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Sven Pape(S): So what are we doing today? Karen Pearlman (K):When you ask an editor what they literally do in the edit suite generally an editor will say well it’s intuitive, and and that’s fair enough, but I think it’s possible to say more than that. What actions of mind an editor actually goes through in getting from a massive material to something coherent. (S:) So you actually broke it down into five different steps. (K:) The first thing an editor literally does is watch the material. (S:) What does that mean? (K:) Good question. Why is that some kind of expert ability? An editor doesn’t watch the same way an audience watches or even the same way a director watches. An editor is a trained watcher who actually does three things: they watch and have immediate responses just like an audience. Right? They laugh they cry, they get annoyed, whatever, but the second thing they’re also doing is that they’re noticing their responses. An audience might just feel something, but an editor feels something and then notices that they feel something, and then the third thing that an editor is doing is kind of the very early stages of imagining how this is all gonna go together. (S:) Now does that affect the way they feel? (K:) So in an ordinary person, you know if you’re watching and noticing what you feel at the same time that can make you a bit, like, paralyzed, but an editor can feel something and make a mental note and keep feeling. I think that’s an expert capacity that actually gets trained or developed. This is a quote from Kate Amend: “I do sit and watch the footage and check my first reaction to what I see. If I laugh, I make a note of it. If I cry, and I do cry watching dailies, then I know that if it resonates with me, it’s going to resonate with an audience. That’s what I do to begin, and then I start to build the story or scene and make those connections.” (S:) That’s really interesting, because when I first watch something, and I have a strong emotional reaction, I make a check mark. I make sure that I don’t forget that first initial reaction to something, so sometimes you get lost in the edit. You don’t know what’s working, what’s not working anymore. (K:)Exactly. (S:) Then I just recall that I had this initial emotional response, and I can just trust that I should go with that. (K:) And and Walter Murch talks about that too. It’s a very kind of physical, almost impulsive, like check-check-check-check… (S:) Cool. What does an editor do as a second step? (K:)The next thing the editor does is something I’m calling sorting. You might call it logging as well. Sorting is giving the material a name or placing it in a bin with other potentially related material. (S:) And what’s important about sorting? (K:) look, I’m gonna give you a quote from Alan Berliner: “What you call something is crucial to the process of determining what you might end up doing with it.” What he’s saying there is that you’re tagging the material, but you’re also in a way, tagging your memory. The big theory here is that editing is an instance of what Clark and Chalmers call extended mind. Um. Thinking doesn’t just happen in your brain. It doesn’t just happen in your brain and your body. It happens in the brain, the body, and the material. The material itself is part of your thoughts. The material is part of thinking, right? So the way that you sort it, is giving it an opportunity to be different kinds of thoughts for different contexts as they arise. (S:) Right. (K:) The sorting is, quote, an epistemic action. (S:) What is epistemic mean? (K:) Epistemic comes from the greek word episteme, meaning knowledge. When you sort something, you are actually creating your knowledge of that material to alter the world, so as to aid and augment cognitive processes such as recognition and search, and that was written in a book called Supersizing the Mind by Andy Clark, and he’s not talking about editing, but when you read it you go, yeah! That’s what an editor does. (S:) And I think that brings us perfectly into the next thing. What is the third thing editors literally do? (K:) Remembering.. What an editor does is scroll through their digital folders, they click on shots, they glance at them to trigger memories and their feelings about those memories, so an editor uses non biological resources to be part of their thinking and remembering. (S:) What is a non biological resource? (K:) Your mind is biological, right? Your brain and body and your mind is also non-biological. That is, your mind is the film. It’s an extended mind. Your thoughts… (S:) It’s an expression of your mind? (K:) No. It is your mind. (S:) Okay. It is my mind. (K:) Here’s the thing. Run with me for a minute. What Andy Clark is saying, if you took