The Development & Principles of Editing
Analysing a Sequence: Saving Private Ryan Introduction to Editing
Editing is the post-production process, where all visual and audio material that makes up a media product is combined. The term cut referring to a film derives from early methods of editing that involved literally cutting, or splicing, film footage and sticking parts together to form a basic edit of a film. By combining multiple shots together into sequences, the filmmaker can show a progressing narrative, or simply an idea or visual art-form. The editing process often provides the coherence needed for film, especially if it has not been shot in the relevant order which is known as non-linear editing. Non-linear editing has become standard for film making since new systems were introduced in the 1990s, previously tape-to-tape linear systems were most common.
Other progress being made in the industry is the move to digital filming, where
images are recorded onto SD Cards to be loaded instantly on to a computer. The film industry still produces the majority of footage on film, and then converts it to digital for the editing. There is rapid movement currently towards digital over film though, as the ability to shoot in higher quality digitally improves. Additionally, the system of editing itself has evolved over time. In the early days of film (1900s) there was no set out way to edit media products, although a century on Hollywood has developed methods to create potential to convey meaning or confuse the audience as desired by the filmmaker. A central part of this is the continuity system, as well as the use of transitions between shots.
Continuity & Techniques
The continuity system helps the audience to understand what is going on in each sequence of the edit by keeping certain factors consistent and seamless. Therefore if the required product has been shot in a non-linear way the audience is not aware of this as the film will still make sense at the end. It is important to use these factors so the audience does not get confused because that can ruin the viewing experience.
The 180 Rule This rule of filmmaking prevents the audience from getting confused as it ensures characters and moving objects consistently occupy the same half of a frame. This makes the scenes layout easy for the audience to work out. The clip from Saving Private X Ryan follows this rule by shooting it all from the top or left of the beach (as shown in the diagram), showing the soldiers as they attempt to take Omaha Beach. The clip does occasionally break the rule, to confuse the audience in the manic situation.
Match Cuts on Action A match on action shot displays a movement between two separate shots, starting in one and ending in another. Spielberg uses this many times during the beach sequence in Saving Private Ryan, including from the 4.00 point of the clip, as Tom Hanks character drags the body of another soldier up the beach. This particular use allows the viewer to see all the horror and gore that is going on around Hanks, before getting closer to the action to establish his particular movements.
Motivated Editing & Eye-Line Matches
An eye-line match is a switch between two shots, where the first shows a character looking out of shot and the second shows what they can see, usually as a POV. Eye- line matches become motivated edits where the characters reaction to what they are seeing is significant. It is a commonly used feature of horror films to create suspense. In this clip of Saving Private Ryan, Tom Hanks character freezes in place and looks at the horror happening on the beach in front of him.
Establishing shots are usually used at the start of a scene to show the audience the location where the scene is taking place, if it is relevant to do so. The clip I have chosen is Part 2 of the scene, so it does not feature a main establishing shot. However, I found Part 1 elsewhere online and the establishing shot from that is pictured above, depicting the metal tripod beach defences on the beach before the soldiers began landing. This is useful as it suggests some of the issues the soldiers will have to face in the upcoming attack. A few seconds later we are informed of the date (JUNE 6, 1944) and the location too: DOG GREEN SECTOR, OMAHA BEACH.
A shot-reverse-shot is a technique used to be able to show two characters having a conversation with both of them visible in both frames. This is most frequently done by over the shoulder shots, as it is in this clip. As Hanks character is being questioned you can see the
top of his head in the bottom left of the frame. The shot reverses to show Hanks response with the other soldier also seen in the bottom left. It is worth noting that this section of the sequence does break the 180 rule very briefly, most likely to confuse the audience.
There are multiple different types of shot filmmakers can use when making a media product, from close ups to wide shots. The clip features both of these and many variants in between too. This is done to keep the sequence interesting to watch as the story develops. The pictured close up features at 1.45 of the clip, the wide over the shoulder shot appears multiple times at 0.21 and 5.07. Most of the shots used vary in type throughout their duration on screen, as the camera follows the action from one man to another. An example of this is the shot between 4.42 and 5.06 as the soldiers charge further up the beach. For the most part, the shot is a low angle medium shot; the camera looks up at the sand bag barricade where the Nazis are attacking them from with a soldier in the foreground. As the soldiers run further ahead of the camera it becomes a long shot, and then a close up as it pans around to show a fallen soldier screaming for help.
Providing and Withholding Information / Cutaway
This technique is used a few times in the clip, in order to hide some of the particularly violent and gruesome bits of action that supposedly happen. The technique allows directors to use restricted narration, where the audience is allowed to see what happens only to the extent that the director wants before cutting away. This is used multiple times during Hanks phase of sitting still and observing the horror around him, between 0.45 and 1.48. An example, shown at 0.59 1.03, is when a group of men are engulfed in flames as they head up the beach. Before we see their inevitable deaths, the camera cuts to Hanks observing the action, and a few seconds later a wave of blood falls over him. This is a useful technique as it amplifies the horror of war, allowing the audience to come up with their own interpretation of events and without needing to go over-budget on CGI.
