Full circle- The flipcam effect and when to stop editing

Back in the late 1800s, when moving picture was first invented, it was dismissed by many as a fad. People simply couldn’t see the point in watching people doing boring things on a screen. Many early films were just that, a long shot of a gardener digging, or people going about they’re day:

It wasn’t until the concept of dramatic editing was stumbled across that cinema as we know it was born, and the world fell in love with the silver screen. It was actually Edwin S Porter who first grabbed audiences and dragged them into an more exciting world of tension and emotion with ‘Life of an American Fireman (1902/03)’. It is in this film that the first example of cross-cutting between 2 separate lines of action can be seen. For example. The fire alarm being triggered and cutting to the alarm going off at the fire station The seed was sown:

From this moment, the craft of editing was born and cinema developed a sophisticated language and culture of its own over the next 50 years. The advents of TV and now web video have created a myriad of even newer and complexed visual codes and languages- but that basic original discovery is still at the centre of what film editing is.

It is with some irony then, that I, as an editor- a studier and practitioner of the very conceit that is modern film- have grown rather fond of that old fad of- well, not editing. I recently bought a small handheld flip-style video camera, have used it to capture moments in my life that I find interesting or funny, and have really enjoyed letting those moments play out as they happen, rather than going to work on them and adding loads of clever edit tricks to ‘create’ drama. Now sure, it may be slightly that I don’t want to spend ALL my spare time editing as well as my work time, but mainly I think it’s because there is a refreshing simplicity and honesty in these captured moments. Here’s a nice clip I grabbed in Whitechapel, where I used to live:

Now it’s shot on a low quality camera, and there’s no sound at all, but there is still something meaningful in those few seconds that would somehow be less pure if I were to then cut into some close up shots of the kids that I shot a minute later, or added emotional music. Vimeo has a whole group dedicated to similar little videos that people have shot on consumer cameras, and it’s worth having a look through as there are some little gems among them. Here’s a couple I quite like:


But it’s not only the online consumer/prosumer video world that is enjoying this technique (if you can call it that). There are many examples of long 1-take music videos (OK GO!?), and, less frequently, scenes in movies that play out as one shot, but the best recent example I have experienced of a whole feature film emphatically embracing this style is Giddeon Koppel’s feature documentary ‘Sleep Furiously’. It’s a great film that manages to instill a sense of real substance and meaning, by allowing us to observe events at a pace in line with the subject matter. There’s no doubt that the film is still an ‘edit’ (and a very good one) but the approach has been far less about crunching scenes together in order to send clear messages, and more of a poetic one. One that allows for those real moments- that one might pass by normally- to breathe and begin to take on meaning as we watch them unfold. It’s well worth watching the film, but here’s a little excerpt:

As an editor, this has all reminded me that, for all the post techniques and technologies we have at our disposal, it’s important to allow those certain special moments that might turn up in the rushes to breathe properly- so that audiences can feel that same feeling that we do when we discover a fantastic moment in our dark little edit room.

And as an internet user, how funny that after 100 years of the evolution of cinema, the new cutting edge of web video is awash with the type of films that back in 1900 were being disregarded as a passing trend that would never catch on- if only they had treadmills back then.

~ by cutlertv on October 13, 2010.

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