I’ve been editing Part II for the past 7 months, and it’s been a roller coaster of a ride. After a brief hiatus into production mode for re-shoots, I found myself back at the computer again with all of this new footage and the same old feeling of dread. I slapped together what I thought was right and compressed it and sent it out. Then, thank god, Spring Break (my last and surely best) swept me off my feet. For fun, I brought along a copy of In the Blink of an Eye by Walter Murch. They say that milk was a bad choice, but this was a good one.
In a series of brilliant micro-chapters, Murch explores the process and theory of editing, taking us with him through his transition from analog non-linear editing of 35-mm workprints to linear editing on flatbeds on to the avid system. He writes about the advantages of each system and how he had to change his habits as the technology advanced. (Peter Hutton, who had lunch with Murch recently, reports that he’s switched entirely to Final Cut Pro.) I took my time with the book and still finished it in a few days.
Back after my week in Brewster, MA, I decided to try some of the new information I had gleaned from Mr. Murch.
TIP #1: Stand while editing.
This actually works. I turned my mac pro sideways and put my monitor on top of it, my mouse on my subwoofer, and my keyboard on some DVDs. I might look like a nut but it kept me focused on my film. Plus, I could walk away from it and watch it from the other side of the room, which leads to the next tip:
TIP #2: Remember the scale of the image.
In our world of smaller and better screens, we often forget that the point of a film is to project it onto a big screen. Murch suggests putting little paper people next to your monitor so you can see the image in relation to them. I didn’t go that far, but I have been screening it in the cinema at Bard every week. A bad cut glares at you from the silver screen- I’ve learned a lot seeing my film big.
TIP #3: Review your unused footage.
Murch laments the loss of the linear editing machine where, if you want to get a particular take from the reel, you have to play through the entire reel to find it. One of my scenes wasn’t working exactly right, so I tried this method out: I searched through all of my bins looking for odds and ends that I had shot but not labeled. I found 44 frames of Eli’s clothes sitting on the shore that I had shot to roll out, slowed it down a little, and saved the pacing of the scene.
TIP #4: Change your perspective.
Murch has his master output monitor mounted on the wall to his left. This allows him to turn sideways and review the cut from a different vantage point. At first I thought this sounded somewhat crazy, but I tried it out. Now, after making a cut, I stand up, walk out of the room, walk back into the room, play the clip and stand against the far wall. Because I can’t see the timeline, I’m can’t anticipate the cut; it just happens. It’s a great way to put your cuts through the “does it feel natural” test.
I highly recommend you buy In the Blink of an Eye and read it every once in a while. It’s an easy way to get your film-theory gears turning.