As an editor I tend to watch film and television a bit different than most. The editor brain in me starts to watch the edit instead of the film, yes it drives my wife nuts!! But recently this film watching flaw of mine noticed something. As editors we might want to consider cutting the cutting!!
Let me explain what I mean. I watch a lot of independent low budget stuff as that’s the world I live in when it comes to narrative. And the one thing I have noticed on a lot of these films is that many scenes are entirely too full of cuts. A shot rarely hangs on for more that a few seconds and then its off to the next angle. Now admittedly with low budget there is often a need for more cuts as many times we’re tying to piece together a performance. This is an inherent part of low budget since we’re many times working with talent that are still honing their craft. But I also think that the advent of digital filmmaking has compounded this addiction to cutting. In the days of film stock the economics forced minimalistic shooting. In contrast these days we roll multiple cameras multiple times and have more angles of coverage than we know what to do with. After all bits and bytes cost nothing and hard drives are cheap. With all this coverage it’s tempting for an editor, or director, to use it all. This all leads to what in my opinion is just to much! When we use so many cuts and angles of coverage then none of them become important anymore. They all become just another cut.
It’s human nature to value things more when they’re scarce. The less of it there is the more valuable it becomes, the more we’ll desire it. We can’t help it, the caveman and cavewoman parts of our brain dictate this. So I would suggest that as editors we look at our cutting differently. I would propose that we become more greedy over our cutting. WE control the availability of cuts in a film, therefore WE control their value. In the film you’re cutting think of yourself as the Jon D Rockefeller or JP Morgan of cuts. The robber baron that controls their value. And valuable cuts are… well… VALUABLE!!! And here’s why.
Our job as an editor is to shape a scene to that one most important moment. And if you have enforced an embargo on cuts the cut becomes a valuable tool for you to do just that. Holding on that wide shot longer makes that moment that you cut to the close up much more powerful. If you let that 2 shot play just a little too long, then cutting to the OTS forces the caveman/cavewoman brain to pay attention! You controlling bastard you!!!
If you think I am on to something here I would suggest you do this. Fire up your Netflix account and roll back the time machine to anything pre 1970’s. I would suggest TV shows over films as they had even less budget which means even less coverage. If you want a suggestion I would point you towards the Andy Griffith show, or Twilight Zone. Watch a few episodes with an eye for how often they cut. I think you’ll be surprised at the amount of glorious 2 shots you’ll see that just play out forever.