Yeah, I’m going to stick my neck out for the likes of Hanna and Hunger Games. In some cases, like El Bigote de Swann’s “Gladiator. Embolism ocular. commercial epileptic junkie”, I’m wondering if the distaste is for the rapid pace and style of many modern action movies in general, or whether people are picking them out from the bunch of otherwise mediocre recent edited movies as particularly bad patches.
I think a bit of it refers back to Uli Cain’s quite true statement about overcoverage. Especially now that cameras are cheap, it’s pretty easy to just set up coupla-three herethere and let them roll, and when in the non-linear editing bay just throw four or five shots of one single action together and call it a day. That’s really sad but unfortunately it may also drag down the qualities of movies that are rapid-pace in their editing, but actually good. I know I’m going to get shit for this, but for example, Edgar Wright’s movies. Those movies are brilliantly paced, expertly edited pieces of work, but for those experience ocular embolism from Michael Bay and Timur Bekmambetov movies, you may not have the patience to notice the difference.
One method of looking into this is, and on the directorial level before we even enter the editing bay at all, is to compare a Tony Scott movie to a Ridley Scott movie. Look at Domino versus Body of Lies, or Man on Fire with Black Hawk Down. If you see ‘the same thing’, then you’re wrong — one of the brothers is much more careful, much more considerate of the action than the other.
Yes I mean it.
Black Hawk Down is brilliantly edited, in a far ranging compositional sense. There is this the sequence right before the second helicopter is downed where your line is drawn via a diagonal line of fire from the helicopter to one side of frame — which makes the sudden RPG in the next shot that lashes in a cross-diagonal to hit the helicopter all the more shocking. Most cut to cut the action is cohesive, until someone gets injured or some ‘shocking’ event such as the aforementioned RPG happens, at which point the compositions ‘jump’, not necessarily as a ‘jump cut’ (which is a continuity error) but with purposeful contrasts in color, light, framing, et al.
Man on Fire is best compared to it in the sequence where he’s getting ready the guns. He grabs a gun, for instance, and then suddenly you get a close-up of a gun floating in black, then a cut-in of his finger on a clip, then a close-up of a clip on black, then a close-up of bullets at the top of the clip at black, then him pressing in the clip, then the gun with clip in it on black, then him finishing pressing in the clip, then a medium wide of him finishing pressing in the clip, then an extreme close-up of the clip snapping into place, then an insert of the barrel, then…. All in two seconds. It’s completely unnecessary and what’s worse is that with the inserts of the gun with black, you can tell they set up entirely different lighting and maybe even composited in order to pull it off — putting vastly more work into unnecessary edits than… well… necessary. And other than the visual ‘snap’ along with the heavy reliance on audio clip snaps and music to make it all seem very exciting, it really isn’t. It’s twelve shots of one dude putting one single clip into a single gun. Repeated like three times for three guns. AND THE ENTIRE MOVIE plays like that.
Or I’ve isolated Bay and Bekmambetov because their editing is, to me, almost nefarious. The reason why is because they don’t actually show you anything actually happening. Transformers and Night Watch are edited the same exact way: once something is about to happen in frame, ESPECIALLY if it requires those top-line CG bonanzas, it cuts away long before your eye has had a chance to really ‘see’ it. To nod to technical crew of Michael Bay, it’s almost unfair. Those Transformers are actually carefully constructed pieces of motion graphic design, which you can see during the commercials whenever they have the roll-out of the title plate with the gears and stuff switching and trading places and transforming. If you think about how it works to break down all that movement compositionally, the title plates during the commercials for Transformers movies far exceed the technical skill and awesomeness of Bay’s actual product itself. Whenever a commercial for Transformers happens, the transformation occurs in front of your eyes. Whenever Bay puts the Transformer in front of a ‘camera’, it’s .02 seconds of its knee inside a dark shadow contrasted with a lensflare covering up everything, and again his whole style is like that. It’s not a ‘choice’ insofar as editors are trying to raise and lower excitement with rapid edits or anything, it’s a way to provide 2hrs45 of content without a single actual composition. If the editors chose to slow the shots down, all it would reveal is that the shot sucked in the first place.