away the thing that’s outside of your brain and your body, you would not be able to think. It’s essentially like removing part of your brain, so think about it this way, for an editor, if you took away all the filmed material asked the editor to edit the film,well, you can’t. RIght? You can’t edit the film unless you have the filmed material so then the theory is that the thought doesn’t just belong to you, the thought also, in a sense, belongs to the film. Walter Murch has this fantastic quote: “Films are much smarter than the people who make them.” Editor’s know this is your respecting the material and what it has to say, but what’s cool about this is that you actually have cognitive psychologists and cognitive philosophers saying, “you know what that is actually happening, the film is thinking.” When you reckon… …you sound, you sound like maybe, maybe, maybe not on that one. (S:) I mean whenever I cut a film, I usually, before I cut it, I have some form of creative agreement with whoever the director, the producer, we both think this is what the scene is, and then the moment I start cutting it, it immediately goes in a different direction and most of the time I will not fight that. I will just go along with it and then just present it to the director and many times be very surprised that they actually embrace it as opposed to trying to, “well that’s not what we talked about.” So yeah, I think I could agree with that. (K:) Yeah. An editor who doesn’t let the material do some of the thinking isn’t a very good editor. (S:) Sure. Shall we move on to number four? (K:) So you’ve been watching, you’ve been sorting, you’ve been remembering what happens next is selecting. You can’t compose a film, without first making selections, but every selection you make, changes the film that you are making. If you select one thing that’s really good and then you select another thing that’s really good and you put them together and they don’t really work together, then you go back and you select something different. (S:) What’s the last thing an editor literally does? (K:) Composing. Most people might just call this editing. It’s like oh yeah it’s when you put all the shots together, but we’re calling it composing because we want to distinguish that all five of those things we’ve talked about are editing and composing is just that moment where you actually put the selects into a timeline and shape them in relation to each other. You might also have to go back and watch or sort or remember or select again cause the material might ask for something different than you thought it would. (S:) I really spend my time looking at shots, sorting them and thinking which are the moments that are great on its own. (K:) That’s really interesting. (S:) The reason why I really try to keep selecting and composing two separate things is, don’t want to commit too early to the scene until I know everything about the material independent of the scene if that makes sense. (K:) I reckon Sven this is one of the things that makes you a great editor, if I may say so. (S:) You may. (K:) Thank you. I reckon that you have patience. It’s something great editors have. I watch people trying to edit and I see them get excited by something and they start shaping it and then you kind of dig yourself into a hole by composing it in one direction when it could go a much more interesting direction if you’d just been a little bit more patient. Here’s another really nice analogy and this is from David Kirsh. It’s like a scrabble board. What you do is you rearrange those letters in your tray looking for words. And you rearrange those letters and you look at the board and you say oh there’s there’s a D out there. Oh. Look I have an O and a G. I can make DOG , but look I can rearrange it and make it say GOD as well. This is an analogy where David Kirsh is saying, you can’t think without the letters, without moving the letters around, and this is what an editor is doing as well. As Jonathan Oppenheim says, “I make connections that I didn’t expect and everything evolves.” (S:) Perfect. (K:) So those are five things that I think an editor literally does. They watch, they sort, they remember, they select, and they compose. And all five of those things might be happening all at once, which makes the editor a real expert, but I don’t know there might be other things happening too. What do you think? (S:) Yeah. Exactly. What do you think? so let us know in the comments section. See if this is all of it, or if there’s more, or if you disagree with some of it. Thank you again Karen! I thought we really took it to a deeper level and I’m looking forward to talking to you on the next one. (K:) Thank you Sven. It is really helpful to me to talk to you. It helps clarify my own thoughts a lot.

