Art of cut

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A tale of unsung heroes

A week before Asha’s sweet sixteen, she visited her tailor. In her arms, she held the taffeta pink cloth and the pearls she wanted to be sewn into it. With great excitement and patience, she explained her design for the dress. The tailor nodded, he promised to deliver the dress of her dreams. When the dress arrived, it was the stuff of nightmares. The finishing was poor, the dress was already unravelling at the seams, the pearl decorations that she so dreamt of were falling apart. There was no beauty in the dress, no flow and no continuity. She might have as well asked for a tent, it certainly did not look like a gown.

The tailor is to your favourite gown what the editor is to the movie. One missed stitch, one misplaced sequin is enough to ruin the gown, and we are talking of clothes here. Imagine the responsibility of the editor, who must analyze and bring together the efforts of months of script writing, production and make it presentable enough for the audience to have a great experience!

The work of an editor begins when he is first handed the script. During the production process, unless he is involved in a big budget movie, his work is minimal. He is involved in the production process only in so far as perhaps suggesting camera angles to the DoP. In a large production, the Director might hand the Editor sequences on a day to day basis. The editor then analyses these sequences for concerns such as the length of each segment, its relevance to the story or other errors.

The editor works in close contact with the director and his vision, the producer and his financial concerns, the sound editors and the special effects personnel. However, his work is largely done solitarily. He works on the movie alone, in his dark room looking over the film footage. This profession requires a person to have excellent eyesight and creative sensibilities. The editor must also be a team person, often; it is through his diplomacy that conflicts regarding the producers’ and directors’ vision, as well as the actors’ expectations are satisfied.

An editor is usually well versed with technical knowledge. These come into play while deciding the length of the sequences, the number of visible frames in a span of ten seconds can vary from as less as 3 to 18. He employs various cuts during the making of the film, such as the L cut, J cut, Jump cut, Cross cut, Montages, Standard cuts.

THE PROCESS OF EDITING

The first step in the process of editing is the assemblage, where he sifts through the available content and selects those which are relevant to the story line. Sometimes, at this point the director and the editor might decide that additional footage of key moments might be needed in order to strengthen the story line. An editor must make careful choices regarding the order of sequences in the movie.

The next stage in editing is the process of rough-cut. The rough cut is the synthesis of the movie, the editor works hand in hand with the director for his version of the movie. The rough cut can take up to three months to be created and usually, its coarseness is quite emphasised to ease the editors’ way into the final cut. The rough cut is followed by the first cut, which is the cut that has been accepted by the editor, director and the producer. For the first time, it is possible to envision the future movie.

The fine cut focuses on the intricacies of the movie. The focus is no longer on the movie as a whole, but on the rhythms and itsy-bitsy details of each and every cut of the movie.

Finally, the Final cut, which has been sealed and approved by the editor, producer and the director of the movie, arrives. At this point, the editor is joined by the sound designer, music composer and the title artist, who work on making a movie the complete package.

In describing visual art, words are always inadequate. Here’s a visual glossary of movies whose flawless, timely and creative editing have paved the way for their cult status:

MUSICAL:

A genre that is often mocked for its spuriousness, musicals have for a large part been desperate failures for a while now. So what makes La La Land so special? This is Hollywood baby, where dreams come true. For Mia and Sebastian, the struggle to reconcile to their dreams, the need to keep them alive is a challenge in the face of their constant failures. The opening scene shows a Mia and Sebastian veering off in opposite directions, as the camera follows a disappointing audition and a night of revelry for Mia, where she comes upon Sebastian. Cut to the morning rivalry, this time, the camera follows Sebastian through his day, these two characters who consider themselves so unlike each other are actually quite alike, patterns repeat themselves as the camera follows them over the course of their day. During the song, ‘A lovely night’, such is the power of the emotions, music, choreography and the editing that when these two relative strangers lean in for a kiss at the end, it’s almost logical. The tempo of the movie, which was slower during their initial meeting, becomes maddeningly quick, with cuts at right angles during the jazz concert to show Mia’s discomfort. The gentle swell of the burgeoning romance is evident in the following scenes where the editing comprises of longer, full body shots of the two.