Bekmambetov has better, strictly speaking, compositional qualities to his shooting and editing than Bay, though that’s kind of like saying drinking arsenic is better than drinking Drano. Nevertheless there is almost a sense that he would be a so-called ‘visual artist’ if he wasn’t too busy turning one man’s pedestrian street-crossing into five speed ramps and blaring music, as if homeboy is anybody important or his bad-ass action hero ability to walk across a crosswalk will make us all that impressed two seconds before he gets shot anyway and his story is over. I’m breaking down one of the early scenes of Wanted. It’s a step-up from the “Quick, cut away before the audience realizes this movie sucks!” quality of Night Watch, but not enough of a step-up to make it feel like Bekmambetov learned anything, more like he just got more money and studio oversight. Which he did. All production value related to his filmography will be entirely correlated to his budget and not his skill. Bay is the opposite. He actually was better when he was a n00b, so that parts of The Rock are coherent and even fun, until he learned he could make three cuts where there was one, when one cut in his film already lived under the ‘this is how long it takes the brain to know what its eyes are seeing’ threshold of 1.5 seconds. (By the way true story).
The only thing worse I’ve seen than that sort of shit is Catwoman. I only saw part of this on my breaks; at the time it was in theatres I worked at one, so I snuck in during lunch. This is text-book shit editing. The scene I ended up seeing the two times I tried was the same one so it gave me time to really appreciate how bad it was. Catwoman is on this catwalk (gee, get it?) fighting baddies over a concert. A guy jumps at her and she kicks him in the face. Here are the shots that take up that .5 seconds of action:
Catwoman takes a step forward.
WS Catwoman stepping forward still, same step, toward the curve of the catwalk.
A shot of the club.
MCU Catwoman at the turn, same step.
Catwoman’s ass, turns.
A shot of a wall with lights on it. I shit you not. There are during this sequence shots of a wall with lights on it — no characters, no action, no continuity to what came before, no purpose. Just a wall… lights.
Catwoman finishes turn.
Guy still leaping toward Catwoman.
Catwoman kicks out.
Guy lands on catwalk.
The wall with lights on it.
Guy attacks Catwoman, her leg decidedly not kicked.
Catwoman’s kick completed, hitting guy in chest.
Catwoman falling to the catwalk face first for some reason.
Guy finished kicked in the face, starts to topple over rail of catwalk.
That wall of lights again, this time spinning.
Catwoman getting to her feet.
Guy still falling over railing.
Reaction shot audience.
Catwoman starts walking.
Second guy appears.
I can’t continue this any longer.
Once you have the 2nd Unit shooting stuff like railings and blank walls just to have cutaways, clearly your movie just sucks.
Whereas if anything, one of the few kudos I can really give Inception is merely the fact that, with the dozens of cutaways to parallel action on several levels with the same characters constantly having to react to diverse phenomena around them, you can still follow what the hell is going on pretty fluidly, which really speaks to the quality of editing of that movie that it came out coherent at all.
One thing I love watching is Edgar Wright for the editing. Everything transitions fluidly and one thing delightful about Edgar Wright’s set-ups is that he’s a visual jokester/trickster, where negative space typically leads to a surprising reveal and he always has your eye on the right section of the screen to give you the perfect surprise. This is shot to shot and goes throughout his work, and you can see him roughing it out in earlier stuff like the Spaced series. Just watch one episode from the first season and one from the second to see him learning, and then watch Hot Fuzz. Or, even more fun, watch the director’s cut of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (for editing, learn from Romero, not motho-effin’ Snyder….) and then Hot Fuzz. Fun fact: you’ll see where Wright learned it.
