Chapter 6: The Relation of Shot to Shot (Editing)
Editing = most widely discussed film technique
Today, a typical movie has between 1,000 and 2,000 shots while an action movie has
3,000 or more.
I. What is editing?
Editing lets the filmmaker decide what shots to include and how they will be arranged
After material has been selected, the editor joins the shots, the end of one to the
beginning of the other.
Cut = most common type of join. It provides an instantaneous change from one shot to
Fade-out = gradually darkens the end of a shot to black
Fade-in = lightens a shot from black
Dissolve = briefly superimposes the end of a shot A and the beginning of shot B
Wipe = shot B replaces shot A by means of a boundary line moving across the scree
Editing allow the filmmaker to manipulate time, space and pictorial qualities in ways that
shape the viewer’s experience of the film
II. Dimensions of film editing
1. Graphic relations between shot A and shot B
Shots can display patters of light and dark, line and shape, volumes and
depths, movement and stasis.
If we put any 2 shots together, we can create some interaction between the
purely pictorial qualities of those 2 shots
Every shot provides possibilities for purely graphic editing, and every cut
creates some sort of graphic relationship between 2 shots
Graphic match = when the filmmaker links shots by close graphic
similarities (ex: shapes, colors, overall composition or movement in shot
A may be picked up in the composition of shot B)
Director usually strives to keep the main point of interest roughly constant
across the cut, to maintain the overall lighting level and to avoid strong
color clashes from shot to shot.
Usually, graphically discontinuous editing is more noticeable.
2. Rhythmic relations between shot A and shot B
Every shot is of a certain length, with its series of frames consuming a
certain amount of time on screen
A shot can be as short as a single frame or it can be thousands of frames
long -> this choice taps into the overall rhythmic potential of editing
The pattern of shot length contributes to the film’s rhythm
Flash frames = When a filmmaker cuts to a few frames of pure white (to
suggest violent impacts in action films for ex, to mark transitions between
segments, or to signal flashbacks in subjective sequences). If all the shots are the same length, then a steady beat is created. If they are
longer and longer, the rhythm slows down and if they are shorter and
shorter, the rhythm is accelerated.
By controlling editing rhythm, the filmmaker controls the amount of time
we have to grasp and reflect on what we see.
3. Spatial relations between shot A and shot B
Editing can control graphics and rhythm, but it also constructs film space
Editing permits the filmmaker to juxtapose any 2 points in space and
suggest some king of relationship between them
We can start with a shot that establishes a spatial whole and follow this
with a shot of a part of this space
Alternatively, we can construct a whole space out of component parts
Spatial manipulation is very common in film
Today’s editors alter space through intra-frame editing. Digital
filmmaking makes it easy to combine parts of different shots into a single
Elements from different shots may be blended in editing. Today, a
character can be extracted from one shot and seamlessly pasted into
The Kuleshov Effect = (Kuleshov showed the power of editing over the
viewer’s sense of space) Says that editing makes viewers assume certain
things about the actors on screen, so the cutting is what creates the
performance. In addition, the editing pattern strongly suggests the man
was reacting to nearby things that he could see.
The Kuleshov Effect refers to cutting together portions of a space in a way
that prompts the spectator to assume a spatial whole that isn’t shown
screen. Most often, this happens because the filmmaker has decided to
withhold an establishing shot.
Editing can present spatial relations as being ambiguous and uncertain.
4. Temporal relations between shot A and shot B
Editing can control the time of the action presented in the film
In a narrative film especially, editing contributes to the plot’s
manipulation of the story time
There are 3 areas in which plot time can cue the spectator to construct the
story time: order, duration and frequency.
Order: The filmmaker can control story chronology though editing
(ex: the filmmaker can create flashbacks, which can brutally
interrupt present-time action. Another option is the flash-forward,
where the editing moves from the present to a future event and
then returns to the present)
Filmmakers can use flash-forwards to tease the viewer with
glimpses of the eventual outcome of the story action.
Duration: Filmmakers use editing to alter the duration of story
events Elliptical editing = when an action consumes less time on the
screen than it does in the story time. A filmmaker can create an
ellipse in three principal ways:
1. When devices like dissolves, fades and wipes signal an ellipse
in the action (= common option before the 1960s)
2. We can use empty frames (that characters walk out and back
into) to signal an ellipse in the action
3. We can create an ellipse by means of a cutaway or insert (when
we show a character doing an action, cutaway to another
character accomplishing a task, then cut back to the first actor
finishing his initial action)
Less common are shot-changes that expand the story time. If the
action from the end of one shot is partly repeated at the beginning
of the next, we have overlapping editing (which prolongs the
action, stretching it out past its story duration. This can also stress
the significance of the moment)
Frequency: Sometimes, a filmmaker goes beyond expanding an
action to repeat it in its entirety
Graphics, rhythm, space and time are at the service of the
filmmaker through the technique of editing. They offer potentially
unlimited creative possibilities, which is to say they offer a vast
menu of choices. Most films we see make use of a particular set of
editing possibilities. This menu of choices is called continuity
III. Continuity editing
Between 1900-1910, filmmakers started trying to arrange shots so as to tell a
story clearly. They developed a new approach to editing called narrative
The continuity style aims to transmit narrative information smoothly and
clearly over a series of shots. This makes editing play a role in narration, the
moment-by-moment flow of story information.
For continuity editing, filmmakers usually keep graphic qualities roughly
continuous from shot to shot. The figures are balanced and symmetrically
deployed in the frame; the overall lighting tonality remains constant; the
action occupies the central zones of the screen
Also, the filmmakers adjust the rhythm of the cutting to the scale of the shots.
Long shots are left on the screen longer than medium shots, and medium shots
are left longer on screen than close-ups. This gives the spectator more time to
take in broader views, which contain more details. By contrast, scenes of
accelerated editing favor closer views that can be taken in quickly.
1. Spatial continuity: The 180 system
Filmmaker builds the scene’s space around what is called the axis of
action, the center line or the 180 line. This axis determines a half-circle, or 180 area, where the camera can be
placed to present the action. The filmmaker wi