Advice for directors and actors: match your moments
Before I share this advice, a little about me for those of you on SP that don’t know (just so you're aware that I kind of know what I’m talking about). I started editing features when we cut on film—-that was a long time ago. Most of my career - probably 98% of it - was fixing movies in trouble. What that means is, a producer realized too late that he/she hired the wrong director or bought the wrong script (usually both). On about half of these films, new scenes were written to fill the plot holes and I'd figure out what additional shots were needed to make existing scenes work. I'd then direct the new stuff and re-edit the entire picture. On the other half of the pictures, I would simply re-edit. The other way I get hired is from a completion bond company that has taken over a picture. Yes, there are people like me in the business. Don't look for our IMDB credits. They aren't there. We work uncredited (signing non-disclosure agreements in perpetuity). Everything I fixed got a distribution deal (probably 99% of films made, don't). So there.
I’m advising on a feature currently, and this problem cropped up that I’ve seen a lot over the years. A “moment” that isn’t matched. It typically happens this way (we’ll use basic coverage and two actors in this example): you shoot a master, two shot, over the shoulders, medium singles, and close ups. Let’s say that in the medium single shot, the actress does something magical, or accidental, or changes her character in some way that really shines. You want to use that bit. It’s fantastic. In the case of this actual problem, the actress changed her physicality, relating to the actor in this scene in a completely different way, that gave the scene more depth. I love it when that happens. For the rest of the coverage, she kept that performance. But that means, in the master, 2 shot, and the actor’s medium single, that performance isn’t there. Now, as an editor, how do I get to that performance? Sometimes it’s easy. Most of the time, editors really struggle around those missing pieces because the emotion isn’t consistent. And too many times, as this editor did, he simply didn't use those takes or set-ups, and it’s awkward to say the least.
Ideally, what needed to be done, is that the director should have re-shot the master, 2 shot, and the actor’s medium single to match the moment that actress gave. You have to give the editor a way to get to those moments that doesn’t interrupt the emotional flow of the scene.
For actors: I’m not saying you have to match your performance in every camera set-up. A lot of actors change how they say a line or give a look, for example, and that can be really helpful to us in building the subtleties of character. But if you have the urge to invade the frame of your co-star, it might cause problems. If you straighten your co-star’s tie in a shot, but don’t in the rest, we are stuck cutting to that damned tie a lot of the time. The times that you don’t have to worry about this too much, is if the director is shooting with two cameras or more. Go hog wild. I don’t want to stifle what you do. It’s hard to know, as an actor, when you can get away with changing things up, and that takes experience. But that’s what directors are for, so hopefully he/she will guide you and catch those moments in the coverage. But if you accidentally spill a plate of food on your co-star, and the director likes it, you might say something like “do you think we’ll be reshooting the master?”
The best thing a film actor can do, is sit in a professional editing room for a few days or more. It doesn't even have to be on your film. I've often allowed actors in my editing rooms as long as the director OKs it, and I'm happy to talk through my process as I work.
Does any of this make sense? I fear I’ve not explained it well.
Oh, a side note to John Lubran. They are editing this on Premiere Pro, and I thought of you. I’ve changed my view a bit; it’s not as clunky as it used to be! For example, they’ve added “dynamic trimming” which wasn’t on the last version I used. I thought that a serious flaw. Seems they really are listening to filmmakers. (I still like Lightworks, though!).