When I think about a lot of movies mentioned in this thread, stuff like Hunger Games and Moulin Rouge, we’re talking an aggressive visual style than a breakdown of its actual editing. Hunger Games for instance was sort of peculiarly brilliant for the same ways people complained about it: some people complained it had no blood (which sort of disturbs me but that’s a different story) and some people complained it had too much (which is understandable). It had both. It’s one of those movies that keeps things just off screen for your imagination to do its fair share of work, the results being that some people saw a bloodbath and others weren’t imaginative enough to look past the frame. Like the people who complain about seeing Gwynneth Paltrow’s head in Se7en: that shot does not exist. You never see it. All in all, considering its premise and target audience, Hunger Games cleverly has it both ways, playing old-school with the off-frame horror.
Luhrmann shoots his movies to be cut fast but he’s gotten better at it over time and actually even Moulin Rouge is mostly just reaction shots layered over reaction shots — it looks like random cutaways but most of the time he’s just quickly juggling characters faster than may be necessary. By Australia he’s centered his frame a bit around those characters’ actual perspective, and this shows a far more advanced control of his ‘looks’ than in Romeo + Juliet which was more like a music video with a goiter problem.
Anyway I cannot encompass all of the discussion in this thread or anything like that but my basic point is that I can actually see a difference in editing ‘style’ based on a director’s own shooting style between these types of hyper-cut modern ocular attacks enough to determine, at least in my mind, which one the editor actually took some control over and made something sensible of, and which one the editor said, “Fuck it, we can’t fix this guy’s shots, cut away, just keep cutting away.”
I’m not an editor, and know only a few of an editor’s tools, but in some of the input above I noticed the seemingly common addition (or intrusion) of the Marketing executives when making some decisions in feature editing. We know they have control of trailers using footage from the feature—its largely why we buy our ticket or don’t buy our ticket. Marketing often uses algorithms and formulas (automated reasoning) as the skeleton for their work, merely plugging in footage and sound as a “skin” to cover their predetermined entity. Can’t the same procedures be used today (or are they) when producing and editing the final feature? We don’t like to admit that we’re yanked around like pet chihuahuas and watch popular films by “conditioning”, but in fact we often do. Why wouldn’t the owners of the property (film production companies) use business science (algorithms) to “help” edit the film in question. Perhaps computer programs with huge data bases at their disposal will make robotic decisions which will please us (the viewer) more than we know. It might be fun to do “blind” studies (if they haven’t already been done decades ago) to see if the viewer prefers human or robotic/programed editing. This would probably work best in genre box-office heavy films (studio films). Considering the global market and the world-wide release dates, will algorithms begin to edit regionally for the intended regional audience and dependent on regional data base entries for that particular region? They do this for trailers, tags, billboards, one-sheets already, and we’re conditioned to enjoy the possibility of multiple “versions,” so is this what editing and film-making is really becoming for popular films, or is it the future, or am I watching too many George Orwell films? In a way, the director, DP, editor are just stress-addled algorithms themselves—but possibly with different goals than the investors. Or are those goals so very different? Just an idea I’ve been wondering about. I’ve read that its used in the music industry quit a bit instead of traditional A & R decisions, in production, obviously in marketing.
suddenly see a future where the actors show up shoot their scenes, in multiple versions by several directors, in several styles, and then rather than send it to the editor the producer puts it online.
The audience then goes to Netflix and orders the movie.
So then, according to the audience’s region, demographics and (of course) Netflix profile, the “editor” engine puts together the “movie” from the generic footage and sends it to the end viewer.
I personally liked the editing of the beginning of the “Games”.
Very little gore, but I still felt
These kids just massacred each other!!!”
Even though I knew it was coming.
I know videos are often blamed for rapid-fire and/or nonsensical editing, and Mulcahey, Fincher and Bay have a lot to answer for, but what HK new wave?
When John Woo first arrived in the US, he attended a screening of “Hard Target” and was unprepared for the laughter from the audience. Talk about excessive coverage… at the time for most HK movies it was "Set-up, shoot, next set-up. ", but Woo shot every scene from multiple angles and every scene at multiple speeds. When he cut successively closer slo-mo shots of Van Damme together for dramatic effect the audience cracked up.
Now it is a cliche, like other HK staples such as showing the same explosion four times from four angles, but at the time it seemed new.
