25 Oct Ever wanted to skip through a film? Find out why
Have you ever watched a film or video that became so boring you decided to skip through it? You probably have. Well, then congratulations! At that very moment, you became an editor. In fact, we do it all the time: watch fragments of online videos, see just bits and pieces of movies or even skip through songs ‘just to hear the good parts’. A good video, however, is so well edited that you don’t even think about skipping. Film editing is arguably the most important skill for creating interesting videos, and is equally important for explaining complicated concepts in a quick way. Let me show you the art of film editing, and how it all started.
Entire books were written on the subject of editing in the early days of cinema, but let’s cut to the part where it gets interesting: the 1910s and 1920s in Russia, or more precisely, the Soviet Union. Soviet filmmakers like Eisenstein, Vertov and especially Kuleshov were responsible for the first ‘revolution’ in film editing: Soviet Montage. In 1918 Lev Kuleshov did an experiment that later became known as The Kuleshov Effect. It showed how underlying meaning is created by the combination of shots, instead of by single shots alone. For the experiment he put together a short film in which the same shot of a man’s face is placed in between shots of, respectively, a bowl of soup, a deceased girl and a woman on a sofa. Due to the combination of images it evoked different meanings: hunger, grief, and lust.
This idea became a very important part of the practice of filmmaking, and even became central to editing in The Soviet Union. Everything was built around this concept. It was used to propagate communist ideals and to shape the public opinion of the masses. Most Soviets were illiterate, but they did understand these images and what they stood for. Take a look at how Eisenstein depicts the bourgeoisie and the consequences of their actions in the following clip from from October.
Pretty powerful huh?
I hear you thinking. What does this have to do with science videos? Well, the idea of creating meaning through editing can be applied in videos about social studies, for example. At Sensu, we recently made a film for the RuG about research that looked into the feeling of ‘home’ among Turkish and Moroccan people in The Netherlands. Through combinations of images we could make the information easier to process, and create meaning that was in line with the scope of the investigation.
We used the ideas of Soviet Montage in two different ways: by cutting from one shot to another to create meaning, but also in a tweaked way where we combined two shots in one image (split screen).
The first example can be seen when Dr Stock mentions people’s tendency to talk about Morocco or Turkey in comparison to The Netherlands. At that moment we cut from images of Morocco to a Moroccan woman in The Netherlands. This cut immediately creates meaning, as it visualizes the comparison between the two countries at the moment it is being talked about. After having shown the country of Morocco, we then quite literally show Morocco again (represented by the Moroccan woman), only this time in a Dutch context. So, with just one cut, we make Dr Stock’s statement visual – we create meaning through editing.
The other, more modern and tweaked use of the Soviet Montage technique can be seen in the ‘mirror images’. The combination of two shots in a split screen links those two images, creating meaning as well. Once this connection has been established, those images cannot be seen apart from each other. They are linked in this given context and their meaning arises in this context. We see a Moroccan street market next to a Dutch street market, representing the different perspectives these people have and how they move freely between these perspectives (and identities).
Nowadays we have backed away from the idea that meaning can only arise through a combination of shots, but we have not backed away from the technique of combining shots to create meaning. It has become a big part of filmmaking, and will continue to be just that.