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Motion Pictures - Editing

( Originally Published 1924 )

THIS chapter will be of little other than academic interest to owners of cameras which use discs, belts or other non-standard forms of film. Such owners may gather hints as to the proper editing of their films during the direction.

After the positive is dry and has been projected it will be seen that the action is rough and ragged. It is very probable also that if there are many scenes that these are out of their proper chronological order, for in making motion pictures it is accepted as good practice to make all of the scenes which take place in one location at one time as this obviates the necessity of redressing an expensive set several times in one production. The amateur will find it convenient to do likewise. The scenes have to be cut anyway to dispose of ends and fog strips, and when the patching is being done the scenes can be arranged in proper order.

Let us return to our scene in which Johnny left the nursery. We will find many frames of the blank wall after he has passed through the door. There will also be a similar quantity of blank stairway before he appears in the next scene. These are not only of no value, but if left in would cause tiresome pauses in the action and render it rough and unfinished. The film should be carefully examined and the last frame in which he is visible noted. Count down three frames and cut the film there. Then take the stairway scene and note the first frame in which he is visible. Count up three frames from this and cut the film. Join the two pieces and project. _Johnny will apparently pass from the room, and smoothly enter the stairway with no pause and no jump. The action will be smooth and the improvement marked. Remember that your settings are merely background; and you must follow your principal actor. If his action is correct and smooth the change of background will appear natural and will not jar upon the spectators.

Should the scenes have been made out of order, the first step is to cut all scenes apart and place them within easy reach. Not until this has been done is the real cutting started. Take each scene and study it care-fully. When the important action of a scene is complete, cut! Conversely, cut the beginning at a point not more than three seconds before the important action starts. Good direction will make it possible to limit the cuttings to a foot or so at each end of a scene, but it is difficult to direct within closer limits than this. In professional work, it is not unusual to make ten thousand feet of negative to obtain one thousand feet of finished positive. It will be seen from this that the professional film editor is a person of some importance.

As soon as a cut is made, fasten the scene to its predecessor with a paper clip and continue until the reel is complete.

When this is done, the final step is to join the various scenes, or as it is called, "patching." Cut the film about three-sixteenths of an inch or more below the frame line, cutting midway between two sets of perforations. The end which is to be joined to this piece is cut exactly on the frame line. Then, using a piece of heavy glass for a surface and a new razor blade as a knife, carefully scrape the end of the first piece which lies below the frame line. The scraping is continued until every trace of emulsion has been removed, but care must be taken that not enough celluloid is removed to weaken the joint. Then a brush charged with cement is drawn across this scraped bit and the end of the other piece pressed firmly down upon it in such a manner that the perforations and frame lines match perfectly. This will allow the film to move smoothly through the intermittent mechanism of the projector.

The secret of good patching lies in using plenty of cement, but not enough to soil the adjoining film, in rapidly adjusting the two pieces in relation to each other, and finally in a firm and even pressure on the joint. The solution used, although called a cement, is not a cement at all. It is a celluloid solvent, and the joint made is analogous to a weld in metal or vulcanizing in rubber. If a patch is well made, the film will break in a new place before the patch will tear loose. The emulsion on the film is not affected by the cement, and each spot where it has not been removed will fail to join properly.

The utmost attention should be paid to the edges of the patch. If an edge curls up it will catch the mechanism and either tear loose or break the film in a new place. It is not difficult to learn to patch properly, and all efforts expended to learn the proper method of patching will prove to be time well spent.

Learn to apply your artistic sense to cutting as well as to direction and photography and when you have mastered all three you will turn out master films. It has been said that the success of a picture depends upon good cutting just as much as it does upon good directing and good photography. It is a fact; too, that good cutters, or editors, just about name their own salaries.


As the spoken title is in a class by itself, belonging to neither titles nor editing, but rather to both, I shall mention it briefly here. The spoken title is the speech of an actor which is important to the action and which we have no other way of recognizing. As for the photo-graphic technique, it is made as any other title, but no border or art subject is used with it.

When photographing the scene, the actor should be directed to turn slightly toward the camera or in some other way, by gesture or body movement, make it unmistakable to the spectators that he is speaking and that his speech is of importance. In this connection it must be mentioned that all speech between actors before the camera should be appropriate to the action. Many theatre patrons are accomplished lip readers and this faculty is rapidly being attained by countless people in this country. The speech, where a spoken title is to be inserted, should have the identical wording used in the title flashed upon the screen.

In "cutting in" the spoken title, examine the film closely and find the frames where the lips of the actor begin to move. Trace this movement through its course and cut in the title about two seconds before the termination of the motion. On the screen the actor will make a speech, which we can see is important, then the words will appear on the screen, then the action will be resumed, lasting only long enough to make it plain that there has been no jump in the action, but that it is the direct continuation of the speech and then the action proceeds. Cutting- in a spoken title is quite an art, for the proper cut must be judged within a frame or two.

These paragraphs treat of direction, acting, titles and editing. I hope I have succeeded in placing them in a somewhat appropriate position in this volume.

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