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“Initially George was adamant that we edit the action sequences silently – no sound effects, no music. The rhythm of the visuals has to work as best it can before being enhanced by sound and music. No hiding allowed. This also allows you to focus very intensely purely on the visuals and not be distracted by temp sound.  Once we have milked the picture edit, then great attention is paid to sound and how it can enhance the storytelling. It​’s not only in the high impact scenes but in the more subtle scenes for which sound adds another vital dimension. In the scene where Max meets the girls and the subsequent fight sequence, sound designer David White put a huge amount of work into the chain effects, the water effects and other Max ‘headspace’ sounds. The soundtrack knits the shots together and amplifies the whole immersive experience.”

Margaret Sixel on editing Mad Max: Fury Road (via a fantastic interview by The Screen Blog)


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“Editing this film was tough because there’s very little dialogue, which is how scenes are structured, so the options are endless. It was a relief to find a scene with dialogue. You cut them in a day. It’s ridiculously easy.”

Margaret Sixel on editing Mad Max: Fury Road


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One-Second Per Day Video Diaries, and Disobeying Editing Wisdom

A one-second-per-day video record from Seth‘s 29th to 30th birthdays:

I like the complete mundanity of Seth’s images and how they’re transformed by the way they’re edited, but I was even more impressed when I saw him agree to the statement that there was, “Something strangely familiar and banal about this. A year with the fear, anxiety, and alienation of modern life air-brushed out,” because there is something about this that’s right on the borderline of being completely relatable and real, and feeling like I’m about to see a Google Hangouts logo.  The interpretation of a video like this is incredibly dependent on the audio that ties it together, and at the same time, the audio here contributes to the sense of something being airbrushed out, in a way that, say, the ambient audio wouldn’t, or even some spoken interview audio would not.  But the audio track tying it together is unquestionably good editing, in the sense that it brings all the disparate clips together into a single document with a flow from beginning to end.  This is a complete story.

As a side note, I think that I enjoy this form of rapid-fire time-lapse documentary.  Compressing the memories of a year to one second per day, viewed all at once, brings out interesting patterns.

Kevin Kelly’s one-second-per-day trip in Asia:

This, on the other hand, does use the ambient sound, and feels more like a document – but not like a story.  There are moments, but they’re not ordered, and they transition abruptly.  There isn’t a climax and resolution of events.  But the ambient audio gives an incredible sense of place, which seems to be part of what’s missing from Seth’s.  (Gorgeous images and colors, too.  It’s much less of a day-in-the-life, but it’s still an interesting slice of real time.)

For all the editing advice to not cut together the audio in rapid montage, I suspect that when the montage is the full story, that strips away too much of the identifiable and specific elements of the story, and leaves that “air-brushed” feel that’s frequently associated with commercials and trailers.  Montage feels slightly anonymous, even in the center of a narrative.  There’s a middle ground here: tie together the footage with music, but also edit in a few moments of your ambient sound to round out the portrayals of the people and places.  In truth, I think that might be a description of virtually the entirety of Terence Malick’s Days of Heaven – a long, glorious montage of images and events tied together by voiceover, and punctuated periodically by ambient sound and dialog.  (Although that is slightly glib: it’s certainly not rapid, it flows at quite a traditional narrative pace.)


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“I tend to take liberties on the time in making the scene work.  If the actor did not continue with a certain prop, and I have to hide the fact that the cigarette is in the left hand in one shot and the right hand in the next, I try to misdirect the eye to something else that is moving in the next shot so that you don’t notice the mismatch.  Yes, matching is very, very important, you try to make sure that the action does the same from one shot to the next.  But as an editor, it’s part of the puzzle to make it work with or without that particular action or prop.    [I’m never aware of mismatches in other films.]  Never.  Unless I’m bored.  If the film is not working, your eye will start wandering the frame of he shot and you might see the mistakes in the shot.  But if it’s good storytelling, good acting, good editing, good directing… absolutely not.  I’m so engrossed in being part of that story.”

–Editor Sheldon Kahn, from Conversations with Film Editors


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Murch: “Frequently, accidental things that Anthony [Minghella] discovered during filming suddenly emerge as talismanic and essential, even though at the time of shooting, they are tangential and unplanned.  The English Patient, for example, begins with [a B-camera POV shot] and it ends with another B-camera point-of-view…  I think if at the time of shooting Anthony had tapped the camera operator on the shoulder and said, ‘You’re shooting the beginning of the film’… they might have gotten a little flustered thinking they have to make it more significant.  But all of this gets revealed in the high-pressure cauldron of the editing room. Godard has a great phrase for it: the transformation of chance into destiny.”

Minghella: “This process has been remarkable on Cold Mountain, because we seem to have reduced the material by 50 percent…”

Murch: “More.”

Minghella: “More than 50 percent, without actually touching the vertebrae in any shape or form.”

