What makes a great movie? Is it the writing, cinematography, music, or perhaps, the editing? Editing is a huge component of great film making that is often overlooked by general audiences. In reality, editing plays a central part in making a movie good, or if done wrong, bad.
The editor’s job in a movie occurs during the post-production phase, meaning that the filming is already finished. The editor is responsible for putting the separate movie clips together, add visual and audio effects, and add the music. The editor is perhaps the person most responsible for what the audience sees in the final film and can effect how the audience feels about what they see on the screen.
The importance of the editor was first demonstrated by filmmaker Lev Kuleshov in the early part of the 20th century. He demonstrated that viewers derive more meaning from the interaction of two sequential shots than from a single shot in isolation, and that how they felt about a particular shot could be influenced tremendously by the shot preceding and following. Kuleshov edited a short film in which a shot of the expressionless face of an actor was alternated with various other shots -a plate of soup, a girl in a coffin, a woman on a divan. Each short film was then shown to an audience. The audience was then asked what the expression on the actors face was.
Each audience believed that the expression on the actor’s face was different. The audience who saw him “looking” at soup said he was hungry. The audience who saw him “looking” at the girl in the coffin said he was grief stricken. The audience who saw him “looking” at the woman on the divan claimed actor’s expression was filled with desire. The footage of the actor was actually the same shot each time. The only thing that changed was the editing.
One recent example of flawless editing comes from 2019’s Oscar-winning film, 1917. The editors on this film worked tirelessly to edit the film to appear as if it was one, continuous shot. This technique was also used in 2014’s Birdman, which also opened to critical acclaim.
Next time you sit down to enjoy the latest Marvel film or Netflix original, just remember, if not for film editors, you would not feel the way you do about the film, the characters, or the the story. The value of good editing in film is immeasurable, as our favorite movies would not be nearly as enjoyable without the impressive visual effects, audio effects, and splicing done by the hardworking editors who go unnoticed by most audiences.