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Figure 1 What a waste of a lovely night

DRAMA:

Joe Mc Millan and Nat Sanders were the co-editors in the 2016 movie, Moonlight. This movie featured some astounding performances, and+ truly great direction. The beauty of this movie is in its pace. Cinema is all about feeling the pathos, trials and success of the character, to become a part of his life. Moonlight is brilliant, for it lets us absorb all that Chiron’s going through. In a movie that is not driven by plot or barely has any written script, most of the movie is run around the actor’s emotional depth alone. Consider the scene where Chiron finally meets Kevin, the judgement in Kevin’s eyes when Chiron reveals that he is a drug dealer, the shot that shows Chiron looking at the door which implies that he wants to escape, but chooses not to. The scene where Kevin cooks dinner for Chiron resembles an act of penance; Kevin is trying to seek his forgiveness for the past. Every shot of the diner scene, this attempt to build bridges is poignant and echoes in our mind.

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Figure 2 Chiron decides to stay, while Kevin cooks for him.

ROMANCE:

Eyes are the instruments of the soul. An editor relies on the expression in the eyes to convey the essence of a scene. William Chang is the extraordinary editor of In the Mood for Love. This is not an exceptional love story, and yet, it has been framed in the Halls of Time. William Chang takes us on a love ride with his timely editing. Nothing in this movie is in a hurry, and it matters not that the viewer cannot understand a single word. The language of love poses no barriers as Mr.Chang is well aware. His cuts often feature long sequences where the viewer is allowed to analyze his feelings for the characters. Here’s the scene that you will not easily forget – Su walks down to the noodle bar, her face lined with distress at her loneliness. Then Chow arrives, to eat his daily dinner at the same joint. How mechanical I sound! Words fall short in describing the emotional gravitas of the scene; it’s leaden with grief, pathos and all the loneliness of our mundane existence. The raging conflicts within these two characters would not have come to surface if not for the cinematographers’ vision, the directors’ prowess and the gifted actors. But I believe that a single second’s mismanagement in the cut could’ve ruined this movie. This is why I respect Mr. Chang, for preserving the beauty of this movie.

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Figure 3 In the Mood for Love inspired Moonlight, some similarities

ACTION

God Father does not need an introduction. The movie speaks for itself. Let me just tell you, Peter Zinner and William Reynolds have single-handedly delivered the most memorable, shattering scenes of all time. Don Michael eliminating his enemies to the soundtrack of the church’s organ music is art. This scene is the best example of cross-cutting in the history of commercial cinema.

Siva, the 1989 cult film directed by Ram Gopal Verma and edited by Sattibabu is another example of great movie editing. Siva became a cult hit for a number of reasons, but the action scenes, which ushered in a new era for Tollywood, with their fast paced editing and realistic sound effects, played a pivotal role in its cult status.

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Figure 4 The famous cycle chain scene

SCI-FI

Star Wars! Star Wars was initially edited by John Jympson. The first edition of Star Wars contained about 30-40% different footage from the final version. The movie, as it really is, cannot be visualized when you think picture this disaster. Come Paul Hirsch and Richard Chew. Lucas could translate his vision for the movie to them, who could then edit it to perfection, creating the most iconic franchise of all time, while grabbing an Oscar along the way.

THRILLER

“we call it cutting but it really should be called assemblage. Montage involves assembling sequences of a film which moved in rapid succession. The first murder was that of a nude woman in a shower. As you know we could not move the camera and show a woman stabbed to death, it had to be shown impressionistically. I think you see about 78 different pieces of film in 45 seconds. The second murder in psycho was treated quite differently. It showed the detective coming up the stairs, the audience already aware that a murderer was around. So they were apprehensive, but they didn’t know when it was going t happen. So I’ve this man mounting the stairs in what we would call a medium shot, a waste shot. He gets to the top of the stairs. Then I take the camera and take it high, way way high, so we are looking down at the whole thing. And the knife goes way up, and slashes down. Remember these are two tiny heads. The next cut is a shot of the man’s face as the knife slashes across. So there is an illustration of using the size of the image to create shock.” – Alfred Hitchcock, Psycho. Editor: George Tomasini.

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Figure 5 The aerial shot of the attacker

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Figure 6 ....an immediate cut to a close up of the detective

I had like to conclude my blog on these unsung heroes, the mast of the ship and the gear of the vehicle with one last example- Boyhood. The patience and perseverance of the director and his family has carried this movie forward through twelve long years. Every year, a week was spent on shooting the movie. The editing was performed so smoothly and glides so perfectly, that the cumulative effect of Boyhood can’t help but awe the viewer.

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Figure 7 Transition

- Open Face Team


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