Editing isn’t just about whether you use FCP or Avid. An artful editor understands the theory and history that came before her. The five books below provide an introduction to editing philosophy and theory for all aspiring editors.
1. In the Blink of an Eye — Walter Murch
Renowned editor Walter Murch, whose resume includes Apocalypse Now, The English Patient and The Talented Mr. Ripley, lays a foundation for any aspiring editor in this seminal essay — the theory being that a cut should happen every time you blink. Inferring that there are times when you cannot blink or look away from a film, and that there are times when an audience needs a moment to process what they’ve seen. His editing style is focused on capturing emotion and paying homage to other mediums. In the Blink of the Eye is a quick read at 146 pages that summarizes the editing philosophy of one the craft’s greats.
2. How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way — Stan Lee & John Buscema
Editing film and drawing comics share more in common then you may think. Things like pacing, highlighting action and telling a story efficiently, just for starters. Also, there is no better tutorial for framing, jump cuts and transitions then a comic panel layout.
3. Cutting Rhythms: Shaping the Film Edit — Karen Pearlman
Pearlman’s theory on editing equates it with dance. Based in rhythm, choreography and movement this book is a wonderful meditation on the role space and time play in the editing process. Divided into twelve chapters, covering intuitive thinking and synchronization, the book acts as a guide for filmmakers wanting to apply the principles of rhythm to their editing practice. Theories that may seem confusing to those not schooled in dance are made accessible and easy to implement.
4. Grammar of the Edit — Christopher J. Bowen, Roy Thompson
This book for the novice filmmaker acts as a reference guide detailing the very basics of editing, such as understanding footage and ways to use different shots, basic knowledge of how to match shots, make cuts and create continuity of movement and sound. The end of the book also explores things like work flow, multi-camera editing and montage. The only drawback to this book is that it is a very traditional take on editing that doesn’t leave a lot of room for artistic expression. However, it’s important to know and understand the basic rules of editing which this book delineates, so that you can break them when appropriate.
5. Fine Cuts: The Art of European Film Editing — Roger Crittenden
Fine Cuts offers interviews with some of Europe’s best editors, including documentarians Agnès Varda (The Gleaners and I), Bela Tarr (City Life), and Sabine Mamou (Mur, Murs). Fine Cuts is an engaging read and offers insight into the art of editing from many perspectives. For instance, Agnes Guillemot equates editing with conducting music “The material is given by someone else, but I listen to it afresh. I do not try to make it mine, I make it produce what it can do.” The interviews offer an expansive look at the art of editing juxtaposed with critical essays and reactions from the directors who worked with them.
What other reads would you recommend for people who want to start editing?