The History of Editing

Updated: May 5, 2019

So the history of editing is something that isn't as old as motion pictures. That's because back when motion pictures were invented, most films were one take, just footage. Small little side show acts, nickelodeons, one shot gimmicky stuff. There was no narrative.


To preface, a lot of these rehash the same details. I Still suggest watching all of them because they all have their own unique elements and bits of different information to learn. Specifically, their take on what defines an edit.


These first two videos are especially interesting (I prefer the first one I've linked, "Crash Course: Know Your Film Editing History")

I have a small little issue with this video, a very minor disagreement (which is a little subjective on my end). I know they're specifically talking about continuity editing (taking different but similar shots, ie. a Two shot and cutting it with a medium shot and a close up of the characters) at this point, but I still feel the need to interject. At about the 2:46 mark, Tyler Danna, the guy on the left says,

"There was no understanding that you could actually create the story through the editing. And that's what editing is, people overlook that. They think it's 'Ohh, you get someone to cut it together.' It's not a cutting thing, it's creating a story."

No, I think it absolutely is a cutting thing. Danna uses Georges Méliès' A Trip To The Moon as an example of how old films didn't employ continuity editing because everything was a master shot, everything was filmed from head to toe. And while that is true A Trip To The Moon is chock full of "editing". The substitution splice, which is very similar to a jump cut, is used heavily in the movie. There's even some color correction! I mean, very primitive CC that involved drawing on the physical film, but still!


Also, as Quentin Tarantino says in the Directors Talk About Editing post we made, the location of the cut, even a few frames off is the difference between a sour note and a sweet one.


I wanted to throw that in there since we're talking about the history of editing and not just continuity editing.

Did you notice the differences between the last two videos? Again, I know that the This Guy Edits' video was talking about continuity editing but Filmmaker IQ brings up interesting points about editing in general. I tend to agree. Although some effects were done in-camera, fade ins, fade outs, multiple exposures like that of The Four Troublesome Heads, does that not also count as editing? Even if they're in-camera effects? Think about it, you can use graduated filters on the front of your camera lens to do different effects, darken the sky so it doesn't over expose, change it's color, etc, does that count as color correction? Okay, maybe not using filters, but it's an interesting thing to think about... Especially when you look at one of the greatest movie intros of all time, which the titles were done in-camera:

So do those title effects count as cinematography or editing?

What about in Star Wars? The intro title crawl was done in-camera as well... is that editing? I mean they were edited to be slightly different in their final context, so I guess so? But I don't know. I'm just some guy on the internet.



Soviet Montage Editing




French New Wave



Transition to Digital Editing


I'll be honest, this section isn't that important. You really need to study the Soviet Montage editing styles and the French New Wave style of editing as an editor. You'll notice that in the last video, everyone talks about the French New Wave. Not a lot of people care about editing making the switch from analog (film and tape) to digital editing machines. Take a look at Spielberg talking about it:

This switch seems, just like the rest of the innovations in editing, subjective. Everything is subjective. It's all about how you want your edit to feel. If you think that your film is going to be more pure and loved if you edit by physically cutting the film, do it! If you don't think it matters, transfer it and edit it on a computer.


Adobe put together this great little infographic that shows the evolution of editing equipment.

I do suggest watching the rest of these videos for the sake of knowing where you came from, you can follow along with this infographic as well. Anyways, here's Linus mispronouncing a lot of things while explaining a brief recap of the other stuff you've watched AND a brief history of digital editing:


Honestly, these next videos you don't have to watch, it's less important, Linus did a great crash course on it, there isn't much more to talk about BUT I still encourage you to watch these final videos for the sake of learning where you came from and what not.


Again, you don't have to, but it's encouraged.



#HowToEdit #Editing #Edit #History #Filmmaking

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