Long shots may be impressive, but Ford v Ferrari director James Mangold would also like us to consider the beauty of cuts.
Directors from Martin Scorsese to Paul Thomas Anderson have impressed audiences with long shots, or “one-ers,” that convey information while engulfing us in the world of a film. But Mangold said he learned from one of his Columbia University teachers, Stefan Sharff, about the value of transitional cuts that connect two shots.
“I had a great teacher at Columbia University many years ago, Stefan Sharff, who… thought the only cut that was interesting in narrative film was the transitional cut. And so, he was like, ‘If you don’t know anything else, at least plan your transitional cuts.’ And so usually if I know nothing else… every time I change location or advance time, the outgoing and the incoming shot is planned,” Mangold said on a recent episode of the Directors Guild of America’s The Director’s Cut podcast.
Doug Liman, who interviewed Mangold, said that when he made his first film, 1996’s Swingers, he only storyboarded his transitional shots.
“The only thing I storyboarded were the transitional shots, the first and last shot, because I was like, ‘How do I storyboard what happens during the scene, because I don’t know what’s going to happen during the scene? They’re going to have to act it and I’ll figure it out,'” Liman said.
Mangold said that while he appreciates long shots, he laments the idea that cuts are a kind of “concession.”
“The thing Stefan would always say, which I thought was so true, was he felt that narrative film was trapped by continuity. You have to make everything match, and the light has to match, and the people have to match. And it’s so f—ing boring,” Mangold said.
“But he thought the transitional shot was also the most creative, because it was the one that defied our normal seeing experiences.”
The Ford v. Ferrari director continued: “We cannot, in the blink of an eye, be home. We cannot in the blink of an eye be 10 years from now. So that the magic of cinema is in the cut, and the power of that cut and the juxtaposition of it, which is partly why sometimes I get sad about… when I teach young filmmakers who are trying to do everything in a one-er, as if the cut were some kind of concession, when the cut is one of the most powerful tools we have. One-er films are awesome and exciting too, but it’s just the fashion of kind of feeling that the cut has become something people actually feel is kind of like a crutch, as opposed to a thing of beauty.”
Sharff, a scholar of film language who wrote two books about his friend Alfred Hitchcock, made more than 100 documentaries, and directed two feature films, Across the River and Run, according to his New York Times obituary. He died in 2003 at age 83.
We highly recommend the Mangold interview, and every episode of the Directors Guild of America’s The Director’s Cut podcast.
Ford v Ferrari, directed by James Mangold, is now in theaters.