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a marvelous little book entitled ON FILM EDITING. I re-read it twice yearly. Buy it. Here are my condensed notes on it. To download, option+click for Macs; for PCs, right click:

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  1. Content, then form.
  2. A film’s first viewing should evoke an emotional reaction, not a critical one.
  3. Film should be cut primarily for the picture.
  4. (With the exception of certain musical sequences). The images change, interrelate, grow, diminish; the sound track is an accompaniment. The listener’s hearing is continuous, his viewing is not.

  5. All properly made cuts are unnoticeable.
  6. The finer the editor’s technique, the less noticeable her decisions because most cuts are specifically done to pass unnoticed. Smooth cutting depends on the director neither cutting "in camera" nor shooting long master shots with little or no coverage.

  7. Never make a cut without a positive reason.
  8. Stay with a shot as long as that shot is the one which best delivers the required information. Cut to another shot only when the new cut will better serve the purposes of the scene, whether because the size is more effective, the composition is more suitable, or the interpretation is superior. Then find the exact frame to leave one scene and the exact frame to enter the next. Cutting to a close up when no enhancement of emotion is called for is not only wasteful, but will diminish the value of subsequent close ups. The only reason to use another shot is to improve the scene.

  9. Cut on action whenever possible.
  10. Excluding cuts made at the beginnings or endings of sequences and cuts involving exchanges of dialogue, the editor should look for some movement of the actor who holds the viewer’s attention and use that movement to trigger the cut from one scene to the next in order to make the cut invisible. Principle: create "diversion". Actor exits a scene frame left/cut at the point where the actor’s eyes leave the frame. Cut to second scene should be made from 3 to 5 frames ahead of the point at which actor’s eyes reenter the frame at the opposite side of the screen. Viewer’s eyes cannot focus while moving, and moving takes 1/5 of a second. If the cut takes place within that time, it will be unnoticed. Loud sounds also cause the audience to blink. Make sure the cadence or rhythm of the actor’s delivery and movements are honored. The rhythm of the movement must be maintained even if the cut has to be shortened or lengthened by a few frames. Proper rhythm is less disturbing than a slightly imperfect cut. Scenes should begin/end with continuing action.

  11. Cut into and away from a scene while it is still "alive".

    A common cut is the "look off". The viewer will not accept the fact of a look until he sees the actor’s eyes focus on something off-screen. At that point the audience, too, will look off, following the actor’s gaze. By the time his own eyes have refocussed, the actor’s POV shot should occupy the screen. To make the cut, then, we fix the frame in which the actor’s eyes have frozen, add 3 or 4 frames more to give the viewer time to react, and then cut to the POV. The POV shot should last just long enough to deliver its message. This depends on how easilly "read" the shot is. Insert shots of text requires special judgement–but favor the slow reader. If it is a repetiion of an earlier shot, it can be shorter than if it is new. Note: when more than one actor occupies the screen and they look offscreen, the editor must decide which actor the audience will be looking at, and then time the scene for the re-focussing of that actor’s eyes.

  12. "Fresh" footage is preferable to "stale".

If you must include extra footage, always choose to place extra footage at the beginning of the incoming cut.

9. Cut for proper values rather than proper matches.

When dramatic values are at stake:

A) Ignore the mismatch. If a cut from wide shot to CU should be made for dramatic value, the audience will ignore the mismatch. The important thing is to know where the viewer will be looking. Dramatic requirements must always takes precedence over the mere aesthetics of editing.

B). Cut to a closeup will often omit undesirable movement, etc. Or take the lousy shot and blow it up during the online.

C). If all fails, precede the desired cut to B by replacing the end of A with a CU.

10. Cutting Dialogue.

"Delivery" and "reaction". Exactly where, in each cut, does the editor leave the scene and exactly where does she start the incoming cut? Proper timing of each is of greatest importance.

Editor must understand the grammatical structure of the English language: the subject is near the start of a sentence and is followed immediately by the predicate. Rest of the sentence consists of enlargements or modifiers. This means that the sense of any statement is manifest before that statement is completed (this is the reason for our ability to interrupt). Listener will often respond with a grimace or reaction well before the end of the speaker’s statement–and so will the viewer.

Reaction can reveal the birth and growth of awareness without words.

11. Reaction shots

Editor must always look for where she can edit on reaction rather than words. Find the first frame of the reaction and add 3-4 frames. Includes the possibility of briefly freeze-framing the beginning of a "frozen" reaction shot prior to movement.

12. Action scenes.

All such scenes are highly choreographed by the director because all "real" action scenes include much "dead" time. Editor’s job is to line up the takes in proper sequence and then cut together using the ‘action-match" technique. Audience cutaways are not wise moves, generally, because viewer does not want to be told what his reaction should be by being shown a model of it. Withhold your judgement of such scenes until sound effects are laid in. Musical score serves to increase the apparent pace of most sequences. Therefore, the editor will probably want to decrease the pace of the scene.

13. Chase scenes

Usually feature exit-entrance cuts and alternating shots of pursuer/persued. When two or more shots of one is needed, use a shot of a passing car to move into a close up of the interior of that car. The windowshield will double as the protagonist’s face.


14. Suspense scenes

Mood is most important. Viewer must catch the mood. Never let go of the mood. A shot must never be left on so long that the audience can analyze it, and it should never be repeated.

15. Know your audience.

Many types of audiences, but each type of audience acts like a monolith. Each type will provide a certain kind of "laugh", for instance. Film previews are crucial.