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Throwback Thursday – The Cutting Room Floor

Matt The Cinematographer1

As Matt is currently locked deep in video editing at the moment, today we thought we’d revisit a little post on the subject of what goes into editing together a good film. Why do sometimes certain shots from your wedding day end up “littering the cutting room floor” so to speak? Why does it take so long to put together a good wedding film, here are our resident wedding filmmaker’s thoughts on the subject…

In any filming enterprise probably the most challenging place to be is sitting in the editing suite deciding which of the thousands of clips in front of you are the ones that present the story in the best possible way. It can often be a savage place where tough calls have to made and agonising choices are a regular feature, but it’s also the place where, when the right choices are made, the magic really does happen.

With any good moving picture it’s the story that drives the action and bold decisions have so often been made in the name of the story. Hollywood directors have even gone so far as to cut out entire actors from a film – Kevin Costner was famously completely cut out from The Big Chill  to the point where having completed filming his only part in the finished film was that of a dead body. Similarly the character of Marty McFly in Back to the Future was originally played by Eric Stoltz before the director realised after an initial cut of the first 5 weeks of filming that the actor’s performance just wasn’t getting the laughs they felt were needed and made the decision to recast Michael J Fox and completely re-shoot. As I say, the editing room is a savage place and the “cutting room floor” so to speak, is littered with great footage that for some reason or another just didn’t quite fit.

When it comes to editing wedding films those hard decisions can often be even more heartbreaking. Ok so those decisions aren’t going to cost millions as they so often do in Hollywood, but every shot you cut is a memory that you’re not sharing with the couple, a moment that they may never even have witnessed themselves that they will not now have the chance to see. Depending on the individual videographer and the type of film they present you might be attempting to compress around 10 hours of footage, often from multiple cameras, into perhaps just 10 minutes that make up the final cut.

The film is made in the editing room. The shooting of the film is about shopping, almost. It’s like going to get all the ingredients together, and you’ve got to make sure before you leave the store that you got all the ingredients. And then you take those ingredients and you can make a good cake – or not.
– Philip Seymour Hoffman

Some of that, of course, will probably be footage that didn’t quite work or quite long clips from which you only need to extract a few seconds. Some of that though will be fantastic clips that the editor is desperate to use but that just don’t fit in with the rest of the piece. Some of the best shots I’ve ever filmed have been cut from our final videos either by my colleague or by my own hand and when it happens it’s quite heartbreaking, but at the end of the day I stand by the fact that the finished films have always been better for making that cut than by compromising the integrity of the film to accommodate something that just doesn’t fit.

It may seem strange that great clips may be omitted from a wedding video but the thing is that when it comes to film-making, whether that be Hollywood movies, TV series, Indie films or indeed wedding videos, a clip is only truly a great shot if it works in the context of the piece. It has to match in with the clips before and after it, it has to move the story forward, it has to make sense within the unfolding story around it and match the pace and tone of the film you’re trying to piece together. You might, for example have a stunning individual video portrait taken between the ceremony and reception but find that when placed in the timeline of the day it doesn’t seem to make sense as there are no similar shots to help it blend in with the rest of the piece. You may have a certain piece of music that you are editing the video to match and find that the timing just doesn’t quite work with the music and that one shot will therefore have to be cut… there are all kinds of reasons that affect which shots make the final cut and, savage though sometimes the editor has to be, none of them are taken lightly.

The Cutting Room FloorWedding videographers will of course pretty much always try to include all the key moments and make sure that the film evokes all the right emotions and stirs all the right memories from the day. But the reason it’s so important to make sure you find a videographer whose films your really connect with is that when you ask them to film your day you are asking them to tell the story of your day the way they see it, to present your day through their eyes and their creative vision. Some videographers provide longer films than others, some offer separate full coverage of your speeches and ceremony, some will happily hand over the unedited footage whilst others prefer only to present the film they way they intended it to end up rather than all of the extra footage that was cut. They are effectively the director and hiring the right director for the right job is essential – each has their own style and sees the world differently – if you’d asked Hitchcock to direct E.T you would probably have ended up with a very different type of film than the one Spielberg created. It might have been equally good but it’s a completely different film nonetheless. They might see the story in a completely different way and edit the same footage in a very different style and that’s part and parcel of the craft of film-making – it’s as much about the parts of the story that are not included as the ones that are.

At the end of the day those editing decisions are what gives a film its style and the reason you go to one film-maker over another. It’s important to accept that some parts of your story will inevitably end up on the cutting room floor, but that it’s always for the greater good. Cut correctly your wedding film will show you enough to stir the memories to fill in the blanks for you, and the piece itself will be all the more powerful for it. If there’s something that’s really important to you that’s missing from your film then by all means see whether it can be included, but just remember, more often than not there’s a very good reason why that clip was left on the cutting room floor.

The essence of cinema is editing. It’s the combination of what can be extraordinary images of people during emotional moments, or images in a general sense, put together in a kind of alchemy.
– Francis Ford Coppola 
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