Research Process: The Art of Film Editing

Film editing is the art, technique and practice of combining raw footage into sequences to make a finished motion picture. One second of film contains 24 frames. For a 2-hour film, an editor will select more than 170,000 frames eventually producing the film in three different stages. These include the rough cut (where the unedited scenes are ordered according to script), the director’s cut (where the director addresses and eliminates any flaws) and the final cut (the finalised footage). In order to arrive at the final cut there is a certain method in which editors follow surprisingly beginning in pre-production.

Film editing has definitely come a long way over the decades, for most of Hollywood’s existence film editing has been the physical job of cutting apart film and taping it back together. The cut pieces of film would then be subsequently threaded into a Moviola (a device which reproduces the picture and sound of a film on a small scale, to allow checking and editing). This machine allowed the operator to see what was being edited through a viewer and also gave the ability hold multiple reels of film at one time. This tedious and time consuming process of reviewing, cutting and reassembling what could often be miles of footage has now been shifted to digital editing using computers and other electronic technologies. With this has come other advancements such as the ones in regards to special effects, something that has also turned digital instead of physical painting them on the film frame by frame.


‘The Dark Knight’ is an example of a well edited film. In 2009 it was nominated for several Academy Awards including Best Editing. A 2012 interview with Lee Smith, the film’s editor, allowed us an insight into the method behind its great editing.”We watch the dailies every night. We’re both great believers in that because it’s not just the notes; it’s a time where we can chat and I can talk about what I’m doing while the dailies are rolling. It’s one of the few times you can actually sit down and have a conversation because of the speed and intensity of shooting a movie.”  (Johnny Elwyn, 2012)


The associate editor of ‘The Dark Knight’, John Lee, was later interviewed by Twain Richardson. One of the questions asked was ‘Can you give us a run through of your editing process?’ Lee went on to list some of his daily duties including sequencing the dailies and re-reading the script. After this he focuses on starting the scene by cutting it so that everyone who speaks is on camera making sure the scene works and then further changes are made by going back through and finessing such things as overlapping dialogue. (Twain Richardson, 2012).

The film ‘The Dark Knight’ is a great example of a film well edited. Its film crew including director Christopher Nolan, editor Lee Smith and associate editor John Lee are all major factors to its exceptional success.


Dee, R 2015, ‘Stages of editing’, Videomaker, viewed 6th March 2017

2014, ‘How to become a film editor’, The art career project, viewed 6th March 2017

Elwyn, J, ‘Interviews with Christopher Nolan’s editing team’, Johnny Elwyn, viewed 6th March 2017

Richardson, T, 2012, ‘Frame of reference with editor John Lee’, Twain Richardson-the storyteller, viewed 6th March 2017


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