thuviaptarth: golden thuvia with six-legged lion (thuvia maid of mars)
thuvia ptarth ([personal profile] thuviaptarth) wrote2010-01-01 08:26 pm
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Vidding: Background reading (1/2)

Happy new year!

Last year, I was complaining to [personal profile] laurashapiro about not having a vidding syllabus. "I dislike this piecemeal learning!" I told her. "It is haphazard and uncomprehensive. I want courses! I want background reading! I want a series of set texts that cover the basics from a variety of different perspectives. Why are there no books on vidding to make things easy for me?"

"There are books on vidding," Laura said in surprise. "Just read books on film editing."

"Oh," I said, and then I did.

Since there seemed to be a lot of anxiety around authenticity and status earlier in the year (okay, every year), I should probably say explicitly that I don't think you need to read books on film, be interested in film theory, or take an academic approach to learning to be a good vidder. I read a bunch of books on editing and other film topics because (a) I had very little knowledge of basic film descriptive terms, theory, or criticism; (b) I like structured learning; (c) I had a lot of free time. I picked books partly based on recommendations from friends and acquaintances and partly based on what my library and local Barnes & Noble had available. (Note: If you are looking for books on film, it's useful if your local B&N is across the street from a film school.)

Film on film


I rented two documentaries, The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing and Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography; both of them are available via Netflix and the former is on sale cheap at Amazon. (The latter appears to be out-of-print and very costly used, but it was much less useful for my purposes anyway.) I would expect them to be available via inter-library loan for a lot of the people reading.

The Cutting Edge mostly consists of editors of famous films talking about editing. It's amazing. It didn't give me ideas about how to edit, but I was delighted to see that what they do is pretty much just what we do. Also, if you used "number of hours of aired episodes" as a substitute for "hours of footage filmed", I am not slow at all! I am just as fast as Walter Murch was on The English Patient. I find this reassuring.

I also enjoyed Stephen Spielberg's discovery that the shark in Jaws was only frightening at 36 frames or less, and either James Cameron or Brian dePalma learning through trial and error that he could not reduce a film's running time by a tenth by cutting out every tenth frame. (The documentary includes a sample of the edited footage. That is the very best part.)

Visions of Light was less entertaining because it showcased fewer drastically bad ideas, but it was also less informative. Cinematographers and directors talked about their favorite cinematographers and the documentary included reference clips of the films they mentioned, but there was a lot more "This shot is amazing" than "This shot is amazing because." It's not a waste of time, by any means, but it seems directed more at an audience that has either a learned or an intuitive understanding of lighting and color than an audience of, say, me.

Editing technique


Walter Murch, In the Blink of an Eye


This is a quick read in clear language that explains the basics of editing -- what it is and how to do it -- and Murch's theory of what guides the cut-points, that is, the rhythm of the film or the performance, which is visually indicated by an actor's blink; when you're in sync with the performance, Murch says, you cut at the blink point instinctively, and it helps the cut make sense to the viewer as their experience of a blink.

He defines an ideal cut as having six characteristics:

  1. It is true to the emotion you want to convey

  2. It advances the story

  3. It occurs at a moment that is rhythmically interesting and "right"

  4. It follows the path of the eye-trace, making use of the audience's field of visual interest

  5. It follows the two-dimensional movement of the previous frame

  6. It preserves the three-dimensional continuity of the film's imaginary geography


Variations on this are repeated by Thompson & Bowen and Pearlman as well, and all of them also agree that Murch's list is in order of descending priority: In most cases, the best cut will fulfill all six requirements, but the audience will overlook errors if the emotion is strong enough or the plot advancement striking enough. (This makes a lot of sense in the context of vidding, I think: when I first started watching vids, I was disconcerted by the shift from scene to scene with clip to clip; I had so much contextual knowledge I couldn't deal with the experienced discontinuities. It took learning to see each clip as part of a phrase or movement, rather than an object in itself, for me to make sense of what I saw. As vid watchers, I think we often put together stories out of series of clips that follow Murch's rules, but which violate conventional norms of continuity -- changing clothes, moved objects, changed lighting, changed hair-style, etc.)

You can skip the dire warnings about how digital editing will end the art of film as we know it.

Roy Thompson and Christopher J. Bowen, The Grammar of the Shot: Second Edition and The Grammar of the Edit: Second Edition


I skimmed the first edition and as far as I can tell the major differences are: (1) more gender-neutral language; (2) more time devoted to digital editing and Web distribution format issues (i.e., aspect ratios); (3) the second editions cost about half the first.

You probably don't need both of these. I read The Grammar of the Shot first because I felt like I needed the basics -- what's a shot? What are the names for different shots? What are the rules of good picture composition? -- but a lot of this information is repeated, in slightly less detail, in The Grammar of the Edit, which, as you'd expect, also covers more topics specific to editing.

Now I have formal definitions for "close-up," "long shot," and "medium shot" and have at least half a clue what the options in Premiere's Camera View effect mean. This makes me happy.

