Editors Can Hurt You


Directors reading this are probably thinking, “Editors can save you!”

Yes, they can.

However, this column today is directed at actors.  Actors reading this may or may not know that editors can hurt an actor.  Kill an actor.  An editor can make an actor look good or she can remove a poor actor entirely from the film.

Yesterday it was driven home to me once again how vulnerable performances are to decisions made during editing.  Performances can be made or broken in the editing room.  Actors, you can give away your own screen time by not working at full pitch in every take.  Then, at least you give the editor choices to include you, rather than reasons to exclude you.

Actors: NO BAD TAKES!  Never lose your focus.  Give it your full-out every time.

Yesterday I spent 16 hours editing a critical 2 minutes of a trailer.  There were 3 hours of footage to go through.  Most of it we ran through at high fast-forward speed. The editor can tell if most takes will work by viewing them in fast forward mode.  In fast forward you can check angles, lighting, continuity and…

…most important for the actor…

…in fast forward, you can see the veracity of the character interaction. Yes, you can actually see falsity in fast forward.  As an actor myself, I am especially attuned to fakeness.  What the fast-forward shows me is mugging, forced expressions, wandering of attention and forced playing of beats.

When we were selecting clips for a short dialogue scene, one actor gave such a series of bad performances that his face will never be seen on screen. We actually could not find a single take where we could use a one-shot, OTS, even a medium two-shot with him in it.  He will be seen in quarter-profile from the rear and in a long distance 2-shot.  His dialogue will be cut out and done in ADR by a voice artist, and any close-ups we include from that scene will be the reaction shots of his scene partner, who did give a good performance.  The Actor screwed himself out of a credit by not giving us enough good takes to work with.

One actor, even in his best take, dropped in and out of the scene so often that we cut his close-up from six seconds to one second by snipping out single frames at a time

(259,000 single frames in our 3 hours of footage.)

"No, there...where he starts to raise his eyebrow...snip it."

Director didn’t catch the failed concentration; so the editor fixed it.

One actor will have all her lines cut because she gives a good performance before she starts her dialogue, but begins to indicate as soon as she opens her mouth.  We’ll still see a lot of her, but as a featured extra, not as a principal.

“Oy, vey, what happened to all my lines?”

Honey, you should keep up with your practice: rehearse and work out and go to class every day when you’re not on set.

Oh, did I mention the guy who gave a good performance but we had to use a different take because his hand motions looked like nose-picking? Out, out, damned booger!

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