Art and Craft of Editing
In a Sea of Possibilities
If you give the same footage to several people and ask them to assemble it into a sequence, you won’t end up with two sequences that are the same. Carol Littleton, who edited E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Body Heat and The Manchurian Candidate amongst others, said, when asked about this phenomenon: “I was involved in arbitrating a film credit. Two editors worked on the same material, with the same director, same shots, same script. It was interpreted by two different editors, and the two versions were radically different....actually seeing the difference was so amazing to me. The editors influence on the material was extraordinary.“ (Gabriella Oldham/ „FirstCut-Conversations with Film Editors“/2012, p 66)
Adding to this, is the difficulty that it is impossible to see in a finished movie which footage was not used, and therefore why an editing decision was made in a certain way. Other than with camera work or acting, where the result is easy to be seen and can be discussed, it is very difficult to judge editing. If the timing feels wrong or the narration doesn’t move on or stays incomprehensible, it is likely that the editing is not ideal. But still, you don’t know if the material would have allowed a better solution.
The Basis for all editing decisions is of course that there is footage. Footage that presents the same event from different perspectives. In the beginning of film history it took several years until the idea to tell stories in diverse shots came up. The following pages give a brief introduction into the history of editing films.