Some editors thrive on cutting action scenes, while others fear it. Footage from action scenes can be filmed like a finely choreographed dance with loads of structure, or a jumbled mess of improvisation with no structure at all. In both cases the editor has two important tasks; to get across the story beats of the action, and to highlight the best parts of the filmmaking.
Before we dive too deep into how to edit the scene, let’s brush up on the story. Come and Get It is basically one long fight between The Suit, AKA Krav Maga champion Roy Elghananyan and The Man, AKA Mathew Simmons. The Suit has kidnapped Her, AKA Georgia King. It's not entirely clear what The Suit's plans are with Her, but he is receiving text messages from a higher authority to destroy evidence. The Man is here to stop him.
Come and Get It is a well choreographed fight scene. Each moment of action, known as a beat, has been rehearsed by the actors, and blocked by the camera crew. Blocking means the way the camera crew and the actors plan to move around while filming.
The video below is a rehearsal for the action scene made by director Jimmy Loweree. You’ll notice it’s been edited together, and that some of the action repeats. Jimmy did this so he could see how the action looked from several different angles and plan which angle he wanted shoot while filming for real. As the saying goes, measure twice, cut once. More on this in a bit...
In your cut it’s important to get these two story ideas across before the action starts:
These two ideas need to be shown to the audience via VFX. Security camera footage will need to be comp'ed screens that The Suit is looking at, and text will need to be super imposed on the screen so the audience knows that The Suit is texting and to who.
Many editors want to skip the screen comping and texting. They claim that these VFX shots will be done later by a VFX artist, and are therefore a waste of time. While that is likely true, an editor should still comp these shots because these shots inform the story and therefore the cut. The VFX tell:
We see a lot of cuts from editors that don’t temp those graphics in. While EditStock is not a company that focuses on VFX we do focus on story, and in this case the VFX are necessary to tell the story.
As we mentioned earlier, Come and Get It is a well rehearsed scene. The more structure the director gives you, the more the more responsibility the editor has in editing the fight sequence exactly as it was intended.
Take a quick moment to read the fight section of the script. Because the fighting is not written literally blow for blow many editors would be quick to not read it, or to quickly skim. Always read the script. I cannot say that enough.
What an editors should take from reading this script are the story's beats. A beat is a moment the director wants to make sure the audience absorbs. It's usually a big swing in the fight, for example when one character starts winning the fight (beat #2). It can also be a big swing in the story, like for example when the IV gets ripped out of the girl's arm (beat #3).
While it may be easy to tell for an editors to tell where the story beats lay, it’s not always obvious how to highlight those beats using effects like speed ramps.
When editors first get introduced to slow motion they learn to take a regular speed clip and make it slow motion. It’s not until later in an editor’s development that they realize slow motion shots can be made to look regular speed by speeding them up!
The problem with slow motion is that it can add time to the film, and thus create a drag on the speed of the story. A speed ramps means that the editor makes some parts of a shot slow, while other parts are fast. The rule of thumb is, “make the cool parts slow, and the boring parts fast.”
Sometimes subtle, seemingly unnoticeable speed changes can have an impact too. For example punches and kicks can be sped up by 10-15% to 110% total, making the hits look harder. These can be speed ramped too. Just make sure that other motions like blinking, or walking are not also sped up in this way because that can make the whole shot look fake.
Finally, let’s talk about music. Music changes can tell us when a new story beat is changing. For example if man A is winning, but all of a sudden man B is winning, a music change can help tell that story. Crescendos, meaning the loudest, most tense point of a cue should be used to signify that the scene starts or stops, or a huge moment has happened.
You can watch the final cut of Come and Get It below, or head over to our Cuts Worth Watching Blog and see how others have edited this project.
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