10. Editing-part 2
Another example from FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS):
After putting together the assembly of the film, which is basically every scene we filmed in order, as in the script, I realized the while the script was surely focused on the love story between Chloe and Owen, the film itself had lost focus. Chloe and Owen’s story became lost in the friendships and sexual games played by their four friends: Brad, Shirley, Jeff, and Alison. They were funnier, kinkier, they stole the show. The movie was more AMERICAN PIE-like in this incarnation.
So I needed to reel it back in. Or go with this new take. I stuck with the former. The story I wanted to tell was Chloe’s and Owen’s. Everything that truly moved me about the film played into that. From their beautiful prom scene dance to the improvised kiss atop East Rock Park, to Owen’s naked seranade. Their love story was my story.
So I started chipping away at scenes involving just their other four friends, removing a lot of dialog that didn’t somehow relate to Chloe and Owen. Sure, I kept in the funny bits. Laughs are hard to come by, and there was no way I’d ever cut some of the gems delivered by the characters of Brad, Shirley, Alison, and Jeff. But a lot of extra dialog, and a few smaller subplots, fell by the wayside.
I was brutal. I always am when cutting. I once cut over a hundred, fifty pages from a novel. And if you know how long it takes to write a hundred, fifty manuscript pages, you’ll understand what it’s like to cut. I used the film’s therapy sessions to cut into longer scenes, allowing me to chop out their middles, much as I did with Brad’s List.
Then I discovered that split screens would work beautifully for the pace of this film. While we were watching Brad and Shirley on one side, why not also watch Jeff and Alison on the other. It worked perfectly. And became the visual style of the film, a breakneck pace of jokes and romance, kinky sex and breakups.
The rule I have for cutting is simple, if it doesn’t move the story forward, cut it. I don’t care how long it took to get the shot, I don’t care how proud you are of the scene, I don’t care if the actress finally cried on cue. Does it work in the context of the film? Does it get your point across, or is it pointless? It’s all cancer if it doesn’t work. Cut if out.
A local filmmaker a few years back asked me to watch his film and give notes. He really wasn’t looking for notes, but instead wanted confirmation that he was brilliant. The film was far from that. One actor in particular was so hideously bad that she took you right out of the drama. I’m talking porn star bad. Laughable. I suggested he cu her out completely. And I gave the filmmaker a way to make the film work without any of her scenes. He insisted that his friends and family thought the actress was really funny and there was no way he could cut her out. Well, needless to say, the film was really never seen outside of his circle of family and friends. And I don’t mean to imply I’m right about everything, but instead of listening to someone whom he turned to because of my many decade background of telling stories, he listened to his friends and family. I was trying to help his film, but stroke his ego. Unfortunately he couldn’t tell the difference, or didn’t care to.
I do the same thing to myself in the editing room. Every time. Does this work? Is it integral to the story I’m telling? (And yes, my COLOR ME OBSESSED pause was integral!) Put your story ahead of your ego, or the feelings of anyone else.
Next up, in the final section on editing, I’ll talk sound, music, and the mix.