The clip has a fast pace and rhythm at the beginning, flicking between a number of shots showing the initial approach on the beach. However, towards the end the editing rhythm is much slower, with the time each shot stays on screen getting longer, particularly the shot between 4.42 and 5.06. The very last shot seen in the clip, which is cut off halfway through, continues and lasts for just over a full minute. The change of rhythm in editing throughout the clip may suggest that the characters are safer when they reach the other end of the beach, but also because it allows us as an audience to really imagine we are there on the beach with them watching it through the camera.
Multiple Points of View
The whole scene was shot mainly within 90o, and it follows the soldiers up the beach so the points of view dont change very much. The shots are either from the point of view of the German soldiers firing down, or of the Allied soldiers including Hanks from multiple side on angles. The editor flicks between these shots for variety and to show the efforts of both armies. Examples of both of these feature within the first 30 seconds of the clip, and are pictured here.
Montage editing is a use of several shots back to back, which are not necessarily related to each other, usually done to show progression of something i.e. a journey or training. The shots often juxtapose each other and are accompanied by music which may or may not be relevant. This clip does not include a montage as the scene as a whole is intended to follow the characters up the beach in real time. I have however found a montage of action in the 1984 film Karate Kid. The scene follows the main character through several karate fights in a tournament, but including very little action that occurs between the fights in order to keep the film engaging to watch. The montage is set to Joe Espositos Youre the Best to encourage the audience to believe in the Karate Kids ability to win, in a slightly comical way. [KK Montage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBktYJsJq-E]
Cutting to Soundtrack
Cutting to soundtrack is a method of editing where you have an existing soundtrack already which the footage is then cut to, rather than producing a score after the edit. This does not occur in the clip from Saving Private Ryan either, because the sound consists mainly of various gunfire and explosion sound effects of a war zone. Other parts of the film were scored by John Williams. Instead, I have found a clip from Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) which features a very good example of cutting to soundtrack. The clip features the main character Peter Quill (aka Star-Lord) played by Chris Pratt dancing to the 1974 song Come and Get Your Love by Redbone on an old tape player. [Video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sd5CHea6lks] This is an effective use of cutting to soundtrack because, as the opening credits scene*, it establishes the mood and genre of the film and establishes Quill as the films main character.
*This is excluding the pre-credits context scene, showing Quill as a young boy.
Parallel Editing / Cross-Cutting
This technique is used by editors to suggest that two or more scenes are occurring simultaneously. This is another feature not seen in Saving Private Ryan as the action follows a set out sequence of the soldiers progress up the beach. However it is a commonly used technique by director Christopher Nolan and seen in this clip from Inception. [www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmptU7vEkNU]
Construction of Time and Space
In a film sequence, it is not always necessary to show the whole journey of a moving character because a slow pace can become boring for the audience. Therefore through manipulation of time and space in editing we can cut out sections of a journey even going from a shot of somebody leaving one room, and cutting straight to the person arriving in their destination. This also does not occur in the Saving Private Ryan clip, because the clips purpose is to follow a character in real time as he travels up the beach. This is however very common of most films when progressing from one scene to the next with the same characters; it occurs in the aforementioned Karate Kid montage. It is obvious that the Karate Kid has not had all of those fights in just over 3 minutes it would take several hours but this editing technique allows us to watch them all in 3 minutes, cutting out the dull parts.
Transitions are the motion that occurs between shots in a sequence. There are many different types from a basic cut to dissolves, fades and wipes. Only cuts are used in the clip, a simple technique originating from the old method of physically cutting footage and sticking them back together so when reviewing, the footage jumps between shots immediately with nothing fancy going on. Another unique type of transition is a jump cut. This is where the filmmaker cuts between two shots of the same object or person but time has passed between them. It is very common among internet vloggers, who use jump cuts to keep up the pace of the video by removing ums, errs and pauses. Phil Lester, known as Amazingphil on his YouTube channel, is a vlogger who uses this technique very frequently, particularly in this video] where he has edited together footage taken over four hours. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruLb6vNop6w]
Identification with Main Protagonists
In any film, it is important that the audience is made aware of whom the main character is, and there are a number of techniques filmmakers can use to demonstrate this without just blatantly pointing it out. In the clip and the film, Tom Hanks as Army Captain John Miller is clearly the main protagonist which can be identified with these techniques.
Most obviously throughout a film, the main protagonists will be shown more than any other characters. This is very true of the Saving Private Ryan clip, as the story of the whole 5 minute clip is based around Hanks journey up Omaha Beach. Nearly every shot in the clip features Hanks in it, and the few that dont are used only to show what is going on all around him, or what he is seeing.
Point of View Shots
The point of view of a character can also imply that they are significant to the story, because we as the audience are seeing
things exactly how the character is. This is possibly to make us relate more to the protagonist and understand what they are dealing with in this case the horror of the war. At the 0.46 mark of the clip we are shown what is implied to be a Point of View shot of Hanks character (pictured).
Close Ups also serve as a technique of identifying a main character because, in a similar way to screen time, the more detail we see of the character the more the audience can discover about them. Hanks has a couple of close ups in the clip, including at 0.54 and 1.40 (both pictured).
At a couple of points in the clip when something dramatic happens, Spielberg cuts back to Hanks for his reaction to what he has seen. This also identifies Hanks as a main protagonist because we are seeing his reaction rather than the reaction of any of the other soldiers on the beach, or any soldiers who were affected by it. This improves the bond between the audience and the main character as - in a way - his presence is representing the audience and their reactions to what they see on the screen. A prime example of this is the cutaway between 0.59 and 1.03.