Soon after though, watching “Bad Boys” in the theater, I spent the movie going “Oh, there he’s doing Woo.”…
“Oh there he’s doing Luc Besson”… “Oh, there he’s…”
It was like a style sheet/resume… etc.
DiB should just change his name to Cut to: Catwoman’s ass.
At this point it’s proprietary to pick up Edward Dmytryck’s On Film Editing where he explores the difference between a cutter and an editor. The ‘executive’ and ‘marketing’ decisions are mostly content/editor related and not cutter/structure related — they say cut out the Tough Thought, the Audience Doesn’t Like the Tough Thought. Cut out the sad ending. Cut out that extra scene of character development, it’s too slow. There’s no program that cuts movies together for you (that I know of, though I’m sure Lars von Trier has credited one on one of his movies as a joke). As regards that structural style and its feeling of mechanism/dehumanism, it’s just people saying, “Make it faster, and make it go boom.”
There’s no program that cuts movies together for you.
Of course not.
That was a dystopian daymare that I just had.
The script for the multiple choice / multiple ending computer game “Mass Effect” had tens of thousands of lines of dialogue in thousands of pages of script that took up ten feet of binders.
Imagine making a movie like that.
Well I wanted to leave wiggle room. Von Trier jab aside (I never resist one) Final Cut X is a great leap toward ‘This is how you edit a movie here I’ll do it for you no you don’t get a choice nope this is the way it works nope human interference is interference I say this is how it goes so this is how it goes’ program. Its results have been laughable, but nevertheless that dystopic nightmare is one step closer to reality.
Final Cut X was horrible, and I’m not much for final cut at all, I like Avid
The Corrupter with Wahlberg and Yun Fat had horrible editing. Then again, it was a horrible movie. This was the last movie I watched with horrible editing, which is why it comes to mind for this thread.
Corruptor my bad
Another music vid director.
Do I see a commonality here?
Stayin’ Alive 1983. Sly Stallone cuts shots that don’t match to his brother’s songs.
Editors do not want lots of coverage. We want adequate coverage, the footage needed to accomplish the task at hand. The worst directors I ever worked with shot tons of unusable garbage and usually forgot to shoot some crucial detail.
Sigh one director I know who…. this still really gets me… shoots fifteen takes of an insert and complained when I didn’t use ‘the best one’ (they’re all essentially the same, it’s a goddamned insert shot) but never shot the action necessary to make the insert continuitous because, “This is the shot I want, why would I shoot something I don’t want?” Because the insert is of a kid putting on his backpack and you never shot a take of him starting that action.
B-roll isn’t meant to be there just so the editor can pop in a few more angles and coverage is not meant to be there so that the producers can come in and dictate content. It’s a safety procedure to ensure the editor has something to work with to tell the story correctly. Shoot too much and you’re wasting everyone’s time, including your crew’s and your own. Shoot too little and there’s nothing to use to save it if anything goes wrong.
Most of the movies cited here suffer from overcoverage. Five different angles of one action, that for some reason either the bad editor chooses to include all of them, or its dictated to the editor to do so by the producer or the director or something.
And if the director is going to demand a certain insert out of 15 identical shots, then there better be solid notes from the script supervisor, or the director after viewing all the footage.
I have some car chases in my head for a script that I would want to shoot with up to six cameras, but part of that reason is to take less time on city streets and freeways by having fewer takes.
I think some directors just don’t know how to plan, and going digital — just like when people shot video — means that one can just shoot and shoot instead of burning money by rolling film.
Pre-production is your friend and will save both time and money on set and in the edit bay.
It’s a safety procedure to ensure the editor has something to work with to tell the story correctly.
Thanks for that.
I’m just a fan, so I’m not up on jargon, but I always assumed that that all of that was contained in the very word coverage.
As in *cover*age your ass.
Not cover every thing with narrative sticky notes.
But as ‘narrative sticky notes’ are concerned, it’s very useful to have a script supervisor who is there to ensure a) that all the coverage is captured (You get distracted, as a director) and b) that the best takes are marked and any notes you may have on certain issues (“I want this part of the performance but his hands are in the wrong place, so cut away at ____”) are handed to the editor.
