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Editing Dramatic Improv

cobb-menuThe hardest lesson I’ve learned while editing dramatic improv is to embrace the imperfections. Usually when editing a scripted scene you look through all of the coverage and pull the best takes with the best performances and cut them together into a tight and/or polished scene. If something isn’t working in the scripted two-shot, you can hide that by cutting to the same line in the close up and the problem is more or less solved. That is not the case when editing Heart of Now.

There was a script, but the dialogue was written only as guide knowing that on the day the scene was shot, the location, the wardrobe, the props, personal experiences, and other various factors would influence and inform something new and natural from the actors who were guided by the director. And to add to this process, the camera operators were also instructed to be in the moment, sometimes acting as the audience’s eyes as a third person in the conversation moving back and forth between the actors.

One of the first scenes I had to cut was a scene on a beach that involved 4 actors, 100% improv, and only one camera to capture it all, thereby creating five very different takes to cut from. After many failed attempts of forcing the best lines together, I finally started looking for bigger moments that could play out with each other and the scene started to present itself to me. Forcing the lines and small pieces together never worked. The physical continuity was probably there, but the emotional continuity and natural rhythms rarely were.

Do I sometimes wish the roaming camera was on this actor instead of that actor when he said that? Sure. Do I wish the actor could have said that differently to build to this? You bet I do. But when I try to change or hide these imperfections I lose the organic human element that this process was used to achieve in the first place.

So I have learned to embrace these imperfections. My job is not to create a different moment. My job is to find the moment with the most emotional truth for the character and for the story and to sculpt that into the best moment it can be for the film.

  1. Clayton Farr01-24-2009

    Great post Jamie. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Erik01-24-2009

    Very insightful!

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