11 Rules of Film Editing
When you ask experienced video editors how to cut a shot, they will answer that they feel it. There is some truth in that, but here are some basic rules of video editing (and not so basic) that will help you “feel” the right time to cut a shot. These are very technical and simple rules for video editing that will make your editing a lot better.
So here we go:
- Know your digital video editing software – Become familiar with your video editing software. Know its tricks! The goal is not only to know how to cut the shots together but also to do it in an easy and fast way and to solve any problem you encounter with the footage you get. Knowledge of the editing software tools will help you do just that.
- Keep Continuity – I’m talking about continuity between the shot and the one after it. You can read more about continuity in the article – Continuity editing, but to help you understand, let’s say we connect a shot where the character lit a candle and then on the next shot, the character is holding the candle when it’s already half-melted. This discontinuity may jump to the eye of the viewer.
It may look like something that you can’t fix as an editor. They should have paid more attention in the shooting, right? Well, I suppose you might be wrong. As a video editor, your director and producer might expect you to fix stuff like that, and sometimes there are ways to do that. In our example, if you must connect the whole candle shot with the shot where the candle has been melted, try to push as many shots between them as possible, maybe some extreme close-ups on the faces or the hands so that the-the viewer will forget the size of the original candle. Sometimes it will be the small changes that the viewer will not notice right away, but he will feel something is wrong and won’t know why.
3. Cut in action – A great trick in digital video editing to soften the cuts is to Cut in action, but it should be planned during the shooting. Cut in action means cutting a shot in the middle of an action and continuing the action from a different angle. If a character gets up from the chair, we can shoot him to get up from a long shot angle and then continue on another angle, maybe a closer one. For this to work, the character has to perform the action in different angles, a.nd there should be at a different angle of at least 30 degrees in their direction.
4. The 30 degrees Law – I’ve talked about it in the article Basic camera angles & movements in film, but I’ll repeat it here quick. Do not try to connect two different angles. If their positions are less than 30 degrees from one another, it will not work even if it’s from Close-Up to Longshot. They look too much alike.
5. Let The Character in – Another nice trick is to start on an empty frame and let the character enter into the frame. Also, if a character in the frame walks out, you should let the character get out of the frame entirely until you move to the next shot.
6. Cutting in the middle of camera movement – If the camera Tilts UP or turns in a Pan, let the camera finish the movement and even wait for half a second after it finishes. Please do not cut it in the middle of the movement! The same when entering a shot with camera movement. It would help if you started it about half a second before the camera movement.
7. Finish the action – Let the actor finish the action before cutting to the next shot (unless you are making a “cut in action”). When we cut in the middle of an operation, we feel that something is wrong with the connection of the shots.
Usually, the actor doesn’t do the same action in the two takes taken from the two different shots.
8. Look at the actor’s eyes – The next rule required some personal touch in it. It’s not a law you can follow blindly without using your instincts. I got this tip from In The Blink Of An Eye, a very recommended book by Walter Murch, an academy award-winning film editor. The trick here is to look at the actor’s eye to understand when he finished delivering his emotion—this kind of cutting by bits. It can be an excellent time to cut when you see the actor change his eye direction or maybe even blink. You’ll be amazed at how emotions can be expressed by simply blinking.
9. Be orginized – Video editing is all about being organized. It would be best to pull out shots and effects quickly to see what every option will look like easily. Just imagine how it would be if every time you’ll want to try something, you’ll find yourself spending around 20 minutes on finding a shot.
10. Close up video editing – Close-up is really cool shot to use in your editing. You can use it as a transition to the next scene. You can use it to cover discontinuity as we talked about before and you can also use it to built tension. To read more about the use of close-ups, read our article about the different types of shots in the film
11. Provide more Information – This is the most important one. A shot always has to provide more information. If the next shot will not provide any new information, why did you cut to it? The video editor should always ask himself what the audience needs to see right now and what he wants to see next?
You’ll have to remember that these rules are for smooth classic video editing. Sometimes that is not what the scene needs, but even when you want to bring a jumpy atmosphere to the scene, You should know these rules so you can break them:
Please watch what we’ve talked about in this fight scene from Raging Bull: