"Good Editing Is Like Good Sex" - Susan Korda On Editing!

By Srikanth Kanchinadham. Posted on August 17, 2015

Susan Korda is an American editor of documentaries and feature films. She has directed and produced award-winning documentaries like Vienna is Different (1988) & One of Us (2000). She also edited For All Mankind (1989), the Sundance Grand Jury & Audience Award winner and Academy Award nominated documentary.

At the last years Berlinale Talents program, Susan gave a very interesting masterclass on editing. Titled provocatively (it was called “Kill Your Darlings”) the session was about refining and making the right choices for your film at the editing stage.

The editors work is never planned, which is where the editor brings in her uniqueness and adds to the directors creativity. As the famous quotes goes, a film is made thrice, first at the scripting stage, then when it is shot and finally on the editing table. Since the editor creates the final version that is seen by the audience, she is as responsible for the film as the director. However the idea is not to supplant the director, but to align the final film with the vision of the director given the footage that has been shot.

Susan uses many examples (from movies like Jaws, Bonnie & Clyde ) to illustrate her point and shares tips on how a healthy and creative relationship can be established between a filmmaker and editor. A lot of her talk was inspired by Walter Murch's book In The Blink Of An Eye.

Susan helped answer 3 important questions during her session.

1. What is Editing?

Given a story, an editor has the ability to see the multiple stories that can take shape. Editing is the ability to use camera and production design to create an experience in the minds of the audience. Taking the example of Jaws, Susan quotes that "editing is the magic of putting things together." Just like good sex, the editor creates an expectation among the audience and then fulfills it.

2. What does the editor bring to the table?

Editors are like composers. Because the editing room is where all the elements of a film come together, it is also where all the “mistakes” are seen. It is a place where the filmmaker can become discouraged. But if we believe that there are no mistakes, only opportunities and if we honor the elements in front of us without judgment, a kind of alchemy can take place.

How does a composer create music. He synchronizes the various instruments and conveys an emotional experience that stays with the audience. That is exactly the role the editor is supposed to play.

3. Why does the emotional flow matter?

You see continuity errors when you're not emotionally drawn into the film. Once you're emotionally into it, you don't notice the errors. By making aesthetic choices, the editor has the power to tell the story, the audience will see. The best edited films are often the ones that don't draw an attention to themselves. The focus should always be on the story and the emotional flow. This goes well with Murch's Rule of Six, where he asserts that editors should prioritize emotion over everything else while cutting.

Check out the extremely interesting and insightful masterclass below.


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