Lights! Camera! Action!

There is a saying that behind every good man is a good woman. This week, I learned that behind every good director is a good film editor. Truth be told, I had never really thought much of moving angles. This might be because my favorite films are rom coms. So, reading Roger Ebert’s How to Read a Movie was really eye-opening (no pun intended). In the article, Ebert explains about positive/negative sides and strong/weak axis. For example, a person located somewhat to the right of center appears ideally placed on the “strong axis”. To try it out, I did a search of famous movie scenes. It was a harder search than I thought to find movie titles/pictures. I did come across the epic film Casablanca. In analyzing the pictures included, I noticed the following:

Rick Blaine in his Cafe Americain nightclub playing chess by himself – Center placement, “postive side” facing the future…but…he’s looking down so it suggests that it might not be all rainbows and sunshine

Final farewell scene between trench-coated Rick and Ilsa on the rainy, foggy airstrip with “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid” – Ilsa is on the positive side but facing to the left which symbolizes the past. Rick is on the negative side. He’s looking at the future…even though he’s letting her go.

Now, let’s think about how film editing can play a part in these iconic scenes. As Hitchcock explains, simple editing can change the feeling and sentiment of a character/scene. In the scene where Rick says, “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.”, imagine how the mood would change if editing flipped to Rick and he was wearing KISS make-up. Obviously this is a ridiculous example. BUT, I thought Hitchcock’s explanation of how just a simple change in a picture…like swapping out a baby for a girl in a bikini changes the whole sentiment towards a character. We do that in real life also when we meet someone. We have an initial perception and then as we learn more, that perception changes. I find it interesting that directors/editors capitalize on that during movie making.

I found the history of film editing really interesting. I particularly appreciated the comments from Spielberg and his relationship with his film editor. Because he had spent so much time trying to film the shark, he wanted to include as much frames of it as possible. However, her vision of the film included a “less is scarier/more tense” approach. The end result was an award-winning film. But it reminded me that many times in my team’s presentation, because they fall in love with a particular slide, they fight to keep it in…even though it doesn’t add (or may subtract) from the overall presentation.

I also found it interesting when one of the film editors explained that their job is to take on the POV of the viewer. To make sure they do that effectively, they stay offset so they do not bring prior knowledge into the editing room. Since I develop training materials, I think that’s a good rule of thumb to bring to my development process. It was also amazing to me to see how far film taping/editing has evolved as I watched videos on special effects. But, even watching the basics on the 180 made me realize how much thought and attention to detail is put into film making that the audience just takes for granted.

Finally, I appreciated Ken Burns’s perspective that his job has an element of manipulation. He uses filming and editing to tell his version of the “truth” to make the audience react a certain way. This feeling was also supported during the film editing movie when one of the editors stated that everyone likes editing because they want to edit their own life. I think that’s true…there are definitely times I wish I could edit parts out, slow things down or fast forward. All in all…I have a whole new appreciation for films!

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One thought on “Lights! Camera! Action!

  1. I also enjoyed Ken Burns approach to film making and agree that film making serves the core function of recording image and sound, but that 3rd piece, what makes 1 + 1 = 3, is the thought and technique that is employed to guide the audience towards an understanding that was not their own intent. Ultimately, the core of what we do in anything we produce is to connect with others as an audience to out effort and vice versa. I would look at the exchange as a negotiation, only the director anticipates ahead of time with no means of adjusting his position (as in “normal” negotiations). Again, that’s where that “+1” comes in. I’m sure we’ve seen our fair share of films that are completely predictable and cliche. In those instances 1+1=2, or does it?

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