Another important aspect of film technique is editing—how
individual shots are combined in sequence to convey certain meanings.
The relationships between shots themselves convey certain meanings.
The Russian filmmaker, Sergei Eisenstein, believed that montage—how
images are combined together in dialectical ways created conflict
between image A (thesis) versus image B (antithesis) to create a
new meaning (synthesis) (Giannetti, 2004). In his famous sequence
of shots of civilians being shot by soldiers on the Odessa Steps
in the 1925 film, Potemkin (Battleship
television), he combined shots of the soldiers as they marched
down the steps shooting the innocent civilians with shots of the
civilians being wounded and a baby carriage with a baby in it moving
precariously down the steps. These combinations created a sense
of anger at the soldier’s cruelty.
Editing also serves to portray lived time in terms of film-time
so that actual events that would take longer to occur in real time
are truncated or reduced to fit into the film time of the typical
two-hour film. One of the early American filmmakers, D. W. Griffith,
employed cross-cutting between two different events in different
locales or setting to give the impression that the two events are
related. Or, filmmakers will insert cut-away shots of audience reactions
to an event to slow down real time. Thus, a horse race that would
take five minutes in real time might actually take ten minutes in
film time when audience reactions are included.
During the 1940s and 1950s, filmmakers such as Orson Welles,
particularly in Citizen
Kane, employed what is known as deep-focus shots. Rather
than using cuts between different shots, he juxtaposed persons or
objects within the same scene, creating a tension between foreground
and background images. For example, in Citizen Kane, the parents
are shown in the background signing documents that relinquishes
their legal rights to their son as their son is playing outside
in the foreground, unaware of what is happening to him.
Ebert: other innovative techniques employed in Citizen Kane
Descriptions of techniques employed in key scenes in Citizen Kane:
Kane's Orson Welles
During the 1950s and 1960s, filmmakers such as Alfred Hitchcock,
and later, Martin Scorsese, carefully planned out each shot with
elaborate scripts and storyboards (Scorsese used a computer) that
was designed to create dramatic effects. For example, a famous scene
of Cary Grant in Hitchcock’s North
by Northwest being lured to an Illinois cornfield
only to be attacked by a low-flying dust-cropper plane (for a storyboard,
see Giannetti, 2004) demonstrates the deliberate juxtaposition of
shots of Grant's face and escape movements with shots of the plane
as it makes another turn to swoop down on Grant.
Then, in the 1960s, filmmakers of the French New Wave, such as
Jean-Luc Godard, Francis Truffaut, and Claude Chabrol, experimented
with different forms of editing. Godard challenged traditional notions
of editing through uses of jump-cuts.
Nottingham: The French New Wave
In the 1990s, a group of Scandinavian filmmakers associated with
the “Dogma” school began developing a new style of filmmaking
that is based on the following 8 principles:
All shooting must take place on the original set.
The sound may not be produced independently of the image.
Only handheld cameras are to be used.
Special lighting for color sets is forbidden.
Optical gimmicks must be refused.
Any gratuitous action is to be rejected.
The films must take place in the here and now.
Genre films should be avoided
Click here for the Dogma
Some films that followed these principles are Breaking the
Waves, Idioteren (The Idiots), and Festen (The Celebration),
the Reality Effect in Dogma Films
For Beginners: A Religious Commitment to Truth in Cinema
Filmmakers may also create a sense of suspense or drama through
the use of quick shots, with cuts every 2 or 3 seconds. Or, in contrast,
they may slow down time to create a dream-like mood by employ long
takes with few cuts. Given the quick-cutting that began to occur
in television ads in the 1980s, films since then are more likely
to mimic the fast-cut pace of advertising.
Filmmakers also convey the meaning of relationships between shot
through uses of different types of transition between shots. They
may employ a smooth, slow dissolve from one image to another or
fade an image in or out in ways that imply continuity between shots.
They may also suddenly cut between shots or employ a wipe between
shots to call attention to the switch in scenes or to even create
a jarring sensation.
Examples of different editing techniques:
Children’s Television Foundation
Barrance, Media Education Wales: Making your film make sense
Teaching editing through doing editing. One of the best
ways to teach editing is to have students engaged in their own editing
or other editing software programs such as Adobe Premier and After
Effects, for both Macintosh and Windows, and Final Cut Pro, for
Macintosh. In using these programs, students must think about how
and why they making certain editing decisions. They can readily
take clips of video and consider alternative ways to sequence the
clips to most effectively develop a narrative or a documentary.
Once students have important material into computers from their
camcorders, they then select the material they want to use and import
it into iMovie. They then name or rename the different clips using
the box below each small picture. They then can insert the clips
into the horizontal bar on the bottom of the screen. They can then
rearrange the clips, crop them, and add sound. They can also add
fades, wipes, or dissolves between shots.
For more specifics, see Tom
Barrance on creating iMovies.
In thinking about editing, students are learning skills that
should transfer over to revising drafts in writing, revision that
requires them to thinking about organization of material in ways
that engage or persuade audiences. For example, middle
school students at Lincoln Magnet School, in Springfield,
Illinois, in a course on Video Journalism taught by Toni McDowell,
made documentaries about people in the community whom they perceived
to be “heroes.” They then conducted video interviews
with these people as well as with people who were influenced by
these peoples’ actions. They then edited their material, included
other material and music, to create a documentary.
Or, 11th graders writing in Adam
Kinory’s English class in The School of the Future in Manhattan
conducted an analysis of motifs in the film Inherit the Wind
about the Scopes Trial. As they viewed the film, students recorded
instances of these motifs, as well as making certain textual connections:
Text to Text — This reminds me of something in another
book, film or media.
Inter-Text — This reminds me of something in this book,
film, or media.
Text to Self — This reminds me of something in my own life.
Text to World — This reminds me of something in the world.
Adam took the students’ analysis of patterns and
digitized the 30 most-noted clips in the film. After viewing
each of these clips, the students wrote and then discussed
the significance of the clip related to the film’s themes.
He then had students select 3 clips that were thematically
related, leading up to formulating a thematic interpretation
and to write about that theme. This represents the use of
different clips related to learning to define relationships
between different parts of a film.
Anderson: Integrating digital stills into writing
“The Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”
Ross: Using iMovie productions in writing classes
Learning Interchange: iLife productions
(on-line examples of student productions)
Learning Interchange: Videography for Educators
Listen Up! Youth Media Network
Marton, Washington University, Video Production
Video Center: clips of ten student-produced videos
For further reading
Dancyger, K. (2002). Technique of film and
video editing: History, theory, and practice. New York: Focal
Kenny, R. (2001). Teaching TV production
in a digital world: Integrating media literacy (Student edition).
Denver, CO: Libraries Unlimited.