115 shots, 151 seconds, 1 Oscar, and a masterclass in action editing.
If you listened to this week’s Shot by Shot podcast, you heard myself and Geoff Todd discussing the cinematography of George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, shot by John Seale. But in the midst of that conversation we touched for a moment on the film’s editing, which was done by Margaret Sixel, who for her efforts was awarded an Oscar. Particularly we were talking about the fight scene that occurs between Max and Furiosa the first time they encounter one another, her taking a water break with the wives after jacking a truck, and he recently-escaped from his duties as a blood bag but still muzzled and chained to Nux.
Geoff mentioned that over the course of this fight, which lasts less than three minutes of screen-time, there are more than 100 shots flickering past. He pointed out, and rightfully so I think, that this one scene best represents Sixel’s astounding abilities and an editor and storyteller. So what I decided to do was make a video, below, that counts each and every shot from that one scene, and lo and behold, Geoff was right: in 151 seconds there are 115 cuts, and their arrangement and various lengths can teach a vital lesson about action-oriented editing and visual storytelling.
There’s no consequential dialogue in this scene, only movement, but notice how that movement portrays the characters of Max, Furiosa, Nux, and the individual wives, notice how the runtime of the shots are arranged to build a pace that surges, recedes and surges again, building to its climax, and notice how though some shots are almost too quick to see, these especially still infuse tension and a sense of controlled chaos.
This is a masterclass in editing, and a testament to the skill’s narrative indispensability.