BOOK REVIEW: The Invisible Cut

I was chatting with my friend Mark the other day, a
playwright who’s recently started writing and directing his own short
films.  He’d sent me the latest cut
of his new short, and we were going over some notes I’d written for him… and he
made a pretty astute comment.

 

“I learned two things on this project,” he said.  “One: how much you can change and
affect your movie in editing.  And
two: how important it is to have your script 100 percent ready-to-go before you
start shooting.”

 

Now, I know these two thoughts sound obvious… but until
you’re actually directing and/or producing your first movie, it’s tough to
realize just how IMPORTANT each of them is.  And it made me think of a good book I recently read, which I
wanted to pass along to you guys (and to Mark)…

 

The Invisible Cut: How Editors Make Movie Magic, by Bobbie
O’Steen

 

I found this book really valuable for two reasons:

 

1)  It gives
great insight into how editors do what they do, creatively.  It talks about how editors string
together shots to create pace, tension, story.  It talks about how use B-roll and cutaways to “cover”
moments that may not work.  It
talks about how they interact with directors during (and before) principal
photography to make sure they have all the footage they need to make the movie
work.

 

One of the most helpful things the book includes is a large
section of actual scene analysis, where it breaks down actual scenes and shots
from movies like Chinatown and Twelve Angry Men to look at how editing helps
the movie work, both narratively and visually.

 

This was great to read, not only because it gives such
wonderful insight into editors’ creative processes, but it understanding how
editors work—and being able to speak their language—is an immensely valuable
tool for any writer, director, or producer.  Editors, as Bobbie points out, are the “final
storyteller” to affect the film, and as a writer/producer/director overseeing
your baby through its last stages of development, you need to be able
communicate effectively with your editor.

 

2)  I was
STUNNED (although I shouldn’t have been) at how much of the book was
outstanding (yet totally unintentional) writing advice!  One of the chapters, for instance, is
called “Cheating Time,” and it details how editors condense time to speed story
up or stretch it to build tension. 
While Bobbie is talking about editing, all the tricks and techniques
she discusses also apply to screenwriting and general storytelling.  And while some of these things seem
elementary, it was a great reminder of simple storytelling techniques and how
similar all storytelling really is, whether you’re a writer, an editor, a
director… or even a novelist or playwright.

 

 

Anyway—if you’re a writer embarking on making his first
movie… or want to think about your writing from the perspective of other types
of filmmakers… or simply like delving into the various filmmaking processes,
check out The Invisible Cut—and lemme know what you think!  (And by the way—I keep singing “The
Invisible Cut-eh,” like the Genesis song, every time I see the cover!)

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