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Saturday, January 31, 2009

The art of film editing

I have been reading the book The technique of film and video editing (theory and practice) by Ken Dancyger. Ken shares some nice insights in this book. I liked the material in the book that I decided to post a summary of the interesting learning from that book - of course with my own perspective and additions.

Goal and role of an editor

As anyone would agree, I strongly feel that film editing is more of an art than science. Editing is similar to music composition. Finding the right rhythm and seamless juxtaposition of shots that clearly and dynamically convey the story to the widest group of audience is the goal of an editor.

I feel that the editor plays a pseudo director.


Sergie Esenstein and theory of montage.

  • Metric montage: this is achieved by cutting shots according to set time or in other words based on set number of frames; cutting to next frame no matter what is in the current frame.
  • Rhythmic montage: achieved by leveraging the movement in shots and how they relate or affect those shots.
  • Tonal montage: juxtaposing shots to evoke desired emotional tone. As this creates an emotional feeling the effect is stronger than the above two techniques.
  • Overtonal montage: using the above three techniques to create a much complex, stronger, abstract effect on audiance.
  • Intellectual montage: conscience creation of new ideas by using shots in which the meaning does not exist.

To cut an effective montage, pick a perfect symbolism that is poetic and also pick an effective ending.

My Prof. at school talks about Hollywood Montage and European Montage.

Hollywood montage is the style of montage used to bring out the character traits and used as a mechanism to progress the narration - without really narrating. Good example is in God Father - the baptism sequence.

The European montage creates the mood or sets the attitude. Good example is in the Color of Money when Tom Cruis shoots some pool.

Techniques employed by prominent directors

David Lean's technique

  • His artistic sense in using time, place and character in Lawrence of Arabia
  • I particularly like Lean's perspective that events and behaviour are noble; while nature and fate play significant role sometimes cruel.


  • All his films start with the protagonist set in a wrong place in the wrong time.
  • His use of chase in North by Northwest in the corn field
  • Dream scene in Vertigo, Spellbound

Akira Kurosawa's treatment of truth and how it is relative to the character that expresses it in Rashomon.

  • Similar treatment by Tamil writer Sujatha in his novel EarakKuraia Sorgam - simply superb.

Truffaut and his use of jump cuts and camera movement in Jules et Jim.


MTV style

  • How to create the MTV style look and feel? Remove the context of time and place (or change the conventional sense of time and place and create a dream state) to make the film more of an artistic adventure! What this style focuses to bring out is the feeling and a defined emotional state.
  • The feeling state can be deep and sharp or dreamlike. If used effectively in a feature film, this style can cause a few sequences of shots to be memorable but would not raise the arc of action characteristic of the narrative film. This style can be employed when the plot is put-down - not that the plot is less important, but merely a choice by the film maker.
  • This MTV style can be very effectively used when the main character in a standard narrative style might look reactive, immature, rootless and without a goal by easing the audience expectation by employing the fragmented narrative. The audience acknowledge that what they are watching is not real and hence they are tolerant can accept such range of shifts in feeling etc.
  • This style has been effectively employed in Natural Born Killers, Slacker etc.

How to achieve this MTV style through editing?

  • Use many more closeups than long shots to withdraw visual context
  • Emphasise foreground over background to withdraw visual context
  • Use lighting choice that moves away from realism
  • Use jump cuts to obliterate time and place
  • Overuse pace and camera movement to obliterate time and place
Editing for genre

Emphasis on identification, excitation, conflict and intensification
  • Identification: Use close-ups and point-of-view shots; decide if pov should be set at eye-level or higher or lower.
  • Excitation: is achieved by movements within shots (pan, tilt, zoom), motion in shots (tracking, dollying, hand-held etc) and variation in length of shots (pace).
  • Conflict: Achieved by crosscutting.
  • Intensification: Achieved by varying the length of shots. Changing the behaviour of characters also causes intensification.


