Film editing is the last stage of production before release, and it is where all the difficult decisions must be made. What makes it to the final cut and what not must be determined right then and there, but what criteria should influence the editing process? Walter Murch, the prominent film editor whose work spans iconic masterpieces like Apocalypse Now and The Godfather, introduced the Rule of Six in his book In the Blink of an Eye. According to him, the following six elements should always be kept in mind when editing a film:
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Emotion above all
Emotion should be the main factor that influences how you edit your film. Cuts should be made as long as they make sense from an emotional standpoint in a certain sequence of the film. You need to read the mood of each sequence and keep in mind the general tone of the movie before deciding on a cutting moment.
Story over plot
Your film’s overarching themes are what your story is about, i.e. coming of age, finding your passion, etc. Plot is the sequence of events that happen throughout the film, and that together, make up your story. It is very easy to get carried away plot-wise with irrelevant scenes or sequences in your film, and you need to recognize all that don’t add anything to the story and let them go.
Feel the rhythm
Just like it is important to have present the emotions you want to convey with your film, it is just as essential to put together scenes in sequences that have the right rhythm. The cutting should respond to the rhythm of every particular sequence, and the sequences should feel right in their transitions to obtain a final product that doesn’t feel rushed or awkward.
Eye trace is your friend
Murch refers to eye tracing as the phenomenon that makes us focus on actions and movement rather than in background elements. This can work in our favor to both keep the audience focused on what’s in front of them and to hide elements in plain sight. It is a great tool to add subtext and hidden clues, taking advantage of action to drive the attention of spectators.
Mind the axis
The 180-degree rule is something that most filmmakers know and hold sacred, but similar to eye tracing, you can either respect it or break away from it depending on what your intentions are. The rule establishes that you should never “jump” the 180-degree axis in front of the camera because it would be disorienting for the audience to see characters from the opposite side. However, if your intention is to disorient or to create a specific effect, then jumping the line can work in your favor too.
Logic in 2D and 3D
Finally, the spatial relationship among elements and between cuts should make sense, both in terms of the 180-degree line and in the 3D location where the action develops. You can avoid continuity or space logic issues in the final product by properly framing your shots to include reference elements, or just avoiding referential markers altogether.