Seven Editorial Tips For Fine Cutting Films

We are in the final stages of fine cutting ‘Seeing Him’, a short film written, produced by and starring Vanessa Bailey. I have stepped into the directors shoes after my good friend Catherine Arton stepped down as director, entrusting me to finish her good work. I have already spent time working with our hugely experienced editor Chris Frith but wanted a fresh opinion.

So, last weekend I watched the most recent cut of the film on the big screen with editor friend Simon Reglar. It was illuminating and something we all too often forget to do.

Test. Test. Test.

I have learned the hard way to test the edit of a film before locking picture. And then to test it again. And again. Here’s what came up this time.

1. The Big Screen Reveals More
It’s obvious, but seeing the film on a big screen allowed a more cinematic experience and some editorial choices, particularly a couple of edits, stood out more than when viewing on a laptop. Give yourself permission to watch your film on the biggest screen you can find.

2. Watch with an expert
I am a HUGE believer in showing work as many times as possible before locking picture, especially to people who are not in the business. That said, the value of the opinions of expert editors (as well as producers and directors) cannot be underestimated. Editors in particular often have insight and can offer solutions too. They have zero attachment to the footage, production or edit and that’s a good thing.

3. Small changes make a BIG difference
Even the most minor of editorial changes made to improve the cut is very important. This is often something we can address in these latter stages, while other filmmakers will often rush to picture lock. Take your time if you don’t have a delivery date. Get perspective.

4. Crank up the mystery
Less is so often more, especially when it comes to film. Audiences LOVE to figure it out and ask… ‘What’s going to happen next?’ During writing and production, things can often get a little overstated and it’s certainly worth taking stuff out to increase mystery. Not to make it cryptic, but to make it mysterious, to cause audiences to lean forward and into the story, characters and unfolding mystery. One key scene at the start of ‘Seeing Him’ can definitely have the mystery cranked up and that can only help the film. Give yourself permission to try taking more out than you might normally do. You can always put it back and you might find it increases audience engagement.

6. Music music music!
Once in post, after the editor, the most important choice for any production is what to do about the music. I have written several posts about music use and abuse in the past, and for low budget films, these principles are open for even greater abuse. Give yourself permission to spend a lot of time seeing how different music and scores feel against the final edit. This can help guide the final composer, or to inform your own search if you choose to use library music.

7. Timecode
It’s obvious, but putting time code onscreen allows you to make specific notes that will be easier to interpret later. We often make notes fast and in the dark, so timecodes really help. His is especially important on feature films.

We will be launching the new site for ‘Seeing Him’ very soon so check back in.

Onwards and upwards!

Chris Jones
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