3 ESSENTIAL EDITING LESSONS
The script is your blueprint for the film. It’s meant to be followed, keeping you on track, building the movie you set out to make. If it doesn’t work on the page, it wont work on the screen so we like to ensure the story works on the page first.
But, what happens when you shoot your movie and what's on the page, DOESN’T work on the screen? Maybe a scene plays out too long and with nothing really happening? Perhaps the performances captured aren’t interesting enough and the scene falls flat? When you get to the editing floor, you truly get to see what’s working and what isn’t.
It’s been said that editing is the final rewrite of the script. You cut scenes down or eliminate them entirely. You move elements around and rearrange dialogue. You take what was written on the page, and modify it to work effectively on screen.
Below are the lessons I’m learning as I edit ‘What About Molly?’
LESSON 1 - FOLLOW THE SCRIPT
Obviously, the first thing we want to do is follow the script. Again, it’s our blueprint and helps us get to the mountain top. We set out to make the movie on the page because we loved it so much.
As I film, I edit the scenes as written. I want to make sure I shot everything I needed to make the scenes work. I want to make sure I’m not missing any elements or need to go back and re shoot anything.
The fun part of this is you get to see the movie start to come to life. The bad part is, all of the scenes are stand alone and there’s no flow into them. We don’t get to see how things interact with each other. We don’t get a good feeling if the movie is working because we don’t yet have the full picture.
What I’m finding is that scenes look and feel good as I edit them and watch as stand alone elements. However, when I begin piecing the puzzle together, looking more at the big picture, something is missing. Scenes aren’t working on screen as I imagined they would when they were put on the page.
Desperately wanting to make modifications already, it’s important not to. Cut the scenes as written and let them sit. Walk away and let it marinate.
LESSON 2 - CUT SCENES DOWN OR OUT ENTIRELY
As I edit a scene, I work around a lot more than just the script. Following my blueprint, sometimes you have to deviate and for good reason. Maybe a performance isn’t working on the screen like you thought it would on the page. Maybe a shot looks bad. Maybe the dialogue isn’t effective.
There’s many elements you have to work around as you cut a scene together. Do the best you can, getting the scene as close to what's on the page as possible. Once you let it sit for a few days and come back, watch it with a fresh set of eyes. Is the scene working?
If the answer is no, look for what's wrong. What don’t you like? Does the scene play longer than you want? Can you cut dialogue down? Should you start the scene sooner or end it earlier? What could you do to help make the scene work? If the answer is nothing, should you cut it? Can you cut it?
Identify the scenes you have issues with and make note, DON’T MAKE CHANGES. We’re not quite ready to slash a burn this thing.
LESSON 3 - EDIT, LEAVE IT, COME BACK AND FIX IT
Now that you have all of the elements cut, it’s time to put them in order for a rough cut. It’s time to build the movie and watch it play out as designed on the page. It’s time to watch our film in all its glory and cringe.
Your rough cut is going to be rough. You’re going to have issues with the flow. Your act one is going to play too long or your act two won’t be long enough. You’ll hate the opening. You’ll hate the ending. You’ll likely just hate it in its entirety. Don’t get discouraged, it’s normal.
With your rough cut ready to go, let it sit one final time and marinate. Come back and watch it with fresh eyes. Identify what isn’t working and try to find out why. Think of ways you can fix the issues you have. Does act one still seem to be dragging on? See if you can cut scenes down or cut them out entirely. Hate the opening? Can you change it to start at a different scene or can you rewrite and shoot a new one? Do you need to rearrange your scenes in a different order? Do you need to write and shoot a new scene to add?
No matter the issue, two things remain true. There IS a solution and you WILL finish the film and put it into the world.
Discouraging at times, editing can be a tedious process. You put your heart into a project, hoping for something amazing to come out and that’s not always the case. The film in your head is not always the film you get on screen. It’s okay. Let the film be what it is. It’s art, it’s ever changing and it’s yours.
So, as you film your own movies remember to edit the scenes, let them sit and come back with fresh eyes. Watch the rough cut, make changes and do anything you can to finalize the picture. No matter what, finish the film and share it with the world. No matter what.
- The Failed Filmmaker