Thompson and Bowen are kind of dictatorial; there are paragraphs where you can tell that Thompson originally wrote something like, "If you get stuck with this kind of poorly composed shot because the director had pretensions of being 'artistic' (as so many of them do) when he was merely incompetent, here are some ways to fix them" before his inner or external editor made him rephrase it more tactfully. As someone with tyranical inclinations myself, I sympathized. But this does limit the books in certain ways. I feel like I went in expecting to learn English grammar and learned a lot about how to structure and use statements. And that's useful--it's probably the one kind of utterance you'd want to learn if you could learn only one--but I come out of it going, "What about questions? And exclamations! Commands! What if I don't want to make a statement of fact?" I was also hoping for more about putting sentences together into narratives, though perhaps that is too much to expect from a grammar text.

Karen Pearlman, Cutting Rhythms: Shaping the Film Edit


This is my absolute favorite of the film books I read. I took so many notes on it I still haven't transferred all of them from my notebook to my computer. I am definitely going to purchase my own copy when my finances are more stable.

This is an adaptation of a graduate thesis from someone who was working as a film editor while formally studying film. You can tell all of these things from the book; it has the abrupt switches from academic to popular register common to graduate theses whose authors have tried to make them more accessible to a general audience, there are sections which are basically name-checking the necessary theorists rather than describing anything important, and there is a some unnecessary repetition from chapter to chapter. But where a lot of the descriptions of film editing I read or skimmed sounded very familiar to me, Pearlman's suggestions made me look at familiar processes in new ways. She reviews some of the existing work on film editing, making note of the metaphors editors use to describe their work and the metaphors in the names used for editing techniques. The techniques are often described in terms of cutting and sewing; the most frequent metaphors for editing films are: writing stories, composing music, orchestrating music, conducting an orchestra. Pearlman suggests that dance choreography may prove a useful metaphor for determining the choices that we make while editing and analyzing films.

She defines rhythm in film editing as "time, movement, and energy shaped by timing, pacing, and trajectory phrasing for the purpose of creating cycles of tension and release." "Trajectory phrasing" is a term from choreography that means "what shapes the energy and spatial organization of movements in shots and across edits into rhythms." This made the most sense to me when Pearlman compared it to an exercise dancers (and also, I think, actors)  often perform: they act out throwing a ball, one person to the other. The person who catches the "ball" has to catch it the same way as the person who threw it: that is, if someone whacks it hard at you, you might stagger back from the force of its impact when you catch it. If someone bats it at you gently, you might just let it drop into your hands. The energy of the throw is like the energy of the movement in a film clip or across a series of film clips. The trajectory phrasing of the editing determines the feel and type of energy conveyed by a clip or a series of clips; it can reinforce the energy inherent in a clip, or undercut it, depending on what kind of story the editor is trying to tell; it can create a smooth link between clips or an abrupt collision of energy.

Pearlman breaks editing decisions down into a series of choices about what kind of emotion, event, or idea the editor is trying to convey. She borrows Doris Humphrey's discussion of the aspects of dance movements from The Art of Making Dances to talk about the aspects of clip choice:

  • Do you want to emphasize symmetry or asymmetry?
  • Is the movement performed by one body or multiple bodies? How do the movements compare or contrast? Is movement amplified or personalized?
  • The phrase - what is the rhythm cadence? Where are the rests and high points?
  • What kind of energy do you want to convey?


I appreciated Cutting Rhythms for both what it said and how it said it. Pearlman seldom assumes that you want to make a particular kind of statement; she just outlines the options you have for whatever statements you want to make. In general, I found her breakdown of the aspects of film extremely helpful in clarifying what I wanted to express in vids and how I could express it.


That took longer than I expected, so I will save the comments on books on color theory and on the software I use (Premiere Pro and After Effects CS3) for tomorrow.
hazelk: (Default)

[personal profile] hazelk 2010-01-02 11:06 am (UTC)(link)
Thanks for writing these up. I had read the Murch book (although now that I can no longer blank out the fact that he edited The English Patient I will have to burn it) but Cutting Rhythms sounds perfect and I wants this The Art of Making Dances too. Vidding has always felt somehow like dancing even though I only know dancing from doing and watching.

[identity profile] laurashapiro.livejournal.com 2010-01-02 02:18 am (UTC)(link)
Oh, I am so happy to see this post! And you read The Blink of an Eye! I love that book. I'd forgotten about the dire warnings about digital editing, which are pretty funny considering that Murch was one of the very first professional film editors to use Final Cut Pro. (:

I'm happy to learn about Cutting Rhythms -- I want to see if our library has a copy. Nifty!

And no wonder your Festivid is so good!
ext_334506: thuvia with banth (Default)

[identity profile] thuviaptarth.livejournal.com 2010-01-02 08:09 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you for letting me know it was worth posting! :)

I don't think I've covered everything I liked about the Pearlman, and I don't know if it will be as striking to more experienced vidders, but obviously I really really liked it -- and it took a different approach than I've seen in meta online or heard at VVC.

