George Lucas once said that a film is never finished, only abandoned. Of course, what he was talking about is that you could spend years upon years writing, shooting, reshooting, editing and finishing a film. But at some point, you have to stop writing, stop shooting and stop editing so you can get your film seen by the public.
This is especially true when it comes to editing; you, as an editor, can spend months upon months editing a film and never be completely happy with it – so, you decide to spend another few months refining the edit. And maybe this extra work has made you a little bit more happy with the edit. But there comes a time when you need to ‘abandon’ the project and call it a day.
But when is the ‘right’ time to stop editing a project?
If you’re in school, maybe it’s because the semester is ending and you need to submit your film in order to get a grade. If you’re working on a project outside of school, maybe the director wants to enter the film into a film festival and the deadline is approaching. Of course, even without these types of deadlines, it’s good to set fake deadlines for yourself. For a 20 minute short film, set a deadline of about 3 to 5 days to have the rough cut done. This time will be spent syncing audio and video, organizing the clips, reviewing all of the footage, taking notes of the footage and creating a rough cut. With this work out of the way, you’ve completed about 80-90% of the job. But now comes the time to refine and finish the rough cut. This is what will take up most of your time – about 3 to 4 weeks. During this time, you’ll be editing the short in lots of different ways, choosing different footage or takes, thinking about music, reviewing the different edits with the director and making changes from her/his notes. A good way to look at the amount of time spent during this period is that the last 10% of the edit takes about 90% of the time.
Once you feel the edit is ‘finished’, show it to a few people who have no idea what the film is about and watch their body language; try and tell when they become bored or uninterested in the story. Then, make any final changes from that feedback.
The important thing to remember is that you’ll always want to make changes to your different edits, but at some point you need to abandon the project and move onto your next project – which, of course, will be a better edit than the previous one.
By Digital Film Academy FCP X instructor Blake Taylor