–Walter Murch, interview from Minghella on Minghella by Timothy Bricknell


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“It’s liberating [to have extra footage], in a way, because you have this wonderfully demonic circle: every scene is holding a loaded gun to the head of every other scene, saying, ‘only one of us is going to get out of here alive.’  [You] think, ‘Do we really need that scene?’ Or, ‘What if we put it in some other location?’  When a film has [fewer shot scenes], the scenes are smug, in a way, because they all know they’re going to wind up in the finished film… the film-makers aren’t forced to re-examine everything – all our hidden assumptions.”

–Walter Murch, interview from Minghella on Minghella by Timothy Bricknell


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“…if there was one single lesson to be extracted from the process of cutting The English Patient, it was that I overshoot.  Walter [Murch] gave me a stopwatch after that film, which I could use to time the script of The Talented Mr. Ripley, and clearly I can’t use the stopwatch either, because that film was also wildly overshot.  More thrillingly, it was also the case with Cold Mountain, although the length of the screenplay has crept down from project to project.  It has taught me many things, not least that it’s hard to fight your own sensibility.  But I’ve also learnt that there’s some elaboration that I add to the screenplay when I’m shooting, despite not being conscious of doing anything other than collecting what I’d written down.  I often feel I’m shooting very starkly and I worry that there isn’t enough there.”

–Anthony Minghella, interview from Minghella on Minghella by Timothy Bricknell (emphasis mine)


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Weekend Longform Video: Song of Ceylon (1934)

Still from Basil Wright's Song of Ceylon.

Still from Basil Wright’s Song of Ceylon.

While we’re on a bit of an expressive montage editing kick, here’s one of the documentaries Karel Reisz alluded to, Basil Wright’s Song of Ceylon, made in 1934 for Ceylon Tea Propaganda Bureau.  Which is, firstly, an amazing name for an organization, and, secondly, should signal that we’re going to be seeing images of the kinder, gentler side of British colonialism here.  (Wright doesn’t seem unaware of the problem; in an interview reported by Senses of Cinema, Wright says, “[In the Caribbean] I wished I could have managed to say more about the diabolical capitalist or British Colonial policy which was always so nice and fat. I got a bit of it into Song of Ceylon the next year, but, you see, if you’re working for the Empire Marketing Board in the British Colonies, you can’t do it.”)  However, it’s also widely acclaimed as a cinematic masterpiece and one of the great documentaries, and Sri Lankan filmmaker Lester James Peries calls it the greatest documentary about Sri Lanka ever made in Sri Lanka. Continue reading


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“The introduction of sound has largely caused filmmakers to concentrate on realistic narrative and discard the silent cinema’s methods of indirect allusion.  In saying this, it is important to realize that this change of approach has been a matter of choice, not necessity… There is no reason at all why a sound film should not make use of pictorially expressive devices… [however, the effect cannot be] introduced in the course of otherwise straightforward realistic narrative.  The sudden transition from realism to highly sophisticated, contrived imagery becomes unacceptable because the spectator is abruptly asked to view the action… through different eyes.  [Many of the effects using indirect allusion] arise out of the setting of the story… Yet it must be remembered that the Russians produced some of their most telling visual contrasts by completely ignoring the story’s natural locale and cutting to images which have no physical connection to the rest of the film… Obviously, there can be no question of making a continuity of this kind with actual sound… any kind of natural sound would merely draw attention to [the shots’] diversity.

One may conclude that that the sound medium is not capable of this kind of editing to an idea.  But this is not necessarily so.  Nor does the fact that Eisenstein himself never quite assimilated tot he element of sound prove anything except that he personally did not do so.  British documentary makers of the thirties, particularly Basil Wright and Humphrey Jennings, showed that Eisenstein’s methods could be further developed in the sound cinema.”

–Karel Reisz


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Interviewer: Sometimes what doesn’t work in terms of the translation from script to screen is exactly what you were talking about – an actor’s physiology itself can alter what a film is about.

Murch: Yes, that’s a good point… [in Apocalypse Now] the character of Willard is a re-actor. He doesn’t do anything in the film as written. He is the observer, and you watch the film through his eyes and sensibility. And it was clear to Francis after a month of shooting that [Harvey Keitel] was just not the right chemistry for that role. Marty Sheen has very big eyes, and Harvey Keitel has thin eyes, and so it’s easier its easier to use Marty’s face as the lens through which you see this war than Harvey’s… There’s a lovely aphorism by Bresson which says, “The little gleam of light caught in the actor’s eye gives meaning to his whole character.” [A] little chance spark of light in an actor’s eye tells you what the character is thinking, or makes you think you know what he’s thinking. And the chances are with an actor who has big eyes that you’ll get more of those reflections rather than somebody whose eyes are in deep shadow or whose eyes are thin. It’s a very true observation, but its one that is completely uncommented on.

via Walter Murch on Editing and His Translations of Curzio Malaparte | Filmmaker Magazine. (Emphasis mine.)