Sidney Lumet on Editing

I was going through my notes as I work on editing The Deadline and I found this quote:

In music, everything from a sonata to a symphony uses changes in tempo as a basic part of its form. Typically, a four-movement sonata will change not only its musical themes in each movement, but also its temo in each movement and sometimes even within each movement.

Similarly, if a picture is edited in the same tempo for its entire length, it will feel much longer. It doesn’t matter if five cuts per minute or five cuts every ten minutes are being used. If the same pace is maintained throughout, it will start to feel slower and slower. In other words, it’s the change in tempo that we feel, not the tempo itself.

Quoted from from Sidney Lumet’s Making Movies.

I read this and thought about how I cut Words Fail Me and realized that I used jump cuts (LOTS OF JUMP CUTS) to speed things up and now I realize that by making (most of) the episodes move so quickly without changes in tempo, I was actually making it feel slower.

With The Deadline, I’ve been using tempo changes more effectively (I think) and taking Lumet’s advice in conjunction with Walter Murch’s advice to cut on changes in emotion/thought (and his Rule of Six), I’ve at least got a better approach to how I edit, as opposed to just winging it.

Feedback in the editing process

I like to get feedback on my work throughout the writing process, by doing readings (in front of audiences of other writers or live audiences, depending on what stage the script is in) and I started getting feedback on my rough cuts when I did Words Fail Me last year. Last weekend, I had six friends come over and we watched the latest version of the rough cut of The Deadline.

I prefer to do the screening in my apartment because then people will actually sit there and watch without distraction–it’s hard to sit through a short film when you’re home alone and your phone is beckoning to distract you (at least it is for me).

I thought it was going to take about an hour — 15 minutes to watch it and 45 minutes to discuss, but we ended up talking for about 2 hours. The feedback was really great and it allowed me to see things that were in front of me but had become invisible through repetition. And there were a couple of beats that I loved but everyone said that they should be cut. It’s heartbreaking because I really loved those parts, but they just didn’t work for the story.

And there were some notes that I will not be using. I think you shouldn’t take everything, otherwise people will feel too much responsibility when they give a note, because they know you will take it.

And sometimes there are secret reasons for doing something and you just have to trust your gut that they are for the best. Feedback should make the work stronger and make you a better editor. I wonder if mastery of editing would mean that your instincts are so refined that all feedback would be superflous.

Tony Zhou on editing

Who needs film school when you have Every Frame is a Painting? This couldn’t have come at a better time for me, as I’m getting into the exciting but difficult part of editing The Deadline.

Speeding up Adobe Premiere Pro with rendered video previews

I don’t know how I didn’t know about this. I’ve been trying to edit some really high-res footage from The Deadline and Premiere has been dropping frames like crazy (you can hit Ctrl-Shft-F11 to see if frames are dropping). Basically, it’s been really choppy and impossible to get into a good state of editing flow because of the choppiness.

Then I discovered that you can render previews of the footage. Basically, it’s the same as rendering an export, but you’re having Premiere render video to be used within the project. It doesn’t change the underlying source files, but it means that you can work with and edit much smaller preview files and get smoother playback in the monitor.

Here’s how you do it:

You can render any part of a sequence that falls under a red render bar. You can also define a section of the sequence you want to render by setting In and Out points.

Render a preview file for a section of a sequence setting In and Out points:

1. Set In and Out points to mark the area you want to preview.
2. Choose Sequence, and select one of the following:

Render Effects In to Out Renders the sections of the video tracks lying within the In and Out points containing a red render bar. Alternatively, press Enter.

Render In to Out Renders the sections of the video tracks lying within the In and Out points containing either a red render bar or a yellow render bar.

Render Audio Renders a preview file for the sections of the audio tracks lying within the work area.

Note: You can set Premiere Pro to render the audio tracks whenever you render the video tracks. For more information, see Render audio when rendering video.

The rendering time depends on your system resources and the complexity of the segment.

These options are not available if the work area is enabled.

To maximize the quality of motion in rendered preview files, check the Maximum Render Quality option in Sequence Settings. For more information, see Settings.

Oh, and you know those yellow and red lines that you sometimes see on the timeline? Red means that Adobe thinks that you’ll have a hard time playing the footage in the monitor without dropped frames. Yellow means there’s a decent chance of dropped frames. And green (which I’ve never seen until today) means that you’re all good to go.

I feel relieved at finding this and a bit dumb for not finding it earlier.

Wide-angle close ups and the Coen brothers

I’ve watched this EFIAP about eight times now. I watched it about a week before production on The Deadline started and I sent it to Nick the DP and he was like “oh man, I just watched that too!” So we ended up stealing the idea of going wide in close-ups and I’m really happy with the way it came out. You really feel like you’re there with the actors.

When I watch the scene in Tony’s video where the camera changes angles on Roger Deakins, I can actually feel an emotional difference–it’s subtle and probably most people can’t tell, but I think it’s meaningful.

I also like the way they shoot from “inside the space” between the two characters. Personally I don’t like dirty close ups because they take me out of the moment. There’s something ‘off’ about a character talking while we’re looking at the back of their head, and it always takes me out of the moment.

Here’s the video:

And here are some stills from the film. They haven’t been colored yet, but you feel like you’re right there with them. At least I do!Hannah's Import Sync.00_13_01_14.Still008 Hannah's Import Sync.02_34_04_13.Still029 Robert's Import Sync.00_53_03_22.Still015 Hannah's Import Sync.01_10_01_09.Still015


The task of the craftsman

As Dreyfus and Kelly explain, such sacredness is common to craftsmanship. The task of the craftsman, they conclude, “is not to generate meaning, but rather to cultivate in himself the skill of discerning the meanings that are already there. This frees the craftsman of the nihilism of autonomous individualism, providing an ordered world of meaning.

— Cal Newport in his excellent book Deep Work

It’s a great joke but it’s an expensive laugh

Danny Simon. Neil Simon’s brother, who was really very helpful to me when I was 20 years old. He was a merciless editor and that rubbed off on me. This was when I was writing television. Danny and I would work on a skit. It would be coming along fine and then either he or I might come up with a great joke. And he would say, “Yes, it’s a great joke but it’s an expensive laugh.” He meant you’re stopping the action for the joke. I didn’t want to part with it because the joke was great, but then you thought, maybe the joke is too inside and only 100 people would get it. And nobody knows who Thelonious Monk is. Danny was a merciless cutter

– Woody Allen (

Walter Murch’s hierarchy of editing priorities

Walter Murch's Editing Priorities

The Rule of Six for editing, from In The Blink of an Eye by Walter Murch.