Whatever part(s) you play on a film—writer, director, actor, cinematographer, hair stylist, etc.—your work ends up in the hands of the editor. Since the editor takes your work and turns it into the product the audience will see, it’s important to know how editors think and why they make the choices they do.
What an Editor Sees
Editing, which is often compared to sculpting, involves deciding what to put in and what to leave out in creating a movie. “Left on the
cutting room floor” is a well-known editing cliché. How does an editor judge which shots and frames to omit and which to put in?
Immersed in myriad shots on a digital monitor, an editor addresses many elements simultaneously: Lighting, continuity, story, pace, emotion, shot angle, shot type, sound and more. A huge factor driving the “in or out” decision is a question that is never far from the editor’s mind: How much does the audience need to know?
Viewers are savvy; they can get what’s going on in a second or two. Here are a few types of cuts that illustrate how quickly an audience takes in information:
Shorter than a flash cut, a subliminal cut consists of a few frames that zip by so fast that the audience is only subliminally, or
subconsciously, aware of them.
Flash cuts contribute heavily to The Bourne Ultimatum, a high-energy thriller (and the third in a trilogy) for which the editor won the Academy Award. In the sequence below, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is being chased in a dark-lit building as his past intercepts him in a series of brightly lit, subliminal cuts. The audience perceives the confusion that his past—where he was tortured—causes him.