[identity profile] rivkat.livejournal.com 2010-01-02 02:19 am (UTC)(link)
This is very interesting and useful! Thanks for posting it.
ext_334506: thuvia with banth (Default)

[identity profile] thuviaptarth.livejournal.com 2010-01-02 08:09 pm (UTC)(link)
I'm glad you found it useful. :)

[identity profile] valoise.livejournal.com 2010-01-02 01:37 pm (UTC)(link)
Definitely going to look up these books, that's for posting.
ext_334506: thuvia with banth (Default)

[identity profile] thuviaptarth.livejournal.com 2010-01-02 08:09 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you for letting me know!

[identity profile] yhlee.livejournal.com 2010-01-02 09:51 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh, wow. The Pearlman books sounds fantastic--I'll have to look for it. I have read one or two (can't remember) books on film editing, and while they were of theoretical interest, I find them really hard to parse because they rely on thinking visually. Whereas yeah, dance is visual, but dance is also kinetic, and that's a doorway I can take.
ext_334506: thuvia with banth (Default)

[identity profile] thuviaptarth.livejournal.com 2010-01-03 07:27 pm (UTC)(link)
Whereas I find the kinetic stuff much harder than the visual! But interesting.

[identity profile] rivkat.livejournal.com 2010-01-03 03:19 am (UTC)(link)
OMG you did not mention in The Cutting Edge: Quentin Tarantino, who wants a female editor to NURTURE his film (Reservoir Dogs!), with a gleam in his eye that says he thinks he knows how disordered this makes him. I think he is wrong!
ext_334506: thuvia with banth (Default)

[identity profile] thuviaptarth.livejournal.com 2010-01-03 04:20 am (UTC)(link)
OMG I forgot how much that whole thing reinforced my desire never to see any of Tarantino's films!
icepixie: ([Movies] Ginger Dance Twist)

[personal profile] icepixie 2010-01-03 06:53 pm (UTC)(link)
(Here from metafandom's delicious.)

Thank you for posting this! I just added The Cutting Edge to my Netflix queue, and when I get back on campus, I'm going to check out the Pearlman and perhaps some of the other books.

Pearlman suggests that dance choreography may prove a useful metaphor for determining the choices that we make while editing and analyzing films.

Hee! I think I got into vidding because I am a frustrated choreographer who, at the moment, has no space to dance in or people to dance with. This makes total sense to me; I think I'm going to like this book.
ext_334506: thuvia with banth (Default)

[identity profile] thuviaptarth.livejournal.com 2010-01-03 07:11 pm (UTC)(link)
That is so interesting! I have found vidding difficult because so much of it--and so much of the advice in books--relies upon having a physical sense of rhythm, and I don't trust mine. Or I didn't. I trust it more than I used to.

There are places where Pearlman talks about her experience editing dance performances for TV that you might like.
icepixie: ([Movies] Fred and Ginger Danced Till Thr)

[personal profile] icepixie 2010-01-03 07:42 pm (UTC)(link)
That is so interesting! I have found vidding difficult because so much of it--and so much of the advice in books--relies upon having a physical sense of rhythm

Well, I don't know that one could say I have an innate, physical sense of rhythm, but I did ballroom dance throughout undergrad, and it's made me unable to listen to a song--any song--without counting along to the beat. That's been very helpful for me, because when I know where the beats are, I can vid to or around them as necessary (i.e., cutting on the "one" makes the most impact, but do that for the entire vid and it's going to get annoying). Listening to what the various instruments are doing in the background is also useful, because then I can switch between vidding to the vocals, the bass line, the strings, whatever.

and I don't trust mine. Or I didn't. I trust it more than I used to.

I found this same thing happened as I did more ballroom. :)

There are places where Pearlman talks about her experience editing dance performances for TV that you might like.

Oooh, wonderful!

[identity profile] danegen.livejournal.com 2010-01-03 10:12 pm (UTC)(link)
Awesome, thank you!

I saw The Cutting Edge last year, and I loved getting to watch that guy edit. So much equipment omg.

[identity profile] applegnat.livejournal.com 2010-01-04 04:34 pm (UTC)(link)
I am a non-vidder, but I love film, and this whole post makes me really warm and happy. Thanks for making it - and I'll have it saved up for when I finally decide to jump in and need help. :D
ext_58168: (Default)

from metafandom

[identity profile] hammerxsword.livejournal.com 2010-01-04 04:36 pm (UTC)(link)
Would you believe not too long ago I was thinking 'you know, it's so easy to find articles on how to write short stories/novels that can apply to fanfic, but what about vidding?' The answer seems so obvious I'm kind of chuckling now, but also very grateful you took the time to write this up. Very useful and informative, so thank you!

[identity profile] hradzka.livejournal.com 2010-01-05 03:56 am (UTC)(link)
Not a vidder; this was very interesting. Thanks!
yourlibrarian: Angel and Lindsey (Default)

[personal profile] yourlibrarian 2010-01-07 05:52 pm (UTC)(link)
I am only a vid viewer but it was very interesting to read about what vidders may be thinking about as they edit.