Editor

The editor is the one who actually puts the film together in sequence. It's a long, lonely job with just the editing machine to keep you company. Here's the way it works when film is the primary medium.

When the film comes back from the lab, a positive work print is made from the processed negative of the takes the director wanted printed. These are the takes that are logged in by the assistant and that the editor strings up to get to easily. The editor puts them roughly in sequential order and begins work.

The editor starts assembling the film. He or she takes the master shot of any given scene and intercuts it with an over-the-shoulder shot of one of the actors or maybe a two-shot. Intercutting means just that—actually cutting into the work print and inserting frames from other shots or takes. The editor does this to get a rough idea of how the scene plays, then goes back in and recuts and fine-tunes until satisfied. Each recut may mean adding one frame or taking out two. If the editor doesn't like the changes, those frames have to be put back in. If a scene gets too hacked up, a second or even a third work print is made. When the entire film is done like this, it's called the rough cut. The rough cut is screened by the director, who in all probability has been working closely with the editor anyway, and changes are made. The new version, the one that meets the director's specifications, is called the director's cut. If everybody is happy with it, then the film is released. If not, the film is recut again, this time to producer or studio specifications, and released. This is the final cut.

Nowadays, though, most film is edited electronically, which is how Andrew J. Zoeller does it. So it works a little differently. When the positive takes from the film come in from the lab, they are immediately transferred to an electronic medium—digitized. On a nonlinear system, such as Avid, which Andrew prefers, the takes are put right into a digital storage bank where they can be called up instantly, as with a compact disc. The assistant/digitizer's logging responsibilities then include noting in which storage bank each take is located.

The editing process then proceeds in the same order, but there are no physical frames to deal with. The frames are cut or added with the touch of a button. And with digital editing, as on the Macintosh-based Avid system, Andrew has the option of recutting the same scene many different ways and playing them all back at the same time. This way, he can watch the variations to see which one makes the scene flow the best.

No matter which system you use, though, Andrew says the most important thing is continuity. By developing a coherent story out of the jumble he's given, Andrew creates drama, or comedy, or whatever he's trying to achieve. The best advice he can give to anyone who wants to get into editing is to watch a lot of films. Notice how different editors have a style that works for them. A certain method of cutting will create tension, while the same scene, when edited slightly differently, may be comedic. It's all up to you.

According to Andrew, editing is "fixing the mistakes made in directing," and the more you learn about the process of editing, the fewer of those mistakes you'll make if you ever get your chance behind the camera.

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