100 thoughts on “5 Things Film Editors Literally Do – According To Science

  1. The scrabble analogy is good, but when people ask me what I do or what my process is I describe it as jigsaw puzzle. It never comes out how looks on the box (the directors intent) and a lot of the time your trying to squeeze the right pieces together. Sometimes they fit in perfectly like they were made for each other but sometimes you really gotta jam them in and deal with the rough edges.

  2. Lots of wonderful video (photography), like composition and the rule of thirds. Very good cross fades… Really thought provoking. Enjoyed. Heidi. I love how each of the frames of the clips can stand on their own as an image. Thanks. Franny.

  3. I love the insights into the mental processes which evolve as you edit more films. I can see that I now use the sorting process when I am filming.

  4. to me the List is true for any creative process i have been in. be it filming, editing, grading, creating music, lyrics, paintings, pictures, a thought, a mindset or a diy active loudspeaker or guitar from scratch.
    The toughest to learn for me was that it seems there is no useful way but going through it iteratively and then reducing the needed iterations, gaining and extanding my experience – hopefully till it almost works flawlessly like a waterfall. and well partially it already does.
    Thank you both for sharing your experience. such a treasure for such a "go-with-your-guts-but-learn-to-really-understand-what-they-are-trying-to-say-guy".
    literally clarifying

  5. I wrote an essay based on this video –

  6. Man. That thing just made my mind explode (in positive way..). As others said, her voice mixed with ur visiual choices make this video superb. I'm in love with video editing, i hope that in future that will be my job.. and seriously, your videos, inspires me a lot. I've never watched something that explain this world like you do. Never.

  7. I like the edit & visuals but I found some of her dialogue a tad pretentious. The majority makes perfect sense to me though. Good work with the video.

  8. Lovely piece, great quotes. I find now I only work on my own material I go in to the edit knowing what the film is supposed be, but I don't even pretend to try to honour some kind of script line by line edit or project my will onto the film. I go in looking to discover because once you're in the edit the footage has a way of telling you how it wants to work. If you don't listen to that it falls apart so quickly. It's very strange and very exciting because it feels like you're dealing with something as complex and wilful as another being.

  9. How can I say better than amazing?! Don’t have words to try describing your work. I love you. I’m learning a lot! Thank you!

  10. I can not express my feeling of gratitude about this generous flow of passion and knowledge you share with us. I really learned a lot from this video and as a non-regular comment writer and editor myself thank you very much.

  11. I really enjoyed this but it would be more interesting in my opinion if i see you sit face to face and speak those things. (Like a formal interview). But the knowledge you shared in this deserve huge appreciation. Thanks 🙂

  12. Im trying to learn to edit as much as i can. I cant afford to pay someone. Thank you for all the free information. It is greatly appreciated. My second film is in post now.

  13. Okay man. This blew my mind. First 5 minutes of the video seemed to me like few seconds. I was not sure if this was even possible. Stay around this kind of videos 🙂

  14. Great video….heady stuff! I love your channel, it is so helpful to me even though I am just a newbie editor.

  15. Great interview! Extravagant Noise would love to interview an editor in the greater Seattle Area touching on these points, but of course including a musical relationship. 🙂 Thank you for sharing the video 🙂

  16. Hey Sven, Wonderful video, amazing tutorial!!!! I couldn't agree more, learning so much on eleven minutes deep thoughts video not about editing but how to set my mind to do so!!!! Thanks

  17. This is a great video. These steps can also serve as a reminder of what you should do, and in what order, when editing a film. In a way, these steps keep you on the right track when editing.

  18. I like what you had to say about editing. It does give someone inspiration to grow and create better content. Thank You for this piece.

  19. this video it self is an art…I don't know the science reason, but the pace is so calming, relaxing yet keeps giving me the knowledge which is hard to understand when we read it in the book…. I really love your work please teach us how to conduct audience's emotion through the edit 🙂

  20. I think musicians do that, especially electronic musicians. They listen to a part in a song and then make a sample out of it. Then they take several such samples and compose music with them. Very similar to editing. I think writing is also very similar to editing. I think when I am writing I am trying to remember a feeling. Then I find the words that define that feeling. Then I write it and compose it using grammar and syntax of a particular language that I am writing it in.

