The Art of Editing Film

I finally finished a book I’ve been reading for a few months now.

The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film – Michael Ondaatje.
The thing about this book is that it gives such insight I never want it to end. I love carrying it around with pride, and can’t wait for someone to ask me about what I am reading so I could go in to great details of what I’m learning.
 Its a conversation between Film Editor, Walter Murch and Writer of The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje. They discussed work, art, poetry, the language of film and so many other interesting things. I couldn’t help but be thankful for the fact writer, Michael Ondaatje took the time to create this book. I felt like it was a special gift to inspiring film editors everywhere.

I already want to read it over. Here are some things I learned from the book.. and believe me so much more!

“What the world thinks is a success, what it rewards, has sometimes very little do to with the essential content of the work and how it relates to the author and his own development.” Walter was talking about his film Returned to Oz, it didn’t do well at the box office because it was dark and more life like. I remember watching this film as a little girl and when I got older I thought I had dreamt it. He stayed true to the version of the Return to Oz books. He was very proud of the outcome as many where but the general public didn’t like the fact it was dark. Which the books themselves were rejected in children’s libraries because it has witches in it. He quotes Rilke’s, “The point of life is to fail at greater and greater things.” He continues, “Every film has lessons to teach us- if we receive those lessons in the right way. That’s the trick..”

He also gives great insight on the art of film making -
”The task of the camera in his [Sidney Lumet, 12 Angry Men] films is not only to record but to reveal the hidden agenda, the hidden psychology-psychology that may even be hidden from the characters themselves, but which he’s revealing to us.”

“I’m taking into consideration, at the point of the cut, where the audience’s eye is and in what direction it’s moving, and with what speed. The editor has to imagine the audience’s point of attention when the film is projected, and has to be able to predict where ninety-nine percent of the audience is looking at any moment.”

“Every shot is a thought or a series of thoughts, expressed visually. When a thought begins to run out of steam, that the point at which you cut.”

How the story is told is essential to the story, the chemistry between sound and picture. He discuss that even the Prelude (beginning credits) is impotent to the movie. It sets up the audience for that is coming next.

The danger in breaking the rules to film, like introducing an important character to late in the movie. It can not only seem awkward but the audience has no investment in this person or no emotional connection.

Divergent – when you start with all the characters in the same time and space. (American Graffiti)
Convergent – two or three stories that start separately and then flow together. (Like the English Patient)

“There are two different kinds of film making; The Hitchcock idea that a film is already completed in the creator’s head or the Coppola concept that thrives on process..It has to be said-both system have their risks.”

“One of the reasons I lobby for the increased collaboration of everyone who can have a voice on a film is that through collaboration you add facets to the work. The work is going to be seen by millions of people, over many decades and under very many different circumstances, and even though the film is a fixed thing, you want it to be multifaceted so that different people will see different things in it and come away rewarded.”

I love reading and listening to Walter talk about the art of editing. He says its much like writing poetry, “The decision where to cut film is very similar to the decision, in writing poetry, of where to end each line..We do very much the same in film: the end of a shot gives the image of the last frame an added significance, which we exploit.” I always walk away enlightened and encouraged to keep on moving forward with my dream of being a film editor one day.

Author: Moniemuse

Video Editor & Media Department Director

6 thoughts on “The Art of Editing Film”

  1. I got this book about 7 years ago and read it about once every year. It now takes pride of place in a small collection of books I have in front of my clients because they inspire conversations that I’m passionate about. What Murch does best, in my opinion, is makes you think of film and sound and editing in a different way. Some of his theories just make you take an approach to editing that you never would have before. Truly inspiring…. (P.S.Love this post)

    1. Love your comment! He can really get in to depth about the language of film. He draws from reallife, history of music, poetry, even translating a different language to English and ties that in to the lanuage of editing a film. I now do the same thing, allow life to inspire me.

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