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Editing insight

Some interesting editing facts from Art of the Guillotine in an infographic format.

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Mastering Film » How an Editor Can Shape and Sustain Story Tension

An interesting extract taken from Karen Pearlman’s book Cutting Rhythm
available from Focal Press ]

If a story that should be interesting is shaping up to be a bit boring, it is helpful to understand one of the key drivers behind an audience’s interest: Dramatic Questions.

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Creative and technical balance

When Final Cut Pro X was released some moons back now, there was uproar. Uproar? Well, uproar in editing circles anyway which quite frankly pale in comparison to circles of any other kind anywhere in the world. But someone was shouting loud enough for the screams to have been heard and therefore something rather abstract to most folk, made it onto an episode of Conan O’Brien.
And so the world (of editors) denounced the Apple’s new release of a tried and tested winner, as a right royal pain in the ass.
But now the noisy ruckus has been quelled some, what are the reports from the front line actually…reporting? Well, I don’t know and I’m not going looking to find out. So here’s what I think instead for what it’s worth.

I think that often the greatest obstacle in editing is the technical thorn sticking into your side. The ‘technical’ element to our craft can grow into an obsession before ending up as a total waste of time before you’ve even realised what hit you. Much has changed since we sat in front of AVID Media Composer running on a mac with a harddrive no bigger than a baby’s toe. Where your 9GB external hardrive was the size of a Google server and offline/online had nothing to do with your internet connection.
Today’s computers have power, speed and stamina. They crash little rather than often, have more bite than a poisonous frog and look like furniture from the year 3056.

Final Cut Pro X is important because as far as I can make out so far, it’s taking the balance between the technical and the creative and nudging it back to the creative. Personally, I always felt AVID was restrictive in the way it allowed you to work. It had it’s own file system, you couldn’t just move clips around on the timeline, you had to edit them into place… and you know I actually missed all of that when I moved to FCP. I loved the simplicity and restrictions of Avid because heading off on a filter holiday for an hour in FCP usually ends in tears and a long render. Maximum flexibility and choice is not always a good thing when it comes to creative choices.

For me, Final Cut Pro X is only a pain in that it’s a new piece of software which I will all have to learn.  But as any editor knows, the principal fundamentals of editing won’t change just because someone has renamed your favorite keyboard shortcut. Any editor worth his salt and pepper could cut a feature with a knife and fork.

FCP X seems to make things easier and a little less technical. Less jumping around from tool to tool, less flicking between menus, fewer options for setting up a project. The time saved will allow us to spend more time on the editing which I’m pretty sure is still the focus. Moving over the basics quickly without becoming bogged down with settings and fiddly things, means students of editing can be less intimidated and more relaxed. Go to and the FCPX training is one hour less than it’s predecessor.

There is a benefit to learning the hard way of course but I would rather see inspired new editors diving into our sacred art head first than standing by the door peeking through the crack as the settings monster lumbers around scarily inside the suite. It’s much more fun to be discussing their films and projects than fixing them.
Although childlike in appearance, Final Cut Pro X would appear to be taking a lot of the weight on it’s maturing shoulders and that for me at least, shows respect for it’s users. It won’t make editing any quicker and in fact that shouldn’t be our motivation but it will certainly allow us to use the time more satisfactorily.

Giant stop-motion film set on a beach

The short film was made by animators and student volunteers from Aardman Animation over just one week, using three Nokia N8 smartphones attached to a crane 36m (118ft) in the air.

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Making of:


Motion from motion

The more you work in the film industry, you more you develop styles, styles which become recognisable. These styles are a reflection of what you have learnt, been inspired by and are an insight into your personality be that good or bad. A better analogy would be be an artist or painter. There the evidence is evident and open for analysis. Usually. Well editing is no different. If you look closely enough, you can get into the mind of the editor by analysing their work and the way they snip, clip and trim. As I grow older, I’ve become more self aware in that I’ve started to notice some recurring ticks or rather traits of my editing personality. These relate to music and rhythm, of this I’m sure.

Music has always been a passion of mine and at some stage of the day, I’ll find myself wanting. I’ve worked a great deal with music over the years and it’s dictated and shaped the way I edit. It’s given me rhythm, structure but retains an element of surprise and unpredictability.  It never fails to impress me how a music track can completely obliterate the edit you thought you had down, simply by laying itself down underneath your video track, then looking up at you with with it’s dreamy green eyes only to go and open it’s big fat mouth. So suddenly, it’s all like BANG! The shots don’t fit and the mood is uncomfortable but maybe it’s better or maybe it’s worse but whatever, it wasn’t quite what you expected but that’s good because you need to stay on your toes and anyway, you shouldn’t have spent so long cutting and re-cutting those three shots near the start, you should have taken a break instead like the manual says, stupid then it would have been obvious.

I’ve come to notice a trait of mine, namely creating motion from motion. This has most certainly come from working with music. I’ve taken to creating a single movement from many, say for example an arm sweeping through a guitar strum, a singer reaching for the mic stand and the bass player lifting his head up sharply to clear his long metaller hair from his angry metaller face. By combining these three shots into one, you can carry the movement through without diminishing power. A kind of kinetic energy transfer. I dont presume to assume this is unique or pioneering but it’s something I’ve become accustomed to becoming accustomed to.

Today, I discovered Norwegian contemporary artist A.K.Dloven. Her video piece entitled Amazon (2005) is;

a 16mm film projection of an androgynous figure shooting. A fast edit gives this minute and a half long film the sense of a single shot.

This piece demonstrates the continuation of motion beautifully. There is some repetition of shots, in quick succession and not necessarily edited precisely together for visual fluidity but where a movement or action is comprised of more than one image. You can view the video here, although I’m not sure you’re really supposed to.

The best example of this technique in my work, is in a music promo for Norwegian band Sahg which I completed recently. Vastly different in subject matter, I am not in any way comparing the quality of Dolven’s work to mine but merely using this as a means to demonstrate a technique of editing. Currently, the Sahg video entitled Mortify has not been published as it coincides with a single release however I will update a link shortly. I’m just being uncharacteristically impatient and very un-editorly-like because we klippers are usually patient souls, non?

To reference another of A.K. Dolven’s works seems wholly appropriate now, as one example doth not a blog post maketh.

In If We Could HearYou Now (2008), Dolven again demonstrates continuous movement despite an increase and adjustment of editing rhythm. As the edits quicken, flicking between the close up mouth and iceberg shots, so the tension intensifies, heightening the mood. And skillfully done at that, may I add. You can view elements of the video here in this documentary profile for Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

In conclusion, my ability to create movements from movements is both a conscious and subconscious development. A technique which now I can recognise, I can utilise on demand. As editors, we learn techniques from others whilst some come more naturally, influenced by all manner of things within and around us. These are the skills which shape us as content cutters and which fill our toolbox.

Illustration by Susan Fitzgerald