Previously – miles of footage, scissors and a magnifying glass. Now – computers and software. Since the introduction of digital technology film editing has never been as easy and convenient. What used to be associated with hours spent in an edit room cutting bits of film apart and splicing them together is no longer a risky, expensive and time-consuming process. In the era, a person dealing with the footage could even get their fingertips bloody from repetitively cutting footage, whereas ‘now it’s just pressing little buttons’ says Martin Scorsese in Side By Side. Also, it was not just as simple as making a cut when one thinks it’s necessary. Every choice had to be thought through and the numbers did not help with that. According to Walter Murch, ‘a scene made up of only twenty-five shots can be edited in approximately 39,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999 different ways. In miles, this is twenty-five times the circumference of the observable universe.’ That alone shows how intuitive the work of an editor had to be in the pre-digital era. Moreover, the fact that re-printing footage meant additional costs, there was not that much room for error, which makes every decision about when to cut even harder for the editor.
Electronic, non-linear editing, on the other hand, allowed filmmakers to quickly revert the changes without damaging the footage, which gives a lot more freedom when dealing with such a huge number of possible edits. Even though in most of the cases it seems to be an advantage, some widely known directors such as Steven Spielberg, David Lynch or Alan Parker still remain sceptical about it and prefer to do it the old-school way. However, there is also Walter Murch, who is an example of a highly accomplished editor, who easily transitioned from the traditional methods and started editing his work on Final Cut. The theorist David Bordwell explains some of the reasons why people stick to the old-school way. ‘By cutting on computer, filmmakers can easily shave shots frame by frame, a process known as frame-fucking. (…) Frame-fucking is one reason why some action sequences don’t read well on the big screen’. Later on he brings up the example of Michael Bay’s The Rock, where the car chase edited on computer did not look as good as expected while screened and he ended up having to cut the scene again. Another result of filmmakers having access to digital technology is the use of extremely long tracking shots which makes editing pretty much invisible. The beginning of Snake Eyes seems to be a perfect example of that. ‘De Palma used digital effects to blend several takes into the seamless 13-minute shot’ says Bordwell in ‘The Way Hollywood Tells It’.
Nowadays, depending on the filmmakers stylistic choice, visual effects are used to create unreal objects, creatures or impossible to shoot action sequences as well as to imitate reality. A lot of the time a person might be watching something that looks like it was set in the real world, not even knowing that it’s a computer generated environment. A useful example of a film which pushes artifice is Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. Since the aim of the film is to pictorialize the tale written by J.R.R Tolkien, the vast majority of the film is created with the use of technology. Jackson does an outstanding job in constructing the imaginary world of the Middle Earth and its inhabitants. ‘In this case, artifice contributes powerfully to the audience experience’ sums up Ken Dancyger.
As an opposite to that, it is worth to mention Thomas Vinterberg and his film Festen (The Celebration) who as a member of the Dogme movement seems to effectively pursue realism in a variety of ways. The film was shot using handheld camera, completely without the use of artificial lighting or sound. What is also noticeable is the style of editing which also serves the meaning of the film. Vinterberg uses quite a lot of jump cuts to demonstrate how unorganised the lives of the siblings are. ‘The stillness of the camera and the longer takes illustrate the cold-bloodedness of a patriarch who continually raped his twins when they were children’. It is hard to disagree that this approach to editing The Celebration made the film look almost like footage from a hidden camera or a documentary, which serves the aim of pushing reality very well in this case.
Even though digital technology has massively improved the editing experience and the craft overall, it is noticeable that some genres have benefited from that more than others. Computer generated images contributed to the growth of science-fiction, fantasy and purely action based films since these genres mainly seem to be based around pushing the artifice and creating a spectacle. On the other hand, CGI did not change that much in realist filmmaking. While it is not as commonly used in that area (usually only to enhance a piece in some moments), some of the directors prefer not to use them at all, as a response to the industry relying too much on the technology instead of focusing on the actual story. To summarise, there is no doubt that digital technology helped remove most of the downsides associated with editing on film and made the life of an editor much easier. Moreover, it also serves as a powerful tool in post-production that helps the filmmaker express himself in a more effective, visually appealing way.
Bordwell, David. The Way Hollywood Tells It (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2006), 154-155.
Dancyger, Ken. The Technique of Film & Video Editing. (London: Focal Press, 2011), 236-237.
Festen. DVD. Directed by Thomas Vinterberg (Denmark: Nimbus Film, 1998).
Lord of the Rings. DVD. Directed by Peter Jackson (The United States: New Line Cinema, 2012).
Murch, Walter. In the Blink of an Eye: a Perspective on Film Editing. (Los Angeles: Silman-James Press, 2001), 78-81.
Scorsese, Martin. Side By Side. DVD. Directed by Christopher Kenneally (The United States: Company Films, 2012).
 Scorsese, Martin. Side By Side. DVD. Directed by Christopher Kenneally (The United States: Company Films, 2012).
 Murch, Walter. In the Blink of an Eye: a Perspective on Film Editing. (Los Angeles: Silman-James Press, 2001), 78-81.
 Bordwell, David. The Way Hollywood Tells It (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2006), 154-155.
 Bordwell, The Way Hollywood Tells It, 135.
 Lord of the Rings. DVD. Directed by Peter Jackson (The United States: New Line Cinema, 2012).
 Dancyger, Ken. The Technique of Film & Video Editing. (London: Focal Press, 2011), 236-237.
 Festen. DVD. Directed by Thomas Vinterberg (Denmark: Nimbus Film, 1998).
 Dancyger. The Technique of Film & Video Editing, 238.