The importance of cinematography & editing in film


As a Alfred Hitchcock once said “drama is life with the dull parts cut out”, were we to include everything filmed for a movie we would be bored to tears, which is exactly why we trim the excess to get the best quality material possible. A cinematographer is responsible for the look and “feel” of a film whilst an editor is there to work with the raw footage, selecting shots and combining them into sequences which create a finished motion picture.

The Mise en Scene

Mise en scene is a french term which translates to the setting of the scene, I.e scenery and props etc. It is a core component of cinematography, Everything within the frame should help drive the mood or style of the film so as not to take you out of the experience. Elements of mise-en-scene come from the theater using prop, set dressing and even costumes to evoke a certain style or feeling. One of my personal favourite examples is in the film “Singing in The Rain” starring Gene Kelly & Donald O’Connor, in it a leading man of the silent movie era and his friend deal with the transition to “talkies”. The film, made in the early 50’s is set in the 20’s so attention to detail and set design was integral to make it seem like a period film, because with each passing decade American fashion drastically changed and would be easily noticeable to the viewer.

Cinematography and its Importance

Cinematography is the control of framing, machinery, and film stock. The coordinating of these elements enables a director tell the story their way and allows for them to focus on the story they intended it to be told, with an assurance their vision will be carried out through its entirety. The importance of editing is mainly down to the fact that without some skill behind the wheel the whole project becomes an incohesive mess. Editing includes cutting frames, shots, special effects, etc. All of these elements help to further create a meaningful message to its intended audience, this however can be manipulated and changed to create a sense of dissonance or confusion.

The film Fight Club directed by David Fincher uses this to great effect by splicing in random frames into the scene much like Tyler Durden’s character does in the movie. Editing also includes several transitioning styles to create realistic continuity that is normally present in reality. Using abrupt cuts in relation to an actor helps further link us to their emotions or well-being, as mentioned before in fight club whenever a psychotic break is imminent a frame skips and is jarring to the eye from the viewers perspective. Fast cutting was used in snatch to illustrate the frantic nature of the characters, fast-cutting is a style of editing that involves cutting several consecutive shots to create a sense of pandemonium. Editing techniques such as this can again be seen in the film Fight Club in which it displays the confusion and state of paranoia. This style is excellent in the way that it gives you a sense of adrenaline and panic without overtly showing anything to panic about. Alfred Hitchcock was a big user of unconventional camera techniques to make you feel uncomfortable throughout his films, his iconic camera shot of using the focal length of a camera whilst controlling the focus helps create a sense of nausea in the film Vertigo when Scotty looks down to the street below, also showing us from his perspective what his crippling agoraphobia is like.

A truly iconic example of editing and cinematography working together in conjunction is from the film Goodfellas, directed by Martin Scorsese, wherein our character Henry Hill played by Ray Liotta is taking his girlfriend to the fanciest place in town, our excitement builds with the two of them as we are introduced with a medium range establishing shot. This is revealed to be a Steadicam follow up which as we travel with them throughout the back entrance and through the maintenance area we are filled with anticipation, it filmed entirely in one take and the camera turns corners as the actors do, leaving us to meet and greet the people with them. This further reinforces a connection with the character leading us to feel we are on the journey with him, and end up rooting for what is essentially a rather bad individual.

The Editing

During post-production, the film undergoes the editing process. At this stage in production the film can be transformed to achieve a far more realistic quality than it would pre-production alone. Cuts are made between two frames of film. Sometimes cuts can make up a montage of shots that deliver a general message to the audience, famously done throughout the rocky movies to give a sense of progress and time passing as each activity couldn’t possibly be done all in one day. However, quick cuts can also explain the mechanics of a dialogue between characters that may have not mete each other before editing the film. This technique of cutting is called cross-cutting , when the camera jumps from one location to another to suggest that the actions are taking place simultaneously such as during a phonecall or over a computer. Cuts can also be used for transition from one element of the shot to another in some cases. For example, in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, the camera cuts between the view of Melanie to an overhead shot from the point of view of the eponymous birds framing Melanie in the camera. Transition styles or transitions are fundamental in the editing process. Some examples of transition styles are cross-cutting, wipe, jump cuts, match-cut, fade to black/white etc. George Lucas in his highly successful star wars franchise made famous the screen wipe, so much so that it is no synonymous with it and is hard to use without giving people the impression of Star Wars. Editing film, whilst seemingly just about visual also includes the editing of sound something arguably more important . In Scorsese’s Goodfellas, the story is narrated by Henry Hill from the future, recounting his life. This is an example of non-diagetic sound, meaning essentially the sound is not found from within the scene. Whereas a radio playing music would be diagetic sound. The most famous film scores, engineered to create an emotion or reaction with the audience are hardly ever originated from within the scene itself.

In conclusion

Both crafts are integral to create a story that lasts and is coherent for the viewer, people often simply credit the director but without talented cinematographers and editors we would have such a declining rate of cinema that people would stop going. Upon closer inspection the level of craft and skill that goes into most films is staggering and with even the worst of movies, it takes effort to make even them coherent enough to watch. Both these arts are invaluable in the industry and without them we would have footage and drama straight out of an Orwellian novel.