Controlling Time Through Editing

Devin Dyer

One of the few constants in my life is my love of film. There is something inherent in the medium that resonates with me like no other type of art can. I’ve known for most of my life that I want to be a filmmaker, and so I’ve studied how films are made all this time. What intimidates me the most about the filmmaking process is editing. To me, editing is the most crucial factor in making or breaking a movie. But, editing is strange; people always say that when it’s done right, you won’t even notice it. Unlike cinematography, acting, or sound design, editing doesn’t draw attention to itself as a rule.

Editing should feel natural—but, by natural I don’t mean realistic, I mean right; a film’s editing should feel right. The pace of each scene, the transitions from one to another, the rhythm of a conversation: so many small scenarios present in every film that need to be edited just right for the movie to be genuinely great, and it’s all that which scares me. How do you create a natural sense of how things should be on screen? How do you learn to feel what is right? The answer is time.

The heart of editing is the manipulation of time. With editing, you can turn a 30 minute morning routine into 30 seconds. With editing, you can draw a moment out and let the audience ruminate on it. With editing, you can subtly undo an audience’s sense of “real time.” Merely knowing how long something should be onscreen is nearly half the battle of editing. The other half is figuring out new ways to bend time to your will; to make a joke land the right way; to make the audience jump out of their seats; to make them swoon with infatuation; all of it comes down to a powerful manipulation of time.

If any of this interests you, or if you want to hear someone speak much more eloquently on this than I can here’s a great video.