Film Editing: The Style That Will Never Be Captured Again

by Bret Hoy1 Comment

I was recently having a conversation with someone who you could consider a veteran of the editing world. We were discussing our approaches to storytelling and the pace at which we should be telling these stories. I’ve recently been editing and shooting a reality television show so this was one of many similar conversations. Our backgrounds are entirely different, yet our approaches coalesced when we discussed the types of stories we liked telling.

What I came to realize was that, through the years, the taste of the average audience member has shifted. Yet, while this shift is an amalgamation of a handful of changes in society and in the attention spans of millennials, it’s a direct result and response to the new systems implemented in the post-production world.

Here’s the most obvious statement you’ll hear all day: Non-Linear Editing has changed the Post-Production World.

I know, right? Obvious. But I think we often undervalue the amount of change that Non-Linear Editing systems have produced. If you look at modern television shows, the amount of cuts is astounding. In fact, it’s averaged out to around a cut every four seconds. This isn’t something that was prescribed to a low attention span audience. This is a style and technique that was created, utilized and perfected during the MTV generation.

Twenty short years ago, television and film were predominantly edited with physical media. This increased the amount of time it took to edit a piece by a great deal, and in doing so, decreased the amount of cuts that could be made in a single editing session. When non-linear editing became more mainstream, this gave editors the opportunity to explore different methods. To truly take advantage of the trial and error process.

This freedom dramatically changed the way we edit. And that freedom changed the way the world ingested media. This means that while the style of editing from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s is largely gone. Watch the pacing of a classic 70’s movie, juxtaposed with a modern movie of similar genre. The feel and tone will be so different. Tarkovsky, Coppola and Scorcese were very much defined by their pace. That pace was a product of the time.

This wonderful compilation of text and video from No Film School is an Ode to that traditional process of editing. One that we’ll likely never fully capture ever again.

Razorblades & Tape: An Ode to Flatbeds & Editing the Slow Way

Via No Film School:

It's almost like a movie projector, turned inside out. And the machines which edited every film until the late 1970s were, in fact, projectors, except they were also heavy industrial equipment that could turn film into chewed up celluloid at speeds far exceeding 24 frames per second.

In the days before Avid, Premiere, and Final Cut, a film was made, from beginning to end, on film. First, on set, raw stock was exposed, then developed, then (budget permitting), developed into a comparatively inexpensive “work print” meant for the abuse of post-production (ironically, work prints are also often a source of piracy); this print would then be threaded and rethreaded through the Rube Goldberg-esque “plates” that held the film and sound on a classic editing machine. In fact, the editing machine is a projector, with the only key difference being that it is ultimately projecting for an audience of one, the artist in charge of deciding on the physical alterations in the footage, alterations that would eventually get their closeup in the film's final form as a pristine print.

The Steenbeck

Before these machines, editors worked on hand-made systems, or by hand, frame by frame. The first editing machine to be mass produced, the upright Moviola, was introduced in 1924, and despite later advancements that led to tables like the KEM and Steenbeck — the ability to edit multiple tracks of sound, incorporate time codes, and shuttle through the footage at high speed with quiet, fast motors — some editors preferred the old style, including Michael Kahn, who with Spielberg, cut long into the digital age the way he had for decades; Munich, for which he won an Oscar in 2005, was cut on one of the old machines. (He and Spielberg were among Hollywood's last holdouts, converting to full-digital editing in 2010.)

Read full article at No Film School “Razorblades & Tape: An Ode to Flatbeds & Editing the Slow Way”

Note: it is our policy to give credit as well as deserved traffic to our news sources – so we don't repost the entire article – sorry, I know you want the juicy bits, but I feel it is only fair that their site get the traffic and besides, you just might make a new friend and find an advertiser that has something you've never seen before

(cover photo credit: snap from No Film School)


  1. An important side note to remember: all those fast cut MTV style edits that were “perfected during the MTV generation” were originally cut on film on flatbeds. MTV started in 1980 and the 1st Avid was not released until 1990. As someone who started as an assistant cutting 35mm film on a flatbed KEM, I can assure you that the fast cut style was in use and perfected long before the NLE came along.

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