Film Editing


Motion pictures are filmed in hundreds of brief shots, which must be arranged into a final product that fulfills the vision of the director and producer.

Editing is the act of completing the pacing and narrative structure of a film and its sound track by cutting and slicing the shots together to make a final, comprehensible story. Often times the success or failure of a may rely on the quality of the editor’s work. Sharp film editing can make a mediocre production look good and a good production look that much better, Inversely, sloppy editing can unhinge a solid script and even negate strong efforts by the director, the actors and technical crew. It is not unusual for the editor to correct or cover up errors or omissions committed during filming on the set. But in some cases, the director has shot his films with such care and attention to details such that there is not much left for the editor to do but exercise technical know how, manual dexterity, ans a sense of timing, in following the director’s design.

The greatest compliment an editor can receive it that their editing is invisible. An editing assignment is considered successful when it goes unnoticed on the screen. Ironically, an editor invests weeks or months of intensive work to achieve the impression that nothing has been done at all.

Editing is important because it allows the director to film out of order, to take multiple takes of each shot, and it allows for aesthetic decisions to be made after filming is completed.

The first stage of editing begins after the editor is given the dailies. He/She synchronizes the dailies with the parallel sound track. Because the director has probably engaged in coverage, or the process of shooting all the scenes as many different ways and from as many different angles as possible, the editor has a lot of flexibility.

Hen shooting is finished, a “rough cut” is made, combining what seem to be the best shots in such a way as to constitute a continuous progression. This is accomplished by first breaking the film into each separate shot so that all the film can be placed in the order that the narrative requires. After this is accomplished. Exact places to cut into and out of shots can be found. In this stage, control of the story and visual information is important.

The next phase is “fine cut”, which, after all the frame by frame manipulations are accomplished, represents the final arrangement of precisely timed shots and sequences. The fine cut is used as a guide for cutting the original negative and as detailed instructions involving transition techniques such as fades, wipes, and dissolves. The sound track is mixed and Foleys, sound effects created to match certain sequences, are added. Finally, an “answer print”, which combines image and sound with the placement of an optical track along the edge of the print is created.


film editor must know how to tell a story, be politically savvy when working with directors and studio executives, and have a calm an confident demeanor. The responsibility of guiding the film through post-production and into cinemas/theatres lies in the hand of the editor. Scenes may have been photographed poorly and performances may have been less than inspired, but a skilled and creative editor can assemble the film so that the audience will never see these imperfections.

To better understand the editing process, imagineyou are seated in a movie theatre. The lights are dim and credits appear over an establishment shot of a seacoast town in Lagos. The title appears on the screen: Blueberry Hill. After the last credits evaporate, you see a long shot of a vacant summer cottage, then a medium shot of a mysterious-looking man pouring lighter fluid on the grass near the house and striking a match. The grass catches fire; the man flees. He vivid crackling of the fire dissolves into the sound of a young girl’s laughter as she packs clothing into a cardboard box and sings along with her CD player.

Who created this scene? The screenwriter, director. Cinematographer, actors, lighting designer, sound designer, and finally, the film editor. Working with the director, the film editor shaped the film into it’s final form. After hours and hours of reviewing, he created this one-minute scene. The scene appears to take place in a seacoast town in Lagos. In truth, little of what the audience sees on screen occurs in Lagos, and it may not have all been filmed in one afternoon. This is the magic of film editing.

CUTS & TRANSITIONS: Assembling the Scene

Editors select sound and images from all the film that has been shot and arrange them to make the movie. They also plan how one shot will best transition the next. Assembling the opening scene of Blueberry Hill, the editor might chose to begin with a wide shot of the bay, focusing on the white caps and buoys that dot the water. From the shot of the grass catching fire, the editor might decide to dissolve to the girl packing clothes into a box. There are dozens of possible transitions the editor can choose, each of which will create a different feeling.

Editing often begins as soon as film has been shot. Early scenes are assembled for the producer and director to view. Ocassionally the actors will also view these early scenes. Many directors choose not to show actors these edited scenes for fear that they will affect the actor’s performance.

Sometimes the editor works alone, sometimes with the director. The sound designer and music composer join them for the final cut, adding sound effects and the musical score. When the editing is complete, the director and producer approve the final version of the film.



A visual transition created in editing in which one shot is instantaneously replaced on screen by another.

Continuity Editing

Editing that creates action that flows smoothly across shots and scenes without jarring visual kinconsistencies. Establishes a sense of story for the viewer.

Cross Cutting

Cutting back and forth quickly between two or more line of action, indicating they are happening simultaneously.


A gradual scene transition. The editor overlaps the end of one shot with the begining of the next one.


The work of selecting and joining together shots to create a finished film.

Errors of Continuity

Disruptions in the flow of a scene, such as failure to match action or the placement of props across shots.

Establishing Shot

A shot, normally taken from a great distance or from a “bird’s eye view” that establishes where the action ia about to occur.

Eyeline Match

The matching of eyelines between two or more characters. For example, if Sam looks to the right in shot A, Jean will look to the left in shot B. This establishes a relationship of proximity and continuity.


A visual transition between shots or scenes that appears on screen as a brief interval with no picture. The editor fades on shot to black and then fades in the next. Often used to indicate a change in time and place.

Final Cut

The finished edit of a film, approved by the director and producer. This is what the audience sees.


Visible on screen as a circle closing down over or opening up on a shot. Seldom used in contemporary films.

Jump Cut

A cut that crates a lack of continuity by leaving out parts of the action.

Matched Cut

A cut joining two shots whose compositional elements match, helping to establish strong continuity of action.


Scenes whose emotional impact and visual design are achieved through the editing together of many brief shots.

Rough Cut

The editor’s first pass at assembling the shots into a Film, before tightening and polishing occurs.

Sequence Shots

A long take that extends for an entire scene or sequence. It is composed of only one shot with the editing.

Shot Reverse Shot Cutting

Usually used for conversation scenes, the technique alternates between over-the shoulder shots showing each shoulder speaking.


Visible on screen as a bar traveling across the frame pushing one shotoff and pulling the next shot into place. Rarely used in contemporary films