Or you can just shoot everything in masters. :)
Bay’s movies are a gimme, though I haven’t seen (nor want to) them all.
I can’t stand the editing in Moulin Rouge. All quick close ups with super short ASL. Ugh.
well, ADs are prod managers should be there with the breakdown as well. I always made sure I had a good, organized person behind me to make sure to pick up what I missed. A shot list is uber-important, and it’s always good to have someone carrying the permits, that that is there job to do.
While there are different stages to getting a film made, they all need to be in line for a production to come off in a successful manner.
And great pre-prod is the start, and is a godsend when post comes around.
Chronicles of Riddick was beset with bad pre, that effect prod and they were changing the script the before shooting a new scene. The storyboard artist, Phil Norwood, was having 24-hour days with revisions, and then all that effect the post.
everything should be screwed down in pre, if things are needed to change in prod, you can adapt, also, editing should begin during prod, and editors can report back if there is something they are missing.
In the end communication is the greatest thing ever.
ADs and prod managers, not are, oy
ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (that 139m version)
HOFFA (can a movie be OVER-edited?)
THE VALACHI PAPERS (clearly NOBODY cared what was in the frame on this one; plethora of modern sights in a movie set in the 20s/30s)
My nominee Quantum of Solace has already been mentioned by FLIP TROTSKY. The action sequences are completely incomprehensible. Such a disappointment after the masterful work done on Casino Royale.
Quantum of Solace is another film that had lots of potential that was ruined by incoherent editing. The actors were all doing a fine job, it had a premise that felt grittier and more real than previous Bond films, and the action sequences were well executed. Now let’s cut all that into ribbons and randomly splice it all together. I have high hopes for Skyfall, though. I’m excited for Bardem and Mendes to come into the fold.
What constitutes bad editing? I know good editing when I see it, but have trouble articulating what is not good.
It depends on what you like but for me it’s either average shot lengths (ASLs) that are so short it feels like it was edited by a kid with ADHD, or sequences that are edited with no spacial cohesiveness between shot X shot Y and shot Z, unless they are doing some kind of cross cutting where you are supposed to feel a bit discombobulated.
I keep hearing Transformers in my head. Less than a second takes and explosion on all of them.
Quantum of Solace gets another vote.
The opening action scene was so well-executed and then everything just felt all over the place. When things needed to breathe it was very choppy and when things needed to have a little more snap it dragged. And as mentioned before, the fight scenes got incomprehensible, a poor imitation of the Greenglass Bourne films. It got to the point where I just assumed Martin Campbell directed that opening sequence than Marc Forster since nothing in Quantum of Solace after that opening scene resembled it much at all, but rather Casino Royale was its closest companion.
It’s interesting how quickly these posts turn into an avalanche of mountainous proportions that are very nearly impossible to get at fairly, much less economically. I mean after 10,000 words your head starts to spin around and you forget if you’re agreeing with the last line or opposing it or you just want to round the corner, agree to disagree and formulate an exit strategy. At the end of a long road you find yourself glued to the red banner scrolling across the window asking if you want to start your 14 day free trial today!
I didn’t catch it already listed here, but I’m going to throw The Libertine in as my pick for the worst edited mainstream film ever. Well, not ever but lets say in recent memory. Until I forget.
Anything by Michael Bay or McG immediately comes to mind. The action scenes in Terminator Salvation are impossible to follow.
I kinda sorta like The Hunger Games, but Jesus, the editing was fucking abysmal. The action scenes are chopped up and disoriented beyond belief for fear of getting an R-rating. As a fan of the novels, I’m hoping the rest of the series will ditch that. In book form, Catching Fire isn’t especially bloody, so there shouldn’t be any cause for it.
I’ll defend the bizarre editing in Moulin Rouge, because it meshes well with the film’s style.
Overall, I guess my answer is Battlefield Earth. Pretty much every aspect of that movie is the worst anything in a mainstream film.