Book Review – Art of the Cut

artofCut

 

Steve Hullfish’s Art of the Cut is a unique look at the techniques employed in film editing as explained by numerous notable editors. Hullfish has interviewed over 50 editors around the country and asked questions that only an editor would know to ask. Their answers are the basis of this book and it’s not just a collection of interviews.
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It’s answers arranged by subject. As an example, the first chapter discusses project organization and editors such as Tom Cross, ACE; Joe Walker, ACE; Sidney Wolinsky, ACE; Mike Hill, ACE; and Dan Hanley, ACE, explain how they have their projects set up for maximum efficiency in finding things quickly. Many of them employ the age-old practice of putting scene cards on the wall to visualize the structure of the project. This can be enhanced by color coding for day or night; exterior or interior. I personally do this with a breakdown board so I can take the continuity with me if I need to. I even had an assistant on a project photocopy my board and use it for the basis of the paper continuity he was making.
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As we all know control of the story is essential to our work so we understand the ebb and flow of emotions and character arcs that make a film intriguing. Lee Smith, ACE, explains in the chapter titled Pacing and Rhythm. “You’ve got to have a reason to cut,” says Smith. “You cut for dramatic reasons. You cut to shift emphasis. You cut for a reaction that’s stronger than a line. That’s how you cut in my opinion.” It is to his credit that Hullfish has created an editing manual similar to the camera manual that ASC has published for many years and can be found in almost any back pocket of members of the camera crew.
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With it, camera personnel can easily look up characteristics of lenses, focus, film stocks, camera threading, etc. It is an essential tool on the set. Art of the Cut may indeed be the essential tool for the cutting room. Here is a reference where you can immediately see how our contemporaries deal with the complexities of editing a film. In a very organized manner he guides the reader through approaching the scene, pacing and rhythm, structure, storytelling, performance, sound design and music. Hullfish also covers such areas as collaboration, documentaries and how you break into the business.
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For the novice editor, this book is essential. When I was first starting out I carried Ernest Walter’s The Technique of the Film Cutting Room with me. It helped me deal with problems and it explained how everything worked. This book does this for the digital age. For the more experienced editor there is plenty of useful information in it. Toward the end of the book there is a section on how you judge film editing.
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Leo Trombetta, ACE, refers to our craft as “the art that conceals the art.” He goes on to explain that because of this it is hard to judge editing because you do not know what footage was available to the editor. The real criteria for judging editing is whether the film plays. Does it work? Andrew Weisblum, ACE, sums it up perfectly by saying, “You don’t judge editing, you judge the results.” Margaret Sixel, ACE, says, “When I watch a film I want to be caught up in it and don’t specifically think about the editing.” Hullfish’s book is an awesome piece of text editing itself. The results make me recommend it to all. I am placing this book on my shelf of editing books and I urge others to do the same. –Jack Tucker, ACE