Day 4: Teaching Parallel Action and Montage Editing With Incubate
The project on day four was Incubate. This commercial is for a real app that lets you leave messages for people up to thirty years into the future.
About Incubate Footage: Incubate features a scene where a group of zombie women chase a man who has the last bottle of water on earth. Just as one of the zombie women catches him, she get a message from her grandmother, recorded thirty years in the past.
Why Teach Parallel Action In Class?
Telling a story with a montage and parallel action is among the toughest skills to acquire when learning to edit. However, it is an important one to teach since most films have at least one instance of intercut scenes. Parallel action should be considered a fundamental skill.
When teaching how to edit montages show the class this simple math problem; 1 + 1 = 3. How can this be? The reason human beings can be manipulated by editing at all is because of the Kuleshov effect.
Kuleshov Effect: Any two shots together will give you a third meaning called the implied meaning. The implied meaning is the emotional effect that juxtaposing two shots creates.
In class we broaden the idea of the Kuleshov effect to include intercutting scenes, as opposed to two shots.
One example I showed the students at Maui Waena Intermediate School was from the film Austin Powers. By adding one cut away to Doctor Evil the editor, Debra Neil-Fisher was able to add a third meaning; that Austin was trying to turn his golf cart around for a long time.
What Is Parallel Action
Parallel action means two scenes happening simultaneously in the movie's timeline but in different locations.
In the official version of the Incubate commercial (shown below) the chase scene in is very short, but as a classroom exercise the raw footage provides a wealth of opportunity for parallel action.
The chase scene in Ferris Bueller's Day Off is a perfect example of parallel action, sometimes known as cross cutting.
Most of Incubate was filmed MOS, meaning no production audio. Having no production sound means that editors will need to advance the story based on the visual story of the chase scene and will not have the sound as a crutch.
What Students Struggle With
There are three main areas where students struggle when learning to edit montages:
- They need to come up with story in their mind's eye for both the A story and the B story - then express it by picking shots that otherwise might have nothing to do with each other.
- Each time they cut from scene A to scene B the story has to advance.
- Montages do not happen in real time / real space in a film by their very definition. That means that each section will involve either the shortening or extending time. Newer editors have difficulties sometimes with the technical challenges of dealing with a complicated timeline.
Class Review Advice
In Incubate we can edit the zombie women driving fast and confidently, while the man is stumbling and falling. We can contrast that they are driving and he is walking. Or we can make the zombies and the man similar by showing them both thirsty. Now everyone in this planet will be thirsty. Any story the student thinks up is ok as long as they think one up and try to create it on the screen.
Make sure to challenge them on their story theme ideas. When you review the student's cuts have the students describe their story to you out loud before they show it. Watch their cut all the way through together without stopping. Then go back over each shot and ask them how this shot helps tell their story.
Pairing Music Montage With Parallel Action
As in the Farris Bueller example above, music that runs across a series of intercut scenes serves to tie those scenes together. This is the main reason we paired teaching music editing with parallel action.
Furthermore, parallel action is typically edited using music as the "spine" of the scene, meaning the music to a large degree drives the cut points and pace since we don't have dialog or talking head interviews.
Story Structure Depends On
- Talking head interviews.
Parallel Action In Documentaries
Parallel action is important in documentary filmmaking too. For example by intercutting multiple interviews an editor can create a sort of echo effect. If two people had the same observation of an event the viewer is more likely to believe that those observations were true. If two interviewees have contrasting experiences those contrasts will be more visible to an audience.
A Quick Word About Why EditStock Is Important
We have long considered editing to be the next form of mass literacy.
The ideas of how to organize video clips on a timeline is not much different from how to organize words in a sentence.
Kids who are 12 years old are more than capable of writing a five paragraph essay.
Teaching editing to college age students doesn't have to be all Eisenstein and Citizen Kane. It can be fun too. This is one of the reasons that editing with EditStock footage is so important in your classroom. The best compliment we get from students is,
"I would edit this project for fun on the weekends!"
Teachers should inspire and engage their students with modern, professional footage, that represents their career and artistic goals. Teachers should engage their students with EditStock footage.