Saturday, 20 October 2012

(Not So) Short Cuts

Ah, editing. Such sweaty sorrow. It brings new meaning to Paul Valery’s famous remark about poems never being finished, only abandoned.

Picture this; you have managed to knock out the montage sequence the musicians require to get on with their work, you’ve rendered it, you’ve popped it into a Dropbox folder and they’ve acknowledged receipt…and suddenly you have a MUCH better idea how to do it.

So you play with the footage, and yes, it’s looking snappier and pacier and much more fun. So you render it. And then suddenly you see how you could move another bit of footage, and if you do that, then...

Alice helped out last time - now it's her turn on camera

And so it goes on. So what I considered a more-or-less finished sequence of the film ends up taking another whole day. It’s worth it, of course it’s worth it, but when do you stop...? I’m reminded of the sequences in the splendid All That Jazz where Roy Scheider’s character continually tweaks the stand-up footage he’s editing, exasperating his colleagues but finally drawing a groan of: ‘It’s better. Oh God – it is better.’ (I quote from memory, so excuse paraphrasing.)

For those of you who care about such things, here’s the contrast between the original edit (left) and the revised version. The single-take scene is broken up and the end redistributed among the other clips, and as a result the music can come in earlier.

Blue columns at the bottom represent text titles inserted for bits I haven’t shot yet – as you can see those have moved, too. (Click on pic to enlarge)

My tired (three year-)old computer will not handle a 100-minute edit of such complexity (at least not without taking so long to auto-save I could go off and shoot a short film while I’m waiting), so I’ve broken the film down into twelve sections, most of them approximating 7-8 pages of script. This makes the mammoth task ahead seem slightly less terrifying, though there are bound to be moments when I wish all the edits were in the same project so I could more easily cross-check things.

Nina Ross reads in and helps Leah Remfry-Peploe with her eyeline

Elsewhere – well, about three metres away in the same room – filming continues on the final interview sequences. I have just two pages of script remaining, involving five or six actresses, depending on whether I feel I can cut a character.

The enormous looming shadow of this final stage job has daunted me, I admit, and as a result I’ve taken some time to get down to this, but now I’m more or less back in the swing of editing, and looking forward to getting into some more complex scenes.

Nina Ross

The next scene in the story involves characters watching TV, and due to our shooting schedule I didn’t have time to edit the footage they were watching, which meant we had to run different takes of the same scenes on the screen over and over again, in disjointed excerpts until I was sure which takes I’d be using. I may not tackle the scenes in story order.

These two things are in no way connected.


  1. Sounds like a complex job. I haven't got anything that difficult to handle, but am tweaking the sound on three short films & know it takes a while.

    1. Thanks for the comment - sorry for late reply, I didn't realise all my notifications were going to Google mail which I hardly use! Good luck with your own work.