Lights, camera, action, those three words have become the standard cliché of movie making and video production, but this is just the beginning, it’s in the edit suite that the production is sliced, diced, shaped, honed, toned and made complete.
Most normal people (those with no directing or editing experience) would have a nervous breakdown after viewing the raw footage of a shoot. The story lies in bits and bytes, there are shaky camera moves, footage that’s out of focus, and terrible sound. The ingredients are all there, but they now need to be assembled in an order that makes sense, or even better – has impact.
Editing techniques are rarely recognised by the audience, but the creative talents of the editor are as fundamental to the final production as the camera work or directing. The placement of shots can carry the story forward or backward, it can foreshadow, tell backstory, offer audience insight, and add metaphor or menace to a scene.
According to Russian filmmaker Vsevolod Pudovkin, the juxtaposition of shots in film creates a more powerful effect than in any other art form.
Inspired by D.W. Griffiths, Pudovkin, much like his contemporaries Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov, explored the power of film on the minds of the masses; we may take all of this theory as obvious now, but in the early 1900’s it was all new and unchartered territory, and the prospect of using film to influence thought was exciting and revolutionary.
Whereas Eisenstein focussed on the montage in its entirety, Pudovkin explored the effects rendered by editing techniques.
So this week we take a look at what goes on in post-production. The invisible art of editing.
Pudovkin’s five relational editing techniques are contrast, parallelism, symbolism, simultaneity, and leit motif
Contrast: The viewer, either consciously or subconsciously compares two opposing scenes, or shots. In the following example, the contrast scene helps build intrigue and tell story.
Parallelism: Jumping from one location or time period to another to show a similarity or connection in the story.
Symbolism: The visual or auditory representation of an object or concept. In Psycho the water running down the drain is symbolic for life draining away.
Simultaneity: The juxtaposition of action occurring in two different locations. This can show the similarities or contrast of the two locations.
Leit Motif: Most commonly associated with music, the leitmotif (leading motif) is the repetition of a particular object, subject, situation, state of mind or supernatural force, or even the reoccurring style of a shot. It is more prominently a piece of music, this becomes a theme running through the story line and in the case of sound or music, it can be used to introduce a type of scene, an action scene, or love scene for example. Indianna Jones’ lucky back pack, the Jaws signature tune, or OO7’s famous phrase – all leitmotifs that build a connection with the viewer by giving her or him access to an “inside joke”.
Pudovkin broke away from the structural editing to relational editing. He introduced the concept of guiding the thoughts and emotions of the viewer through the strategic placement of scenes and shots.
Want to learn more? Watch this excellent video from Filmfu.