Media Production Mentoring

Free online film school designed with beginning filmmakers in mind.


Cutting Action

Nathan brought by a movie he's working on for School. The assignment was to create a 1-5 minute movie that started in the middle of a conflict. He decided to create an action piece that started with a guy in the middle of a chase. After talking over the story with me, he decided to start with the guy getting shot and add some bits about a girl in flashback.

That discussion is worthy of a blog post about creating a compelling tale, but that will have to wait. As we talked through his initial, just under 2 minute, cut there were several things that could have been changed to make it much, much better.

1. In several instances he had left too much tail room on his action clips. His actors would zoom out of frame and we'd be left looking at the beautiful framing for a couple seconds. Just by trimming off these two or three seconds he will improve his action moments by at least a factor of six. Why? Because cutting back and forth across the screen (and thereby forcing the audience to flick their eyes) will cause a subconscious stress of "what is going on?" and "did I miss it?" This is very good. Just don't fall into the trap of cutting so fast that there is no way to keep up and so bore your audience (e.g. The Bourne Supremacy).

2. On the flip side, he got in and out of his flashbacks way too fast. These moments were designed to show the "normal" life of our hero and the love and care he had from his girl. I suggested that slowing down these clips to 70 or 80% will help allow the audience to connect with the intimacy. Also, he needs to add more time before the important action starts in his flashback scenes.

3. Transitions. Throughout his piece there were five second fades to white. This is totally inappropriate for action. The audience must be jarred from the action of the present to the calmness of the past; this is why more time is needed to set up the flashbacks: the audience needs time to figure out what's going on. So, instead of 5 seconds, the flashes must be 15 frames or less. Stress the audience out. That is the mantra of action.

4. We don't care about the bad guys. Once we know they are dead, or leaving, or running away, unless the story is about that interaction our hero will have with them, we don't care. Cut away the moment we know they are down, gone, or no longer important.

There were a few other things that we worked through that were directly related to his film, and the next cut should be significantly better.

All in all, his timing as an editor never ceases to impress me. There have been many moments when I've told him not to change a thing. As an editor, it is a great feeling to see a cut that is simply perfect... even if it did take two hours to get the cut right. Those moments are so rewarding, probably because they suck all your mental energy out of of you.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

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