The Magic of Editing


Photography by Dylan Hornsby, October 2016

Media consumers will often only see the finished product of a film or a video. They never get to see the changes and/or decisions made to get it to that final product. Most don’t know about the work/the effort/the magic that goes on behind the scenes – expect for me because I’m a fan of breakdown videos, film trivia and an editor myself.

I have always been a strong believer that editing is truly where the magic happens in video production. It is where changes can be made to elements such as story, tone, context, duration, visuals and so much more for better or for worse. Sometimes it is very obvious where an edit has been made but the magic happens when people don’t notice what you have done…

Here are a couple of examples of some VFX breakdowns that I have done with some subtle changes that people would not pick up on:

The above two videos show the subtle transformation of visuals through effects to enhance the image and change tone. However, they perhaps don’t do a good job of demonstrating how editing can transform story. Maybe one day I will breakdown a short film or a web series episode to explain this but for now let’s look at Star Wars. I’m assuming that there are not a lot of people who know about the first ever cut of Star Wars… let’s just say it was not very good. In fact, I would say it was worse than the changes Lucas made in 1997 and 2004 #HanShotFirst.

In short, the first cut of Star Wars was confusing and bounced all over the place (sounds like the prequels) and frankly without the improvements made in editing it may not be the film that spawned a franchise. The video essay below by RocketJump tells the story of ‘How Star Wars was saved in the edit‘ and the significant changes that made Star Wars what we know it to be today.

It is clear from this video essay how editing can completely change and shape a story. In addition, it demonstrates how cutting and rearranging shots/scenes can affect pacing, character development, understanding and plot structure. Even the reaction shots of R2-D2 showcase one of the finest tools that an editor has – the ability to seamlessly hide cuts. Therefore, it shouldn’t be a surprise Star Wars won an Oscar for Best Editing with the exceptional work that was done after the principle photography.

Obviously not everything can be “fixed in post” but magic can happen. Fixes can be done and band-aids can be applied. Through editing we can achieve things that we otherwise could not have had achieved. It can even make people say things they weren’t even saying…


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