The Five Stages of Editing

Editing often equals grief. So it’s fair to use the same five stages.

Stage 1 – Footage Review (Denial)
After a review of the footage, you realize the edit is not going to be the cakewalk you thought it would be. You blame your actors, DP, wardrobe and prop department, and your previous self for all the errors you’re going to have to deal with over the next three months.

Stage 2 –  Rough Cut (Anger)
The film’s not going to edit itself, so you go head-first in an attempt to sort this mess out. Smoothing out continuity problems and plot gaps is dirty work, so get ready to be angry. Showing the rough cut to others will result in more anger. Have a squeeze ball handy.

Stage 3 – Kill Your Babies (Bargaining)
The rough cut can only mature into a real film if you remove a scene or a shot that you hold dear. Never did you think you would cut your favorite fight scene or the funniest gag in the film. It just doesn’t fit. Toss it. If anything, it’ll look good as an extra on the DVD.

Stage 4 – Sell Out (Depression)
You’ve chopped up your film and now it looks nothing like how you once thought it would. Your sure-fire jokes didn’t bring any laughs during screening tests, and the ironic political humor you treasured left the audience confused or just offended at the end. What’s worse, you’re beginning to empathize with the audience you once despised, and it’s occurring to you that maybe your brilliance isn’t so brilliant. You’ve had to cater to people.

Stage 5 – End It (Acceptance)
Your final screener gets the best audience response you’ve ever seen. You’ve edited your jokes well, and you’ve cut all the fat out of the narrative, so the audience is engaged all the way through and they talk about it on the way home. You realize that editing is a two-way machine, that the audience is integral to the artist’s vision. Rather than blaming the audience for not “getting it”, you thank them for allowing you to “get them”. That’s all they ever wanted, and they’ll pay you well for it.


3 thoughts on “The Five Stages of Editing

  1. I hate showing my edits to people – I’d prefer if only I would see my films until release, and then – by my almost magical understanding of what makes a great film – people would love it.
    Unfortunately reality doesn’t quite work that way.

    Someone once said “Editing is the ongoing process of disguising how bad the film really is.”
    It couldn’t be more accurate.

  2. I’m reluctant to show edits to people too, especially dialog scenes. Fight scenes have a lot of leeway, so you can get away with murder. But one poorly-mixed line in a dialog ruins the entire scene.

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