  21. Hi Sven, I'm Pato, a Mexican film editor in my 40's. I've been editing for 30 years since my dad brought a VHS and a Betamax home in a small northern little town in Sonora. I revisit your videos every now and then, especially the Science Of Editing series; great job BTW.
    Being now also a writer, I'm convinced I would add a category to this list, which is: LISTEN, and it would be right before COMPOSING. Every time I need to feel what the material wants to tell me, very frequently I rely on music and the remembering of the material playing both over and over. It could be part of number 5, COMPOSE, but I just wanted to share this important tool, for me anyways.
    All the best wishes directly from Mexico City. Thanks for inspiring us with your channel and the wonderful work in it.

  22. as a videographer who's been obsessed with editing since childhood, i always tell people that my job is literally to show people the world through my eyes, I think that's another important thing not mentioned. As editors we have a "voice" that we're consciously aware of at all times. I would love to see a study on how editors recall their own memories compared to a non editor. I also edit a lot of videos in the electronic dance music space (festival recaps, event trailers, etc.) and one thing i always do is pick a song before scrubbing footage, if i was at the event and took the footage. I get strong powerful images in my head when listening great music, and always pick songs that match the "vibe" of the event. If an artist put on a performance that had people in tears, i wouldn't pick his or her hardest hitting, or even top ten most popular track for my edit, just because i like the song. If the vibes don't match you'll never come close to getting the full potential of the edit.

    Once i pick a song, a lot of the time, i'll actually plan the story, or specific shots, before I've even scrubbed footage. If the song reaches a beautiful crescendo, that gives you that feeling in the pit of your stomach, i'll imagine a close up of a smiling face, lost in the moment, eyes wide staring at the stage, with white light gleaming off of them. Then i find that fragment of my memory (footage) and put it into the story i'm trying to tell. When it works it's fantastic, but you have to be mindful of when it doesn't. I'm always constantly aware of the popular saying among video people, "know when to kill your baby". It sucks having to kill an idea that's special to you if it doesn't work, especially when you're not sure if the reason it's not working is because you've watched it 200 times up to that point, but it always pays off when i let go of that anxiety and do what is right. The "baby" almost always comes back in a better way in a future edit, or even further down the timeline in my current edit. It's crazy.

  23. Thank you! I'll use this to make a short documentary about our struggle to recover our land here in Paraguay

  24. Story and scene, work backwards with your ultimate point in mind, it’s much easier to chart a path to the beginning when you start from the destination, it confirms and stabilizes purpose.

  25. Cant be anymore thankful, this and all of ur vids are so helpful.
    I literally learn from your videos more than i learn from the lectures i have in the university (I study film)

  26. I think you guys are great, but you seem to be constructing your own false paradigm on what editing is. To say it is a "science" and then to say "This is the five things that editors do" and this and that, you are actually doing your own kind of artificial "sorting" (your word, not mine) and in essence restricting the very intangible and uniquely human process that editing is. In short, by trying to fit editing into these five steps, you are creating a false paradigm of what editing is. Who says it is five steps? Why not four? Why not seven? I just think you are creating a false narrative of what the process it is. Could it be that editing is highly individualized? And more to the point, since when did editing become this quantifiable science and not an art? To say editing is science seems way off mark to me. Of course, certain scientific and cognitive-perceptual principles do apply, but for me, editing is more artistic than scientific. What about the famous, although eccentric filmmaker, who simply throws the scenes on the ground and sequences them in the order he picks them up? How does that match up? As soon as you say this is what it is you make it what it is not. And of course, there is always rebellion too.

  27. This was pure psykoterapi. 😂
    Love all your videoes, so unique so beautifully created, you are a whole film school. Thank you.

  28. I think that you are reading way too much into it, editing is not that hard. To be honest, good, coherent footage is 90% of the work. Case in point? This video. The stock you are using has nothing to do with anything half of the time, and the video ends up looking sloppy and all over the place (that dancer at 9:50?? wtf?).

  29. Hhm…this seems like it's an easy way to lose objectivity about editing. Not a problem for some minds to go there – I think some minds of the human race should go everywhere.

    But it get so semantic and, the problem with getting more subjectively deep like this is that things become less definitive – which loses more and more universal meaning – which then kind of counters the initial point of going there.

