Friday, July 06, 2007

Fine cutting

After the rough cut screening of the week before last, and gathering notes from various sources on the cut, we're now moving into fine cut territory - responding to the notes we've had and attempting to tighten, heighten and brighten (actually, more like darken, but that doesn't rhyme) the film. It's a different kind of editing, in a way, where you find yourself revisiting scenes you may have first faced weeks ago and trying to do things you either hadn't ever thought about, or thought about and discarded or thought about and tried and not quite succeeded in doing. Notes here are really helpful (mostly...) - it's good to treat every viewer as just an audience, no matter whether there an exec or a mate - and generally most notes won't just come from one person, they'll have been reiterated (or echoed, or tangentially touched upon) by someone else. So, myself and Leo try and attend to them. But this is quite a complicated process at this stage (especially if the note includes the phrase "I'd like to see more of..." because at this stage we're pretty much using every available portion of the footage, bar the clapperboards. (And if we could digitally remove them, we'd probably end up doing it.))

So, a note might be something like "This scene seems a bit talky, can you try and lose a couple of lines?" -

First off, the director part of me thinks either A) "Yeah, I wonder how that would work" (in that it doesn't immediately feel like a wrong or painful suggestion) or B) "No, that's a terrible idea, what the hell are you thinking?" (in that it does). If it's B, I have to suppress the urge to express the sentiment, and think it through for a while - just because a suggestion sounds wrong and painful on first listen, doesn't mean that it hasn't got something in it...

If it's A, then the next stage is that the writer part of me thinks about it, concurs and then wonders which lines would be best to cut (while at the same time feeling intensely self-critical and self-chastizing - "Idiot, you could have lost those lines from the script before we even shot and saved everybody's time!" Writers are a whiny bunch.) Then myself and Leo have to look at whether it's actually feasible to do in terms of the edit. This encompasses a number of intertwining areas:

1) Performance - in cutting out the lines, we are also artificially truncating an emotional and dramatic line which the actor will have created in the scene - getting from A>B>C in the script as convincingly as possible. If B suddenly goes missing, the jump from A>C may now seem weird (it's a subtle thing, but it can disrupt the whole flow of a scene.)

2)Continuity - cutting can also mean a jump in physical action - again, the real-time movements of the actors in the shot will now be reordered. This can be especially difficult if none of the shots are clean (a clean shot features just one actor in close-up, without any part of the other actor(s) infringing on the shot. If part of another actor (i.e. back of head or shoulder) is fringing the shot, it's known as dirty). If the whole scene is shot in dirty midshots or close-ups, then with 2 actors over maybe 3 or 4 takes of maybe 3 or 4 different set-ups (dirty midshot Mum, dirty midshot Lena, dirty CU Mum, dirty CU Lena, for example) then continuity of action really is critical. If continuity is the same over all takes of all shots (say 4 takes each of 4 shots = 16 different versions of the scene and innumerable (actually it is calculable, but by someone with a better grasp of maths than me (I dunno, 48...?)) opportunities to cut the scene together. If the continuity is off, though, something as simple as someone leaning back at a different time across the different shots and takes can mean that your options get narrowed down considerably, even so far as only a couple of options (which might not encompass the best performances...) or maybe even none at all (which is when you have to bung in a random cutaway and hope that no-one notices. Or reads it as symbolic or something.) Cutting a couple of lines out can be a problem in a scene with good continuity of action (because of the reasons outlined in 1)), but in a scene where the continuity is loose, it can be a nightmare.

3) Pacing - sometimes you can't just cut something out because the timing (which you are artificially altering) feels off. So you have to find something to bridge the gap, or extend (or compress) a moment - a pause, a reaction shot, a random cutaway (again with the cutaways...). This means maybe nicking an earlier or later moment from a take - in effect trying to create the effect that an actor gave a reaction they didn't give (because they didn't know they had to give that reaction at the time because they didn't know that some arse of a director was going to cut some lines which some slacker of a writer should have edited out of the script at an earlier stage...).

Sometimes it all comes out all right, and you can get away with quite substantially re-ordering a scene from the way it was written and shot. And sometimes just cutting two lines can cause a massive headache and loads of work. I blame the writer. (Directors are a cowardly lot.)

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