Movie Mom

Movie Mom


What Does the Editor Do?

posted by Nell Minow

Ann Hornaday has a fascinating article in the Washington Post about the impact that an editor has on a film. You’ve heard the expression “the cutting room floor?” That comes from the days when film editors used real scissors and worked with the director to decide what scenes made it into the film and which were literally cut out.

But the editor does a lot more than determine which of several different takes will go into the final film. The editor shapes the story and gives it its rhythm and tone. The editor is the one who remembers what the audience knows and does not know. Hornaday writes about the way that editors inserted crucial information to help audiences follow the story that would not even register if you asked them afterward. Indeed, while some editing is flashy, even intrusive, the best editing registers only subliminally.

When Julia Roberts is trying to steal a top-secret medical formula in the crafty, corporate-espionage caper “Duplicity,” the audience needs to know why she’s suddenly on a different floor of a warrenlike office building. Hence, a brief shot of her running down some stairs.

That shot was requested by the film’s editor, John Gilroy, who also edited “Michael Clayton” (both films were written and directed by his brother Tony). It’s not uncommon, he says, for him to request certain scenes in the course of filming. “We’re always finding out what we need, and sort of embellishing and embroidering as we go along.”

What makes this article worthwhile is the specific examples, from legendary movie moments like the bravura single shot swooping into the nightclub in “Goodfellas” to the small, unobtrusive techniques that are as essential to movie story-telling as the performances and the script. The technology has transformed editing and scissors have given way to computers. But whether we notice the cuts or not, the role of the editor continues to be one of the most important and understanding what a difference that makes enriches our appreciation of film.

Those who want to learn more about the art of movie editing should read When The Shooting Stops … The Cutting Begins: A Film Editor’s Story by Ralph Rosenblum, a superb book with an illuminating discussion of how “Annie Hall’s” out-of-order structure made it so poignant and powerful.



  • jestrfyl

    One of the best edited sequences, which also illustrates the amazing art that is editing, is a dance sequence from “Fame”. The fun, energy, and emotional impact of the movie, the school, the actors, and “the students” all shows through brilliantly. (I truly doubt the remake will be up to the standard set by the original – largely in part because of the superb editing.) When I was into broadcasting (I have my BA in it) I thought the most critical task was the editors – it could make or flambe the shortest fluff piece or the longest serious journalism.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    A great example! The best editing is often very subtle but sometimes flashy editing can be thrilling!

Previous Posts

Wrong About Critics, Wrong About Movies, Wrong About Faith
I am not going to give the people behind the idiotic and offensive press release I recently received the recognition of identifying them by name, but the claim that they make is one I have heard often enough I need to respond. The headline: Film Critics Don't Get Faith Films. This is idiotic and off

posted 2:36:30pm Oct. 20, 2014 | read full post »

Disney Announced a New Animated Film for 2016: Moana
Entertainment Weekly reports that Disney has announced a new animated feature to be released in 2016: "Moana," with a Polynesian heroine in search of a fabled island. With Disney greats Ron Clements

posted 1:59:28pm Oct. 20, 2014 | read full post »

Manners at the Movie Theater
Here's a cute reminder on movie theater manners. [iframe width="560" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/Dz5Qwd93VpE?rel=0" frameborder="0"]

posted 8:00:38am Oct. 20, 2014 | read full post »

Interview: Ted Melfi of "St. Vincent"
Writer/director Ted Melfi got Bill Murray to appear in his first film by calling him. Murray does not have an agent or a manager. He has an 800 number. And Melfi left message after message until Murray finally called back and asked Melfi to pick him up at the airport. Apparently his pitch skills (an

posted 12:55:48pm Oct. 19, 2014 | read full post »

What Do Critics Think About Watching Film That Is Not What the Makers Intended?
Thanks to Indiewire for including me in their survey of critics about how important it is to watch a movie as it was filmed. If it was made on film stock, is it unfair to the artists' vision to watch a digital version? Here was my answer: [caption id="attachment_30587" align="alignright" widt

posted 8:00:39am Oct. 19, 2014 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.