    For instance – the "films are much smarter than the people who make them" comment. This is proven false in the case of Star Wars, the original. I recommend anyone reading this to go see Rocket Jump's "How Star Wars was saved in the edit." Films are just primordial ooze waiting to be tampered with. The mind is the alchemical forge for the magic to happen but….films are just inert material.

    Love your channel, dude. Would love if you could watch a few of my very short music video type advertisements. They're not much, but I'm slowly working my editing muscle. Thanks to your channel's insight ofcourse!

  30. Editing is how we think. So a film is a focused stream of consciousness being projected on screen. The music enhances all the emotions and moods.

  31. Nice visual presentation, and wonderful idea content. However, the audio intruded: during and after the long black screen interlude I began to find the music track too loud, which lasted until I tired of it and paused the piece; also noted how much more muffled Sven's voice track was than his guest. I realize this was made a couple of years ago, and because it's such great material well present, I'd suggest it's never too late to tweak an audio track 🙂

  32. not sure why but your content is just popping up on every avenue i swing by on the internet! the interwebs knows I need it because i'm editing a webseries right now! love the channel

  33. I really loved this video. Are there any similar channels for the other parts of filming like, is there a "This Guy Films", "This Guy Directs" or "This Guy Acts" ?

  34. It didn't come across as insightful at all. It feels like a non-editors take how they perceive it is, not how it actually is

    It's missing the most important element sound/music/sfx which makes the edits feel alive an help set the pacing.
    Music can fundamentally alter an experience of the edit

    Also switching an order around is just the part, the sum of parts make the whole, each part needs to help re-enforce the vision, it is the failing of the director to capture those parts that would require the scramble to re-arrange an rescue a piece.

    Also you are still fundamentally telling a story, it still needs to adhere to some semblance of a three act structure. Each scene needs to create tension but at the same time move the narrative forward. That whole aspect of storytelling is missing in this analysis

  35. Editing is an art, expressing your mind and actually making it like reality is just crazy. Great video!! A lot of interesting teachings in this

  36. Being a screenwriter, I literally feel this theory goes hand in hand from the very beginning of the page to the editor. Amazing.

  37. This is my favorite episode, and the most important sentence for me is "Movies are much smarter than the people who make them". Is not that in real life? I am still discovering it again and again. This is my life passion.

  38. Very interesting, so there is no such thing as “prepping” a project. The “Edit” begins the moment you engage it

  39. Amazing video! I think there is also the "Flow of the mind" that you sucking yourself to the material the timeline, the music, etc… maybe it's a summarize of all the 5 thing that is mention in this video.

  40. This video is one of the best videos on YouTube
    Thank you Sven
    I don't know how many times I have watched it.

  41. I clicked this video thinking that this could teach the matrix effect, but this is not about video effect.. an effective video.

  42. Encuentro de gran interés el tema de entender qué significa Episteme. Especialmente en su acepción moderna, la que habló Michael Foucault, distinta a la mencionada por Pearlman. Según Foucault la episteme aparece como el MARCO de SABER acorde a la determinada "verdad" impuesta desde un poder en cada época. Yo creo que dicho marco es poco visible y es interesante deconstruir como para que tengamos una mirada NUEVA y ESTIMULANTE como autores y como editores. English: "I find the topic of understanding what Episteme means very interesting. Especially in its modern meaning, the one Michael Foucault spoke about, different from the one mentioned by Pearlman. According to Foucault, the episteme appears as the FRAME of KNOWING according to the determined "truth" imposed from a power in each epoch. I believe that this framework is not very visible and it is interesting to deconstruct so that we have a NEW and STIMULATING look as authors and as editors."

  43. This video is fantastic. After wading through so many guys and dudes saying basically the same thing, this one took it to another level. I will rewatch to let all the points really sink in. I mean, it sort of completely altered what I think film “is”. And what a smooth and listenable conversation. Will check out the book with Karen’s chapter.

  44. SMH. Why do they have to make it so complicated and delve deeper into editing. Just tell us the damm steps great editors go through when making videos.

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