5 Editing Tips Every Good Filmmaker Should Know
Editor Cover.jpg

Let's examine five filmmaking methods that you can use to shoot like an editor.

See the tutorial below for tips on how to record a movie like a cutter. When you're done, follow the step-by-step transcription of this tutorial below.

Let's dive into our first point and that is – cutaways. Cutaways are well established in many films (I'm sure you are already using them), but there are three primary cutaways that you should focus on. I'll start with the most obvious one – the detail shot.

1. The detail shot

A close-up shot essentially just pinpoints certain details in a room that may improve the surroundings a bit and help your audience understand the character they are seeing. For example, a recording of me typing on the computer.

A detailed shot of a man typing on his computer.

Now you can set everything you probably need to know through a medium or wide setting. To learn more about this character, you can take a close-up or a detailed shot of their fingers on the keyboard. This could establish the scene with the sound of a keyboard and move us into that scene, or it could simply be used as a small snippet.

The detail shotA more detailed view of the person typing on their keyboard. Image via newsony.

It will also learn more about the character. Maybe I'm a quick typist. Maybe I'm a slow typist. The next would be to show what I see by shooting at the computer screen. I could write a really important, meaningful email, or I could just write hateful comments on YouTube. Depending on the brand you work with, they may not want to divulge this information just yet. Regardless of this, these are all examples of a detailed recording.

2. Environmental recordings

Find personal details in the frame that can help you create the story. Image via bodnar.photo.

Another section of an excerpt are environmental photographs. In this scene of me on the keyboard, maybe it's a glass of wine. I also drink during the day. That sets a little more about my character.

Cutting out certain elements in a room can help improve the story and tell more about your main character. If you're filming and the director on set hasn't thought of it, giving a character a prop within a scene can really help to find out a little more about their character.

Use propsUsing props will help establish the character.

What if the production designer had some unwanted frills in the background? Or a boom ball falls unexpectedly into the frame and cannot be cut out or digitally removed? In these circumstances it is very helpful to have a cutaway for the editor.

Many editors love to have cutaways at the beginning of a scene to create a space. Maybe at the beginning of the scene you show three close-ups to show a little of the surroundings, or just one. A shot of the wine glass, the close-up of the keyboard, then the wide angle that inevitably builds up the scene.

3. The term cutaway

In essence, these cutaways are very important in creating a space and creating an environment. The third snippet I want to talk about is an expression / reaction from someone else. Maybe you have an additional actor. Having a reaction to a scene is a cheap way to really build the environment. For example, if I work on the computer and drink my wine during the day and my father catches me doing it, what will his facial expression be?

The term cutawayThe term cutaway changes the audience's perception of the action.

Is the expression on his face a proud father? Or did drinking make him angry on his son's day? Suddenly, a cutaway phrase really changes the game.

4. Framing

The next is framing – visual repetitions are important. Now the same thing is not recorded over and over, but similar framed recordings are made. Director George Miller, the genius behind the Mad Max films, discussed that many of the scenes he was filming played in the crosshairs while filming Mad Max: Fury Road.

The importance of framingUnderstanding the meaning of framing only helps the editor's workflow.

That really inspired me because I think a framing language aids the editor's workflow. For example, when you're shooting a fast, quick assembly, you know something is fast approaching. Could you have a cohesive element in the frame to keep the audience's eyes from jumping around? Could you have a similar frame mechanism where everything is rotated in dead center, left or right? So think about how you frame picture A and how it corresponds to picture B, C, D etc.

5. Record the frames

The next thing is to capture the frames. This works across the board from cinema to documentary, regardless of what you're shooting. I've been working with someone else on edits that involve filming a scene. Then when they feel that they have made it, release the hold for the shot. Now the pan downs can be useful for transitions, but what you should be doing as a marksman is essentially finding your shot and then holding it.

Hold framesHold your frame a few seconds longer to give your editor more work to do.

This is important because, as the editor, you need handles at the beginning and end of your clip. It usually takes a second or two. Let's say you want to create a nice fade within a clip. However, at the end of the clip, the DOP or shooter decided to lower the camera believing he had the frame. Suddenly the moment is interrupted. I therefore strongly recommend holding onto a frame and giving it a little more movement.

This ultimately gives the editor more opportunities to play within the editing. Give your editor some exciting things to work with!

Cover photo via Warner Bros.

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