Editing, a book by Walter Murch

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My ongoing training is not limited to software and equipment. I read and re-read books on various subjects. One such book helps me to better understand the problem of “where to make a cut” when editing video.

In the Blink of an Eye is a book on editing by Walter Murch who has won many awards for editing and sound design for films such as: The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, The Godfather part II and III, Ghost and The English Patient among others.

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First he asks ‘Why do cuts work?”. Cuts in a film break the flow of the story. Our daily lives are one long take from the time we get up till the time we go to bed, or are they? Without knowing it you have “Cuts” all the time. Every time you blink you make a cut. Your blinks are like punctuation in a sentence. You will not blink in the middle of getting important information. You will blink at the end. When someone enters the room and calls to you you do not turn and look at them without blinking as you turn your head. Your thoughts are diverted from your work to the person seeking your attention. This is a new thought and thus you “blink” to separate the two subjects. This is the exact location of where the cut should be in a film. (Of course we also blink to lubricate our eyes and if there is a bright light shining into them.)

I will make a cut where I would feel comfortable blinking. A good actor blinks at all the right times. and, it is at those exact frames that the editor can make his/her cut.

Walter Murch says that an editor should make a barrier between the shoot and the beginning of the edit session. This will help to separate the emotions of the shoot from the choices in the edit. Something may have felt good on the set but it may not be the best choice in the edit room. The separation should bring your thoughts to something completely different from the project, like a vacation. A fresh look at the footage will help the editor to choose the right footage to tell the story and not the footage that he/she liked on the set.

There are times that a cut is made when the speaker is in the middle of delivering Important information. We may cut to someone’s expression or reaction to the speaker. This is an important element to the emotion of the moment or to the story. This brings me to Murch’s “Rule of six”. These are the 6 most important things to consider when making a cut.

The Rule of Six in order of importance:
1) Emotion, is it true to the emotion of the moment.
2) Story, does it advance the story.
3) Rhythm, is it rhythmically interesting and right.
4) Eye Trace, does it continue with the audiences focus of interest within the frame.
5) Two dimensional plane, does it respect the two dimensions of the screen.
6) 3 dimensional space of action, is it consistent with peoples location within a room.

The first 3, emotion, story and rhythm, are tightly connected says Murch. Most of the time if a cut honors those three you are safe to do it.

If you edit, produce or direct any film or video you can’t afford to not read this book, In The Blink Of An Eye. It’s only $13.95. Murch started his career on the old analog film editing equipment. The conversion to non-linear editing on computers was a difficult challenge for editors of his time. He adds his insights to the advantages and disadvantages of the newer non-linear editing systems that were used at the time of publication. The English Patient was the first movie to win an award for editing that was edited on a computer, a $100,000 machine, in 1996.

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