Features and Columns · Movies

Lessons in Editing: When Not to Cut

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand…wait for it….cut!
North By Northwest Editing
By  · Published on September 16th, 2020

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video that explores the benefits of holding back on over-editing.

What was it that Emperor Joseph II said in Amadeus? “Too many cuts”?

Okay, so maybe he didn’t say “cuts,” but the point stands: many films wield editing like a weed wacker. If you took a shot for every cut during a fight scene in the Bourne franchise, your liver would sue for misconduct. Heck, Moulin Rouge has so many cuts it should come with an epilepsy warning.

In the right hands, editing has its place. The Edgar Wright hands, as it were. Wright understands that quick, jarring edits are a bold tool to be deployed with care and intention. If brandished carelessly, a sudden cut can supply a quick thrill at the expense of story, continuity, and immersion. After all, film editing is all about rhythm. And just because your film has a lot of cuts doesn’t make it rhythmic, just noisy.

The trend of over-cut films likely has something to do with the increased ease of digital editing. These days, most editors aren’t slaving over a mechanical splicer. Deciding to cut is just a click away. But as the old adage goes: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. The increase in over-edited films is also symptomatic of a shifting sense of taste. Attention spans ain’t what they used to be, as it were.

This is a shame because uninterrupted shots can be a marvelous thing: an in-camera approach to perspective and storytelling. Long unedited shots suck us in. They allow us the time to see things from the lens’ perspective, to understand the rules of the film, the spatial relation of things, and the emotional storytelling that unfolds through time, not through cuts.

Below you’ll find a two-part video essay on the joy of watching unedited movement. How rich, emotional, and thrilling it can be when a film holds back on a cut.

Watch “Thank You For Not Cutting” parts 1 and 2:

Who made this?

Philip Brubaker is a nonfiction filmmaker and video essayist based in Gainesville, Florida. He has made a heck of a lot of video essays for Fandor, Vague Visages, and MUBI, in addition to short documentaries. You can browse Brubaker’s video content on his Vimeo page.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).