Theory: Editing

Updated: Apr 20, 2019

This post is about the whens and whys of editing. If you haven't seen the Theory Vs Technical post, you should. This post currates the best videos and resources we've found for editing theory. Some repeat each other, but I wouldn't put them here if it wasn't beneficial to you. The best part about it, instead of sitting through months of lectures about this stuff, it's right here. Same stuff I learned.


Before we begin, I have to add this in. the word "edit" has many definitions. The word can have three major meanings when talking about film editing, all of which I refer to often.

1. The timeline, the physical file it takes up on your hard drive or the video itself:

"I let the client take a look at the edit today, they liked it"


2. The act of editing itself.

"I'm so tired of editing this commercial"


3. A cut. The most basic cut, just down the middle, cut the film in half, add another shot behind it. That's an edit.

"Hey, if you move trim this edit back three frames earlier, the match cut will work better"


Now that that is out of the way, here are some of the 6 rules of editing, made famous by Walter Murch, as explained by Adam Epstein.

(Adam Epstein also has a paid online editing course for you to take a look at if you so desire)

I don't necessarily disagree with some of the rules, but 4, 5 and 6 are also definitely the DP's job. Eye trace is something that should be planned in pre-pro, as well as that being the DP's job, it can maybe even the set designer's. Again, this should be thought of in pre-pro not made in post. Same with planning the 180 rule and whether or not to break it.

As an editor, you're given the footage, it's not like you're filming it as well. If you are a director who is editing, you need to stop. Editors need to be the least-attached to the film. Directors and DPs love all of the footage they shoot (as evidenced by Quentin Tarantino in our Directors Talk About Editing post), they want to include it all, they are in love with the story. Editors shouldn't care. As an editor, you need to be subjective. The BEST example of why an editor needs to be subjective and not attached to the film comes from the post production story of a little indie film called Star Wars: A New Hope.

Going back to the 6 rules of editing, eye tracking, the fourth rule, is actually really f*cking cool. Tim Smith and David Boardwell are some of the major pioneers in studying eye tracking. Smith has even written a journal paper about the subject. It's fascinating. I've added some of their work below.


Here are some more links about eye tracing:

  1. http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2011/02/14/watching-you-watch-there-will-be-blood/

  2. https://thediemproject.wordpress.com/

  3. https://www.tested.com/tech/1851-how-filmmakers-manipulate-you-by-tracking-your-gaze/

As well as the link to the DIAM Project's Vimeo page.


The most fundamental part about editing is cutting. Without cutting, there is no editing, it's just a long take. Different cuts can do different things, and so Rocket Jump has compiled lots of examples of them into one video.

To piggyback off of the 6 rules, Rule number 3, Rhythm involves cutting. Some people call it pacing, they're the same thing. Cutting is a powerful tool when it correlates to rhythm or pacing. Different cuts affect rhythm, a simple edit (the most basic cut, from one shot to the next) is fast, it requires precision. When working with music videos, its standard to cut on a beat. Cross fades are long, they affect the rhythm of the edit by slowing it down.

What about when you don't cut at all? What about cutting early? I'm glad you asked.

For now, that's all we have, feel free to comment other things you want to know about editing theory, We'll update this page as we find more sources. For a better understanding or editing, I suggest taking a trip down to our post about The History of Editing as well as our post about Directors Talk About Editing!


#HowToEdit #Editing #Edit #Filmmaking #Theory

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