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Fast Cuts vs. Classical Editing

On a website I frequent (www.horror-movies.ca), MovieMaven wrote an interesting article about fast editing vs. a more classical style of editing. Many people seemed to feel that fast editing (MTV-style cutting) is just a cover-up for bad filmmaking. This is a very interesting debate and I just had to write a blog about it.

Now, for those of you who have seen my films, you may have noticed that I utilize many styles/techniques. I think of the reasoning behind the style, look, colors, camera work, acting etc. and therefore, I cannot agree or disagree with any of the opinions presented. Why? Let me break it down in real world examples…
CASE STUDY 1: ForeveR
I envisioned ForeveR as a film that was influenced off of horror films such as The Shining, The Omen, Ringu, and Kairo(Pulse). These films are more psychological with a heavy emphasis on mood and atmosphere. The creepiness tends to get under your skin and sometimes it stays with you for days.
When I first saw the house we shot ForeveR in, there was a look, an atmosphere, an aura, a mood to the entire property. Not five minutes before, we were in public, comfortable, with a feeling of safety… 100% comfort and normality. After maybe 3 minutes on the property, that feeling of normality began to drop a few percentage points. Why? I don’t know. It was the aura of the house, the creepy feeling you get that slowly works its way under your skin like a tic. That feeling that something just isn’t right… something just isn’t normal.
That’s the feeling I tried to capture & emulate… that’s the feeling I wrote the entire movie around. It only seemed right that that’s the feeling I should try to capture when shooting this movie. A slow, eerie, uncomfortable feeling that doesn’t jump at you like a cat out of a closet. It’s more like a feeling of dread, invisible danger, unsettling nerves that slowly but surely drive you mad. You begin to hear things, feel something behind you, in another room, or far away watching you. Will it reveal itself or will it just make you drive yourself nuts to the point where you scare yourself. That’s what the feeling did. That’s what it continued to do throughout the entire shoot.
So, for ForeveR, I chose a slow, graceful but eerie, well composed camera/editing style rather than a fast/aggressive style. A style that would make you wonder where the evil is, and slowly creep under your skin, driving you mad until you scare yourself. That was the goal anyway.
So you see, it was a deliberate style. I made a choice that fit what I thought was the mood of the film and stuck with it. It was planned from the beginning. It was intentional. Slow editing. Classical style.
Of course there is one scene where the edits are a little faster. If you saw the movie, you know what I’m talking about, but overall, ForeveR‘s slow editing and camera style was due to the fact that the movie was trying to capture the real life aura of the house. I wish I could bring you there to show you exactly what I mean. Seeing it on film definitely doesn’t do it justice.
CASE STUDY 2: The Final Day

The Final Day was a whole different beast entirely. The Final Day was a film made for the George Romero/Weinstein Co. Diary of the Dead DVD contest. In the rules, the films made for the contest had to emulate, parody, or compliment Diary of the Dead.
Now, originally, each one of us (Doug Frye, David R. Doumeng, and myself) wrote our own scripts. Doug and I wrote scripts which utilized the handheld, documentary, “cinema-verite” style that Diary used. Dave’s script didn’t. It had more of a traditional camera style. Dave’s script ended up being the core of the final script we ended up with. Again… it was the script without the “cinema-verite” style.
So as a director, I could have just shot the film normally. I could have shot the film in the same style with which I shot ForeveR. But then I thought about it. It would fit the contest better if it was shot handheld and sometimes a little shakier than normal – especially during the action sequences. Instead of using a steadicam or similar device and instead of using a dolly or tripod, I opted to do almost the entire film handheld in order to compliment the style in which Diary was shot in.
So instead of that very controlled camera and editing style in ForeveR, I chose to go with a handheld, almost erratic style in The Final Day… same goes for the editing at times. Now, the ending, when things seem like they’re “under control,” has a long shot of Dave coming out of the building. The mood has changed, and thus the style has changed. In order to fit the mood, the camera had to be more controlled, and so did the editing.
CONCLUSION:

So what’s the answer here? Well, as is the case many times in film… there is no one “right” way. It’s the final product that determines the look and style. I sometimes come across people who are completely against one style or another. Sometimes, filmmakers insult one style because it’s not theirs. Some say fast editing is a cover up for bad filmmaking. Other will say a more classical style is not keeping up with the times.
In my opinion, neither one of these statements are true 100% of the time. Of course, bad filmmaking can be covered up by editing (God knows I’ve done that), and maybe relying only on a classical style isn’t “keeping up with the times,” (God knows I’ve done that) but what it boils down to in the end, and this is true for ANY argument, is the story. Whether it’s arguments about format, pixels, lines of resolution, charts, graphs, color depth, film vs. digital, oysters, clams, or snails, the thing that it always boils down to is the STORY.
What’s the story I’m trying to tell?
What mood would best fit this story?
Now… what techniques should I implement to achieve this mood?
Speaking as a filmmaker, calling one style inferior to another is a detriment to your filmmaking. Learn all styles, utilize all styles, and have a damn good script. If your script is bad, most people won’t care about your style. Keep this in mind and your films will benefit from it… and more importantly, the audiences (who are dying for quality material) will benefit from it too.
Happy filmmaking!

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