  • The most important thing to bring out when editing a dialogue is the subtext.
  • A piece of dialogue that advances the plot or reveals the key information about the character requires a closeup or other shift in pattern of shots to alert the audience of the importance.
  • If the dialogue provides comic relief or masks character intentions then the reaction of the listener may be important.

I particularly liked the scene from Experiments in Terror where Kathy talks to the FBI agent in his office.

This is one of the difficult genre to both direct and edit. Pace is very important.
  • SitCom: Editing centers on timing
  • Satire: In this case editor has a huge scope to be creative
  • Farce: Highlight absurdity
In all these cases the editor must highlight :
  • the source of humor (cut to highlight the source of humor)
  • the target of the humor
  • reaction shots/cut-aways to highlight surprise
  • build scene to a surprise for comedy to be effective
  • look if there is a possibility to juxtapose contrasting stupid/absurd activities on foreground and background

Principles of Editing
  • Continuity
  • Coverage
  • Matching Action
  • Preserving screen direction
  • Setting the scene
  • Matching tone
  • Matching flow over a cut
  • Change in location
  • Change in scene

  • Timing
  • Rhythm
  • Time and place

Friday, January 30, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

I have been hearing a lot about Slumdog Millionaire lately - two of my friends at film school said it is a must see movie. Generally I don't heed to such statements, but I happened to stumble upon the Apple trailers page and checked out the trailer. The camera work is amazing! I was totally impressed with the details, movements and color.

So I started my digging and found that more than 60% of the movie was shot in digital format using SI-2K and SI-2K Mini. And the rest on 35mm and (I guess digital) still camera in burst mode too!!

I think the photographer has done a tremendous job.

I haven't seen the movie yet; but I will. However all those who have seen this movie (including news paper reviews in India) say that this movie portrays a very poor and sorry state of life in India; though the conditions are not like in USA, it is not pathetic in India. When would such movies portray living conditions in India properly?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Spring + Hibernate + Google Web Toolkit

I have been trying to use Spring, Hibernate and Google Web Toolkit (around June 2008) but was unable to for some crazy reason or the other. Now I just stumbled on these tutorials... wow!!

UPDATE: I had been using AppFuse and wanted it to work with GWT. One helpful suggestion from Matt Raible is to use Enunciate or to use GWT_Maven with AppFuse. My first impression on Enunciate after reading the docs is good; will let you know after I use it first-hand.

Also checkout Dustin Breese's blogs at and for litle more on Eucinate.

If you're looking for info on using AppFuse, check out the QuickStart Guide or Ryan Withers' Igniting your applications with AppFuse.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

On parser for Tamil & linguistics and mathematics...

I think that Tamil is probably the only language that is grammatically sophisticated and yet simple. Many would agree...I even found this writeup: Wow!!

A few years ago I stumbled on this article which discusses how to build LALR parser for tamil "venba"s!!

Isn't that cool! Based on this one can provide natural language interface for conversing in venbas with a computer... lol... or probably build a "sanga palagai" that can expand if a proper venba is recited...

Another related fact is that Chomsky proved that linguistics and mathematics are related; if you cant find the original article read discussion in the book "Mathematics: The science of patterns - Keith Devlin". It is really a cool book - not into overly complicated expressons; very lucid.

If you are interested in similar topics I was told that "Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea" is a good book. I have to check it out.
UPDATE: I got hold of this book and am reading it now. Somehow this is not as impressive as Mathematics: The science of patterns; I find many material that I had seen in other earlier books. :(

Monday, January 19, 2009

5 things you do not know about me

Have you heard of meme travel? Seems to be an interesting "game". Checkout: where it all started
Looks like the above link does not work any more (I checked it on 11 Sep 2012) :(

Ok - It is called meme travel;  here is how it goes: You have to tell 5 things about you and then tag the next person that should tell about them (Need not be personal or anything unknown to others - just 5 things that you feel like sharing now).