Advanced Video Camera and Editing

Editing as a way to mimic the way we see the world

You’ve probably experienced this scenario at least once in your life: first you hear a sound and then turn your head to see what caused it. Good editing mimics how we might naturally perceive the world.

For example, imagine a scene where your characters are standing in the woods. It’s deathly silent and someone whispers that they’re being watched. They hear a twig snap and turn quickly towards the sound. What they see towering above them is the largest grizzly bear ever. To keep your audience riveted, the bear is revealed at the last possible moment in the sequence. But if you give away this fact too soon, the dramatic impact falls flat. We’re more accustomed to this pattern in real life where sound leads the visual.

Cutting to the visual at the same time we hear the sound hardly ever occurs in our real-life experiences, unless we coincidentally happen to be looking in the same direction when the sound takes place. 

Human beings are pattern seekers. Our brains are wired to differentiate complex patterns in the images that we see, even if the images are dissimilar. When we watch movies, our ability to detect patterns may even stimulate the pleasure centres of our brains.  Some experiments have used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machines to measure the brain activity in participants while they watch movies. The experiments were designed to show whether certain areas of the brain are activated by specific film sequences.

While completing his post-doctoral work at New York University’s Centre for Neural Science, Uri Hasson recorded brain activity in subjects who watched four different film sequences. His results showed that while viewers watched the suspenseful Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Bang, You’re Dead, the same 65 percent of the area of the brain was engaged in all the viewers. The findings of this study were published in the September 2008 issue of Projections: The Journal for Movies and Mind.

During a talk at NYU, Hasson, now assistant professor at Princeton, suggested that scientists can learn much from filmmakers about the cognitive processes of the human brain. At the talk was filmmaker Michael Grabowski, who was also an adjunct instructor at NYU and an associate professor of communication arts at the College of New Rochelle. Inspired, Grabowski applied science to art and developed his own Predictive Pattern Theory, which asserts that editing techniques, like pacing, produces what viewers recognise as patterns.

Grabowski says, “When we recognise a pattern, we reward ourselves with a pleasurable neurochemical secretion, which pushes us to seek out more patterns”. He also said there is little pleasure in finding patterns that are either too easy to recognise or too hard to detect.

More research is being conducted to test how audiences react to films. Grabowski predicts that filmmakers will soon be able to incorporate the results of these studies to construct sequences that will produce specific responses in viewers. But any sequence would not be possible if the editor didn’t have the raw materials to build it.

The Editing Process
Early Editing in Cinema
The Shot
The Sequence
Rules of Editing
Pacing and Rhythm
Editing Guidelines

Common Editing Mistakes