O is for … Out-takes
April 17, 2012
Film editing is almost as much about what one takes out as what one leaves in. Sometimes a scene taken on its own is a wonderful scene, but just doesn’t add to the film as a whole. It doesn’t move the story along, it doesn’t make an important point, it just “is” — and as such is a candidate for “is not.”
Blake Edwards, a director I admire greatly, knew this very well. In the voice-over commentary on Victor/Victoria, he talked about a scene he excised. He said it was very funny, but it simply didn’t add enough to the whole story. He could get the point across in a much more concise way, so the scene became an out-take.
His wife, who saw his creative process in its entirety, unlike the rest of us who only see the finished product, has said that it was amazing to watch him work. He often wrote, directed and edited his movies, and yet when he was directing, he could see when scenes he had written were not working, when he was editing, he had no fear of cutting scenes that he’d directed particularly well. All that he did was in the service of the story.
And that’s where the link to writing comes in. All that a writer does must be in the service of the story as well. Every word, every scene, every characterization has to count. Otherwise, although there may be a pang as the words disappear, the writer must grit his or her teeth and leave words, scraps of dialogue, scenes, even whole characters, on a figurative “cutting room floor.”
Editing can be painful, but it’s necessary. We have to do what best serves the story. Sometimes that means out-takes. That’s life.