Dede Allen

Legendary Editor, Dede Allen

“The editor is the final author of the film”   – David Lean

From the earliest days of making movies there has been misunderstanding and confusion about what exactly an editor does in the creation of a movie, television program or today, the multitude of other types of “dynamic media” that are emerging both scripted and unscripted. This is understandable because along with the cinematographer, the art and craft of the film editor is relatively new and one which never existed before the advent of motion pictures. My purpose here is to clarify this confusion at a fundamental level.

With the exception of the director, producer and writer* the editor is the person closest to, and most intimately involved in the actual creation of the final version of the project which is ultimately released to the public.

Now, this is true to varying degrees in different forms of dynamic media. A live event for example, is edited “on-the-fly”, or as the action occurs by a director who calls the shots (edits) in real-time by choosing from a variety of different camera angles or viewpoints that are photographing the event. This is also the case with much of live television, although often, a show will be taped and “roughed out” by a director as it occurs, and then later edited for length, rhythm, timing and other creative or technical issues.

Often, there is the misconception that the editor is strictly a technician, pushing buttons to accommodate the wishes of the director or producer. While occasionally so, in the majority of situations, this is not the case. Yes, there are technical and complex aspects of the craft, but I think it is safe to say that the craft of the cinematographer, for example, with its angles, lenses, lighting, etc, requires a much greater depth of technical, even scientific knowledge to successfully accomplish the work.

But on a long-format feature film, documentary, single-camera television program, web series or anything else with a narrative, it is the editor, along with the producers and/or director that work on the project for the longest period of time, get to know the material shot by the production crew most thoroughly, and make both creative and technical decisions for the best course to take on each particular shot, scene and ultimately complete film until the project is considered finished.**

Next in this series: The Day to Day Job Functions of the Editor.

* There are many type of producers, directors and writers. Some are passionately involved from start to finish. Others take a more “hands off” approach.

** The famous director John Ford is quoted as saying that “films are never finished, they’re simply abandoned”.