Development of Editing

Editing is the process of cutting and rearranging a film sequence to make sense and to keep the audience interested, editing has changed hugely since the beginning of editing in the late 1800s. Editing is one of the most crucial elements in the process of film production, the way a film is edited can have a huge impact on how a film is received and the message that it gives. This essay will discuss the history of editing and the development of editing from the beginning of editing in the 1890s to present. This essay will also explore the different methods of editing and the different styles of editing used.

Early films were short films that were one long static shot, to keep the audience interested motion such as traffic moving on a street. There was no narrative and no editing, films would run as long as there was film in the camera. The Lumiere brothers were early pioneers of film making, they invented the cinematographer, an early form of film camera in 1895. At this time in filming editing was done during filming as the film maker would just stop cranking the camera, therefore stopping the filming and allowing cuts to be made. An early example of this is Thomas Edison’s “The Execution of Mary Queen of Scots” in 1895. In 1899 George Melies shot the Conjuror which uses early editing techniques to create illusions and to trick the audience. Also during 1899,  Thomas Edison’s company invented the Kinetoscope and Kinetograph. The Kinetoscope was designed for films to be viewed by one person at a time through a  window at the top of the device.

DW Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” was released in 1915 this is thought to be the first film to use seamless and non-linear editing. During the earlier years of editing linear editing was seen as the only way to edit due to stop cranking and splicing being the only known methods of editing. Splicing was and editing method used where the film would physically be cut and taped back together. DW Griffith is credited with pioneering a variety of shots which include a close up, extreme long shot tracking shots. “The Birth of a Nation” earned DW Griffith the nickname “The Father of Film”. Non-linear editing became more frequently used in film especially in the 1990s and is still used today.

Sergei Eisenstein created five different methods of montage which are “metric montage” which is when shots are cut at an equal length which therefore increases tension with the use of close ups and shorter sequences. The second montage is “rhythmic” which is when the shots are cut to certain timings. This is a very different style to metric as it focuses on what is on the screen.. The third style is “tonal montage”  which is based on the emotions of the scene and edited to enhance those emotions. “Over tonal montage” is the fourth one and it is when elements of all three montages are used.. The last montage is “intellectual montage” which is when a metaphorical meaning is created through the shots.

Lev Kuleshov was the first known person to apply montage to film. He experimented by filming an actors expression and then showing him reacting to different images which included a bowl of soup, a child in a coffin and an attractive woman. The clip of the actor was exactly the same throughout which proved that the same shot can have different meaning in film depending on the shot that is used after and the tone of the film.

Analogue editing is when the film is given to an editor who would then hand-edit the footage.Splicing would often be used as this was seen as the best method of editing, However, technology has advanced and digital editing is now much more popular. This is done using editing programmes such as Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere Pro and Avid. The footage would be stored on a digital storage device such as an SD Card or a USB. Both methods of editing work perfectly for the times they were used.

There are three stages to editing a film which help create and improve the final product that will be released to the public. The first stage, the Editors Cut, is also known as the “rough cut” and is used to get an idea of the feel of the film and the director’s early vision of the film. The editors cut is almost always longer than the final cut as the director will decide which scenes to cut and which to keep with run time stated for the film at this point.

The second stage to the editing process is known as the Directors Cut. Once the film production is completed, the director will give their full attention to the editing of the final film. The director will work closely with the editor to improve the editors cut and make it look like the directors vision of the film. As in the editors the director will work closely with the editor or editing team to reorder and replace scenes and shots.

The final stage of the editing process is named the Final Cut. This stage takes place after all of the other edits have been finished and director is happy with the footage he has and no re-shoots are required. However, in this stage the director also works with the producer from the studio that is producing the film this is to ensure the final film is of the standard it is expected to be, and the director and studio’s vision are the same for the film. In some instances where the director and the studio disagree on how a film has been edited, the director may disown the film. This then leads to the studio crediting the film to “Alan Smithee” an fictitious name used to show the director has disowned a film.

Image result for 180 degree rule

When a film is edited, it is hugely important that the editing follows certain rules to keep the audience interested and not confused. One way of doing this is by following the 180°rule, which states that each shot taken must stay on the same side of two characters for continuity and to not confuse the audience. This rule does not only apply to the cameramen when shooting, but also to the editors as they also have to make sure not to break the 180 degree rule when editing..The diagram I have included above shows how the 180 degree rule works and where to film from and where not to. Sometimes for creative purposes this rule is broken, however as soon as this rule is broken the shot becomes a reverse angle so it can be quite confusing for the audience.In most cases the rule is broken to show disorientation or confusion, such as in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”.

The 30-degree rule is a film editing guideline that states the camera should move at least 30 degrees between shots of the same subject occurring in succession. the 30 degree rule is an effective way of turning a boring scene; into a tension building scene where the camera is able to focus heavily on the facial expressions of the character.

Hard Cut-A hard cut is a cut with no transition or specific editing, this is used when an editor wants to jump from one shot to another.

Jump Cut-A jump cut is a technique that allows an editor to jump forward in time. An example of this is this clip from Little Shop of Horrors.


L cut-An L cut is where audio from the previous shot can still be hard although we have moved on to another shot.

J cut- A J cut is the exact opposite of an L cut so we hear the audio of a scene before it happens.

Cut on Action-Cutting on action is when the editor cuts from one shot to another and matches the action of the shots to create a better flow from shot to shot. An example of this is from the Matrix.

Cutaways-Cutaways are used to move to another location outside of the environment of the previous scene. This is usually used to move the story along. An example of this is from a ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’.

Cross Cut-The technique of the cross-cut, is where you cut between two different scenes that are happening at the same time in different environments. When done effectively you can tell two stories at once and the information being given to the audience will make complete sense. An example of this is from Anchorman which shows cross cuts from one character to another while they are on the phone to each other.