The 6 Stages of Editing As A Film Director

An abridged extract from his widely acclaimed book:
Raindance Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking

Classical film editing has developed a methodology which structures the work process into precise stages – a methodology that is very similar in every country around the world.

Each stage has its own procedure and order:

1. Logging

The dailies or rushes are sorted and labelled in ‘bins’. Each take can contain extra notes from the director or the cinematographer. This is the first time the editor sees the film, and since it is shot out of sequence, it is out of context of the story. A good editor views the rushes and looks for fluidity of movement and nuances that will later be incorporated into the film.

2. First Assembly

The editor considers all the visual and audio material collected on the shoot for each scene and then re-orders it in the way to tell the story best.

In the scene above, the editor may decide to open with an aerial shot of Central London and then track in to Buckingham Palace. The next shot might be a closeup of the hands followed by a dissolve shot to the hands of the hobo playing the banjo. There are dozens of possible combinations the editor can chose for this one simple sequence, each of which create a different mood and tell a different story.

Editing on a large budget feature usually commences as soon as the film starts shooting. An editor will work on the rushes and assemble scenes for the director and producer to view. Often at this point the editor and director will decide that additional footage of key moments is necessary in order to make more editing choices available during the edit.

Hint: First assembly is like a sketch of the finished scene.
It is a good idea to save these sketches for reference later,
should the editor get stuck.

3. Rough Cut and Variations

The rough cut can take up to three months to complete. Each editor works differently. Sometimes the editor works alone and shows the day or weeks work to the director and producer, Sometimes the editor and director work together, discussing every nuance.

In the rough cut, the scenes are placed in order and checked for continuity. This all-important step in the editing process allows for revisions and new ideas to be tried and tested.

Hint: Make the edit points between the scenes very obvious in order to emphasise the ‘roughness’. Failure to do so may result in the editor committing to an edit before it is ready.

4. First Cut

The first cut is the rough cut that is accepted by the editor, the director and the producer. Selection and sequence are basically fixed, although changes can still be made. The later film is visible. Detailed fine cut starts out from its proportions, structures, rhythms and emphasises them.
Hint: Never be afraid to let the first cut ‘rest’ for a few days so everyone involved can see it with fresh eyes.

5. Fine Cut

The fine cut no longer focuses on the entire film, but on the details of each and every cut. The fine cut emphasises and strengthens the rhythms and structures identified in the first cut.

6. Final Cut

When a fine cut has been agreed with the editor, director and producer, the sound designer, music composer and title designer join the editor. Sound effects and music are created and added to the final cut. When everyone has agreed with the final cut, the Edit Decision List is sent to the lab where a negative cutter ‘conforms’ the negative to the EDL in order to create a negative that is an exact copy of the final cut.



Photo Credit David Martinez / BIFA 2018

Few people know more filmmakers and screenwriters than Elliot Grove. Elliot is the founder of Raindance Film Festival (1993) and the British Independent Film Awards (1998). He has produced over 700 hundred short films and five feature films: the multi-award-winning The Living and the Dead (2006), Deadly Virtues (2013), AMBER (2017), Love is Thicker Than Water (2018) and the SWSX Grand Jury Prize winner Alice (2019). He teaches screenwriting and producing in the UK, Europe, Asia and America.

Raindance BREXiT trailer 2019

Elliot has written three books which have become industry standards: Raindance Writers’ Lab: Write + Sell the Hot Screenplay, now in its second edition, Raindance Producers’ Lab: Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking and Beginning Filmmaking: 100 Easy Steps from Script to Screen (Professional Media Practice).

In 2009 he was awarded a PhD for services to film education.

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