Editing: Do’s and Don’ts

By Emmanuel Rodriguez

Editor Walter Murch

Editor Walter Murch

 What’s Wrong?

Are your videos not conveying the right message? Perhaps the transition look cool, but you just want your videos to stand out from the rest of the crow?

Have you tried looking at this in a contemporary sense.

What’s Can You Do?

What you can do, is go back to the root of it all… before after effect templates. Seriously! A fresh start maximizing your fundamental cutting skills might just be the answer to your problems.

I love smoke mirrors and artificial zooms more than the next guy, but think about how your video would look like without the PIZAZZ and ask yourself if your video still flows smoothly. If it does, then C’est la vie, kudos! If it isn’t, take a look at some examples of editing in its most fruitful state.


Children Of Men (2006)

Children Of Men (2006)

Jackie Chan once explained that American Cinema had a knack for disguising action in hopes to “heighten” intensity.

All opinions aside, let us view a clip of “” starring Jackie Chan, and study the movement in frame:


Instead of begging the almighty Nolan Lords for the shot to be tighter and grittier, study how as an ensemble, they perform.   

This isn’t the case for most films (I hope not), but in action features it isn’t too rare to find a tense scene cut way too many times.

Take a gander of this scene in Taken 3 where it took 16 cuts for Liam Nieson jumping over the fence:


This might be proving a point, but use your intuition to see if this scene would need more cuts or fewer?


Does the editing help tell a story? Does the editing help emit an emotion? Does the editing fit the tempo of the scene?

These are the questions you need to ask yourself when editing a scene, no matter what the genre is.


SkyFall (2012)

SkyFall (2012)

Drama might be a bit tougher on your intuition for the sole reason that scenes will vary greatly throughout the movie, varying with context. In the upcoming examples, we will view examples of scenes that may, or may not have been a tad rushed. You decide.

This article thus far has been analyzing the speed at which frames are cut. So this is a perfect example of how editing can serve to transition one image into another.


The highly acclaimed and arguably greatest edit in cinema history comes from the dramatic film Lawrence of Arabia.

Notice that there was no montage to guide viewers into the desert sunset. By match cutting a burning match into the falling sun, we are intellectually given a change in the story without being spoon-fed.


The Hangover (2009)

Comedy is hard.

Comedy, similar to horror is all about execution. Even more so, comedy and fear is subjective. So although you can’t win them all, there are ways to make your winning scene more effective.

Comedy in terms of editing is a lot like cooking vegetables. The more you cook it, the less you get out of it.

Furthermore, the more you try to enhance a joke, the less impact it will have. We can go into performances and cinematography with regards to comedic filming heir to Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Robin Williams.

However in terms of using editing to embody humor, view this example from Monty Python where editing with sound, timing, and repetition creates a timeless memorable joke.


Sometimes in editing, it was better to not cut in the first place. This was the case many times for the established work involving the late Robin Williams.  

Here we will see when “not” cutting can lead to an even bigger impact and in this instance, an even greater laugh.


Long Takes

Lawrence Of Arabia (1962)

Lawrence Of Arabia (1962)

Perfectly we end here at Long Takes. Now this can be viewed as more of a cinematography subject but ultimately it is both the director and editor (alongside many others) to decide when a clip should be cut.

Arguably a measure of speed as it is a measure of discipline. How willing you are to make a viewer uncomfortable with the situation they are presented with.

In this example of Mother, an exceptional film by Bong Joon Ho, we are introduced to the character in an oddly long scene of her dancing freely in the vast empty fields.


The decision to hold on her for as long as they did enabled the director to capture the trouble and conflict that would soon be presented to the viewers.

Watch this at your own comfort. I know I need three teddy bears, four friends, and every light to be turned on in order to rewatch this scene.


The calmness and steady tempo of this scene corrupted the minds of viewers eyes as we watched in what would be pure fear visualized in camera. Notice how there wasn’t any pizazz or extra effects needed to set the tension high in this film. This is fundamental cinematic filmmaking using blocking, lighting, storytelling, and an unnaturally long time between cuts to make everything feel like if you were immersed in the scene (god forbid).

Takes That Seem To Have No Cuts

Bridman (2014)

Go beyond editing norms

Of course there are the exceptions and the outside of the box fashions.

Birdman really hit the ground running (flying?) as the fans were awes over the “one-take” feel of it all.  

In fact, that was edited to portray the length. Granted, it took a lot of work from the crew, and to that, my hats off to the crew of Birdman.


Remember where you came from

On many occasions, it is totally natural for you to follow current trends when it comes to editing and showcasing footage that you are creating whether it personal or for a commercial usage.

Any person on the field can tell you that times are changing and the viewers are getting that much smarter with every film out there. It is a part of your job to keep them entertained and on a high.

You can argue that today’s transitions and editing techniques are just a passing phase, but just like the circular wipe or the famous star wars linear wipe, it is here to stay… with exceptions.

Therefore, if you want to be out there creating crazy transitions in between clips, the world is yours. However, do not forget to edit with purpose. Editing is a part of storytelling as much as any other factor that makes up a film.

Make sure your editing has meaning and purpose.

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