanding of editing.

Sergei Eisenstein was briefly a student of Kuleshov's, but the two parted ways because they had different ideas of montage. Eisenstein regarded montage as a dialectical means of creating meaning. By contrasting unrelated shots he tried to provoke associations in the viewer, which were induced by shocks.

Like Kuleshov, Eisenstein was a theorist in addition to being a filmmaker. He established five "methods of montage":

  1. Metric — based solely on the length of a shot
  2. Rhythmic — based on the length of a shot, plus the visual composition of the image
  3. Tonal — based on the dominant visual style of an image
  4. Overtonal — based on the interaction of dominant visual styles
  5. Intellectual — based on the symbolic content generated by two (or more) juxtaposed images; a film metaphor

Classical montage sequence

The second kind of montage consists of a series of short shots that are edited into a coherent sequence to condense narrative. It is usually used to advance the story as a whole (often to suggest the passage of time), rather than to create symbolic meaning. In many cases, a song plays in the background to enhance the mood or reinforce the message being conveyed.

Many films are well known for their montage scenes. Examples include the training montages in Sylvester Stallone's Rocky series of movies, Dirty Dancing, Flashdance, several of director Sam Raimi's films and the satirical self-referential montages in South Park and Team America: World Police. In nearly all of these examples, the montages are used to compress narrative time and show the main character learning or improving skills that will help achieve the ultimate goal. The song "Montage" used in Team America's montage parody described this perfectly:

Show a lot of things happening at once
Remind everyone of what’s going on
And with every shot you show a little improvement
To show it all would take too long
That’s called a montage
Oh we want montage

Continuity editing

What became known as the popular 'classical Hollywood' style of editing was developed by early European and American directors, in particular D.W. Griffith in his films such as The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance. The classical style ensures temporal and spatial continuity as a way of advancing narrative, using such techniques as the 180 degree rule, Establishing shot, and Shot reverse shot.

Alternatives to Continuity editing

Early Russian filmmakers such as Lev Kuleshov further explored and theorized about editing and its ideological nature. Sergei Eisenstein developed a system of editing that was unconcerned with the rules of the continuity system of classical Hollywood that he called Intellectual montage.

Editing techniques

Stanley Kubrick noted that the editing process is the one phase of production that is truly unique to motion pictures. Every other aspect of filmmaking originated in a different medium than film (photography, art direction, writing, sound recording), but editing is the one process that is unique to film. In Alexender Walker's Stanley Kubrick Directs, Kubrick was quoted as saying, "I love editing. I think I like it more than any other phase of filmmaking. If I wanted to be frivolous, I might say that everything that precedes editing is merely a way of producing film to edit."

In his book, On Film Editing, Edward Dmytryk stipulates seven "rules of cutting" that a good editor should follow:

  • "Rule 1. Never make a cut without a positive reason.
  • "Rule 2. When undecided about the exact frame to cut on, cut long rather than short" (Dmytryk, 23).
  • "Rule 3: Whenever possible cut 'in movement'" (Dmytryk, 27).
  • "Rule 4: The 'fresh' is preferable to the 'stale'" (Dmytryk, 37).
  • "Rule 5: All scenes should begin and end with continuing action" (Dmytryk, 38).
  • "Rule 6: Cut for proper values rather than proper 'matches'" (Dmytryk, 44).
  • "Rule 7: Substance first—then form" (Dmytryk, 145).

Learning Film Editing

The best way to learn film editing is to practice, practice, practice. If you want to learn motion-picture-style editing, you need to obtain film dailies for a scene from either a motion picture or television drama and get an editing program for your computer which is capable of editing a dramatic scene (such as Avid or Final Cut Pro).

There are many kinds of film editing. Each is different. Editing a documentary, editing corporate video, editing multimedia and editing news are completely different from editing a dramatic scene.

Getting Started Learning Dialog Editing

You will learn more if you get an unedited scene which has been filmed by professional filmmakers in the film studios of Hollywood. While some people will tell you to simply run out and film your own scenes, you will find it is much more informative to watch how this is done in Hollywood before you try filming your own movies.

If possible, you want a scene where all the raw film footage has already been digitized and has frame numbers or time code burned on every frame. The time code and scene number on each frame makes editing the scene much easier and also allows you to compare your edits with your friends' edits.

Not My Job... or is it?

In Hollywood, the film editor only edits the film, the sound editor only edits the sound and the film composer creates the music. But with personal computers, you can now do all three and therefore, you can have complete control how the scene will sound and feel.


  • Dmytryk, Edward. On Film Editing: An Introduction to the Art of Film Construction. Boston: Focal Press, 1984.
  • Eberhard Nuffer: Filmschnitt und Schneidetisch. (Film Editing and Editing Equipment, in German), in: Joachim Polzer (editor): Weltwunder der Kinematographie – Beiträge zu einer Kulturgeschichte der Filmtechnik (Volume 7.2003) Polzer Media Group, Potsdam 2003. (available through, ISBN 3-934535-24-0
  • Paul Read. A Short History of Cinema Film Post-Production (1896 - 2006), in English, in: Joachim Polzer (editor). Zur Geschichte des Filmkopierwerks. (On Film Lab History). Weltwunder der Kinematographie. - Beiträge zu einer Kulturgeschichte der Filmtechnik. Volume 8.2006. April 2006. 336 pages. (available through -- ISBN 3-934535-26-7

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This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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