I was recently reminiscing about one of the film classes I took as an undergraduate. I still recall the very first short film assignment for the class. The professor told us to create a 4-minute long, silent film. We went to work in our teams, our creative juices flowing. But only four minutes! It seemed so tough to tell a story in such a short period of time. Our professor didn’t inform us until later that our next step was to edit our completed film in half, down to only two minutes. “How duplicitous of him! Impossible!” we thought. There seemed to be no way to trim it down. Why, we had already worked so hard to structure our story within a mere four minutes. Every, single frame we had filmed seemed absolutely essential.
With much difficulty, each team achieved a two-minute, edited version. “Very good,” the professor told us all, “Only now, I want you to trim it in half again. Edit your films down to one minute.” We all sighed and rolled our eyes. But the cuts were somehow easier to achieve the second time around. Only the very simplest substance of the story could remain.
Each of us, deep down, felt our artistic aesthetic had suffered a bit with each cut. It was a little difficult to objectively see that our own films had improved with the editing. But I still remember watching every one else’s films impartially from one cut to the next. The final, shortest versions were the best. The cuts were quicker, the paces faster and more exciting. Forced to extract the true essence of their films, each group of students had achieved a better result.
The lessons I learned from editing in that film class carry over to today, when I sit down to edit a screenplay. I know that it will be all the better after some refining I know that some of what I put on the page will be superfluous and unnecessary. Sometimes it’s part of a scene; sometimes it’s an entire scene. But with each trim, the shape of the movie becomes more distinct. Sometimes I feel like a bonsai artist, snipping and sculpting a rough form into an appealing work of art. The final result is beautiful in a new way and occasionally, quite different from the initial vision.