Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Film 101: The Shot and Editing

You know I've been meaning to do this for a while. Why not.

When film nerds refer to continuity editing techniques they're generally referring to techniques created early in film history to help communicate narrative and give logical, spacial, and temporal context to the things on screen. The use of editing is arguably the thing that separates a play from a screenplay and editing is the use of shots give contextualize to film.

So what is a shot. A shot is a piece of continuous film, a piece of film without cuts. Why is it important? Because film editing is the craft of putting shots together in way that gives them meaning.

The way I think of it the frame is the letter, the shot is the word, and the scene is a chapter/paragraph.

Most of the technical nuts and bolts of film happen at the level of the shot and transitions between shots, cuts. For instance when filming a conversation it's not uncommon to have the over the shoulder shot focusing on the speaker's face with the camera from the perspective of the audience is "over the shoulder" of the character not speaking.

One tool to do this is to utilize screen direction when filming the movement of characters and objects. This basically means that that the movement of objects, "between" shots needs to stay consistent. If a characters is moving to the right long enough to move off frame in the next shot they need to still be moving right. If a character moves their head to the right to look at something off screen the next shot of that object should imply that what the audience is seeing is to the right of that character.

A problem with that plagues the editor is logical spacial and temporal continuity. Since films are often shot at different times work needs to be taken so that the action between shots feels like it was taken at the same time. So for instance if you're doing takes with a coffee cup lipstick marks might be a problem, not to mention which hand an actor is holding the coffee cup in.  And clocks drive people absolutely nuts. Editing continuity requires intense attention to detail figuring out the logical position of people places and things.

One of the most important unspoken functions of a shot is to give the audience information about the relative position of the elements on screen. For instance the establishing shot is used mostly for this purpose at the beginning of a scene.  But due to how films are ... shot, i.e. the sequence of events and positions of characters and items are a facsimile, it's always important to try to convey that information visually.

One of the first films to use continuity editing was

Here lies a reasoned, measured academic discussion on The Birth of A Nation which in addition to being horribly racist is also rather quite boring and is of note only because it was one of the first films to use continuity editing ... and reignited America's fascination with the Clan.


I am off to watch The Rail Splitter split heads. Who's with me?!

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