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Ministry of Education.

Cutting and editing

Some "The Making Of ..." programmes about the making of television programmes and films provide valuable and interesting insights into many aspects of presenting and exploring the moving images of visual language in television and films. However, such programmes are not so useful when it comes to the essential aspects of cutting and editing.

Editing is the post-production process in which the material is organised to achieve the purposes of the film-maker. During editing, the final film is brought together in the most interesting and dramatic way by selecting, arranging, and ordering the shots available. Editing determines how viewers interpret or "read" images and sounds. Editors seek to provide a sense of unity of time and place, to link, relate, and structure different elements of the narrative, and to achieve logic, rhythm, and pace in order to arouse interest and excite emotional involvement and response.

Important considerations are shot duration, or how long each shot in a sequence lasts, and juxtaposition, or how shots and sequences follow and are related to each other.

A cut is a change from one shot to the next. It may be from a wide shot to a close-up, from an exterior to an interior scene, from someone starting an action to completing it, or from one scene to the next. Cuts connect people, places, and objects. There might be a cut from the street to the inside of a car driven by one of the characters, or from a person going up in an elevator to being inside a room high in a skyscraper. Another cut may then be from the character in the car to the car's involvement in a chase or accident or to the person in the room jumping out the window. Such cuts also allow for the use of stunt people or dummies.

Transition from one scene to the next is important. A cut makes the transition by connecting the last shot of one scene to the first shot of the next. Sometimes a transition is executed by a cut from a transition shot, such as a plane taking off or a building, to the first shot of the next scene. In a swish pan, the scene ends with the camera suddenly panning so fast that the image blurs. A cut to the next scene follows.

Overlapping sound can help to smooth transitions by anticipating a scene's visual beginning with its auditory beginning: a character may refer to the location of the next scene while a cut to it is made, and the conversation continues while the visual image of the new location comes into view.

Offscreen narration, or voice-over, usually by a character, can help keep the film together and maintain our interest while communicating a story economically. Offscreen sounds, such as crowd noises, an echo, amplified heartbeats, or a scream may increase anticipation, suspense, or excitement, revealing a private emotional experience and raising our level of involvement in the characters' dilemma.

Other transitional devices include special effects like fades, wipes, and dissolves. In a fade-out, the image rapidly becomes black, and a fade-in of the next scene follows. In a wipe, one shot is covered up by another shot moving horizontally across the screen. In a dissolve, one shot fades out while the next fades in on top of it.

Cutaways are common transitional devices. It might be a reaction cut, of one person listening to what another is saying or responding to what somebody is doing. Reaction cuts are popular in televised sports events, where the editor will cut to show the reaction of individuals, the crowd, or a player to such moments as a boundary in cricket or a match-winning netball shot. Cutaways can be used to link to what somebody is thinking, talking about, or seeing. Cutaways can compress time without losing continuity, and they can also be used to expand time in order to build tension or emphasise a dramatic moment.

Instead of a cutaway, a matched cut may be used, where no part of the action is omitted, although the camera angle or distance may change. In continuity editing, a sequence is cut together to preserve the continuity of the action without showing the whole of the action.

We don't notice most cuts because of our expectations and familiarity with the conventions of editing. Accordingly, the action usually seems to blend smoothly from one shot to the next.

When two shots are intentionally not matched, we have what is called a jump cut. We stay with the same subject, but there is a discontinuity of physical movement. The subject may seem to jump from one place to the next, or the same subject may remain on frame and the location will change. In this way, a lot of ground, time, and action can be covered economically at a swifter pace than when continuity is preserved, and a faster transition from one scene or sequence to the next can be achieved. But when a cut that should have been matched is not, the effect can be quite jarring and obtrusive. A compression of time which is too abrupt may confuse us.

Intercutting cuts back and forth from one subject or event to the other. With this technique, the events appear to be happening at the same time. In parallel editing or parallel cutting, sometimes also called cross-cutting, the sequences or scenes are intercut so as to suggest that they are taking place at the same time. Parallel cutting might show shots of a villain being villainous intercut with shots of the hero or heroine coming to the rescue. Most chases use parallel editing, switching back and forth between pursuer and pursued. Phone conversations, too, are often parallel edited.

Quick or fast cutting, based on short shots of only a few frames, gives the impression that action is happening at great speed, heightening the sense of action and excitement.

Quick cuts may be used to bring together events related in theme, but from different times and places. They sometimes involve different characters in what are sometimes called montages. Montages might flash images from a person's memory or condense a history of someone's life or the history of a war.

We are very familiar with television commercials that use 30-second or 60-second montages of images to create an emotional mood and associate it with a product. Music can be the glue that unifies and holds such an advertisement together.

Montages can also be used to compress time and to show a process like the development or deterioration of a relationship very rapidly by quick cuts that compare situations and scenes.
Editing, then, is a vital part of exploring and using visual language and is essential to achieving the meanings and effects that are intended.

Mise en Scène
Whereas montage essentially arranges time, mise en scène arranges space. Literally translated, mise en scène means "put in the scene". Originally the term referred to the physical production of a play - its sets, props, and the staging of a scene. Over time, mise en scène has been adapted to describe filmic space - the manipulation of staging and action within a shot during filming as opposed to the manipulation of space afterwards in the editorial process.

Mise en scène refers to the various items contained in a film's scene and how they are presented. For instance, the court martial scene in Breaker Morant is composed along vertical and horizontal lines - the men sitting at the table, the line around the wall, and the men who are standing all conform to a pattern, reinforcing the situation and meaning.

Mise en scène includes all the elements in a single shot of film, including the action, costumes, framing, camera placement, and lenses. Mise en scène, with its deep focus, creates a richer space that closely mirrors the real world and engages the viewer deeply in the film's image, textures, and ambiguities. It can therefore stop the flow of time and hold it in an eternal present tense, preserving not only the image of things but also the sense of their duration.

The camera can enhance the impact of mise en scène by travelling through the set in such a way that the detail of the visual language is carefully revealed and communicated to the audience. An excellent example is in Colours - Red, where the camera explores the retired judge's house and rooms, conveying a very effective sense of space and time. The importance of mise en scène in conveying depth of detail and setting is acknowledged by its inclusion in the titles at the end of some films.

Summary of Term

editing fades intercutting
shot duration fade-out parallel editing
juxtaposition fade-in parallel cutting
cut wipe cross-cutting
transition dissolve quick cutting
transition shot cutaways fast cutting
swish pan matched cut montages
offscreen narration continuity editing mise en scène
voice-over jump cut

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Published on: 06 May 2009