Life Lessons From The Cutting Room Floor

May 14, 2009

Hal Ashby, one of the great but underrated Hollywood editors described the art and craft of editing as “…the perfect place to examine everything…everything is channeled down into that strip of film, from the writing to how it’s staged, to the director and the actors. And you have the chance to run it back and forth a lot of times, and ask questions of it – why do I like this? Why don’t I like this?”. Editing in Ashby’s broad definition, is the process of subjective scrutiny coupled with the potential to sculpt narrative arc, to forge a coherent path through a story; the editor acts as an unseen storyteller with the final elements of a film’s production at their fingertips. To put it more succinctly, Walter Murch, editor (and sound designer) for Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation and Apocalypse Now once proclaimed that “editing could just as easily be called film construction”. Edits should be subtle or invisible: perfect links in stories without ever drawing attention to themselves. There are exceptions of course: Ray Lovejoy’s (or possibly Kubrick’s) famous jump-cut from prehistoric man’s first piece of technology to the grand technology of space travel in 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Hugh A. Robertson’s stylish editing on Midnight Cowboy.

The point is, everything needs an edit. We edit our lives all the time. We edit what we say before we say it. Some people are better at that than others. A good edit is important. Online, where many things are perpetually in “beta”, where many things are apparently just a stream of consciousness; where newspaper clippings are riddled with typos, blogs have unchecked facts and photographs are emptied off a camera onto Flickr, is the art of reviewing, editing and crafting finished works under threat in an attempt to keep up with the pace?

I wonder because I’m prone to haste and impatience myself. Generally getting something finished is such a painful process – putting the “final touches” to something. But that’s probably why its the most important part of doing anything. Its the stage of creating something I should make more time for but never seem to. The perfect place to examine everything, the chance to run it back and forth and ask questions.


3 Responses to “Life Lessons From The Cutting Room Floor”

  1. DocDelete Says:

    This resonates with a column I read in the local rag yesterday. Local tech journo Dave Pinwell states his supports for the Universal Services Directive in the EU. The Directive allegedly brings the opportunity for ISPs to restrict or charge for content in whatever manner they choose.

    In his text, Dave tells us that the overwhelming voice of Net Neutrality has rallied against this, citing the Directive as a blow against the freedom of speech. However, Dave’s point is this, “It strikes me, though, that there is too much freedom of expression on the Net and it is too easy to put any content whatsoever out there. Good quality, reliable web sites have revolutionised our lives, but the Net is also a junkyard for bad quality information and unsavoury taste.”

    Unsavoury taste? Well, that’s subjective and beyond the remit of this discussion. However, the notion that the net is a junkyard can bear some scrutiny. While I’m not sure that Dave Pinwell has got his finger on the public pulse, he makes a fair point about the sheer chaff that exists online.

    Perpetual beta: yes, and this is swept up by the web2.0 mode of operation. Collaborative working is fine, but opening the curtain while the actors are still putting on slap is probably a bad thing.

    Any artist will struggle with the balance between spontaneity and presentable finish. Knowing where to stop fiddling is a skill in itself – a skill that impatience seems to have reduced to an act of premature ejaculation.

    The human race is in the process of creating information at an alarming rate. We have a duty of care to husband that information for posterity. I fear, however, that it’s in our nature to be wasteful in all things, unless threatened to do otherwise.

    The USD, to work, needs the information equivalent of Climate Change to be accepted.

  2. max Says:

    My life is generally in beta. Online it’s more polished, if anything; interaction is asynchronous or not at all, so it’s far easier to present yourself as you’d wish. For example, a friend of mine used to deliberately ‘tousle’ his emails to give them that dashed-off veneer, just like *actually speaking to someone* …

    • matski Says:

      Email is an interesting one when it comes to the edit. I know I like to re-read my own emails before sending, capitalise, be grammatically correct; sometimes I feel like I am attempting to write a chapter from a Victorian novel. And yet, amongst many different styles, I receive emails the complete opposite of my own: all lowercase, spelled wrong and written in some kind of babble; appearing to be what someone was thinking rather than what they wanted to communicate.

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