Triage in the Editing Room
Written By: John Rosenberg – Originally Published MAR• 19•12
The other day I was asked to speak at the Los Angeles Post Production Group, an organization of dedicated production and post-production professionals run by two Wendy and Woody Woodhall. The topic was “Triage in the Editing Room.” I had a list of basic emergency procedures that can be employed to diagnose and treat an ailing movie. I expected to go down the list illuminating each topic and giving examples. But the discussion took a turn of its own and developed organically in other directions as well.
To begin the presentation I asked the audience what they felt were the most important aspects that one needed to deal with when putting a film together. Most agreed that supporting the story was the most important part, with character, structure and tone close behind. Now generally I agree with the story answer since storytelling is what we’re all about, but unexpectedly another response shot into my mind. “What about pace and rhythm?”
It struck me that editors have propriety over that one realm that no one else can touch. I’ve discussed this in my book The Healthy Edit, but it occurred to me that most films that I was involved in re-cutting already had the story pretty well worked out. They did start with a script, after all, and even if the script had flaws it was basically not going to change too much – though there have been exceptions! In many cases it may have been necessary to re-structure things a bit, move a few shots and scenes around, but time and again what it often came down to was fixing the film’s pacing. Some movies are cut too fast that the emotion is lost or they become confusing. Others are too plodding and drawn out.
What the editor can do, which no one else can (I’m including the director with the editor at this stage, since they’re often working together to re-shape things) is alter the pace and rhythm. But what is pace and rhythm? Certainly a concept which I found elusive for many years, not only elusive but secondary. I generally found myself concentrating on the story. But pace and rhythm are directly affected by the Editing Triangle, selection – length – juxtaposition. Pace is influenced by the length of shots and the action within those shots while rhythm (or pattern) comes from the juxtaposition of shots. Paying attention to these aspects becomes highly beneficial to the film’s outcome.