Workshop 03: Editing techniques

[Renee Lear, Every shot from Dziga Vertov’s film Man with a Movie Camera (1929), 2015]

In this workshop, we explore different editing techniques and styles, specifically focusing on the mechanism of montage. We look at a number of examples that illustrate the historical development of editing as well as some contemporary works that play with this conventional language. The focus is on the processes of editing and compiling your footage for your Experimental Film Project. Discussing and applying what we looked at about editing as a cinematic language as well as experimental device to organise screen time and space.

Watch and discuss

Early films simply show activities that can start anywhere and stop anywhere


  • was ’invented’ to tell stories;
  • often compresses time;
  • can expand time;
  • more accurately, it organises narrative time.

Common techniques:

  • Jump cuts/ straight cuts
dissolves and other transitions such as wipes
  • Cut-aways: the scene cuts to another image or scene, sometimes to signify the passing of time.
  • Parallel editing: inter-cutting between two or more scenes to signify parallel actions.
  • Repetition: use of repeated shots to emphasis the event on screen.
  • Sequence: sometimes calls a ’montage’, an event rapidly (’montage’ has other meanings when used in other contexts such as the Russian constructivist Montage theory or in other languages such as in French, which means editing).

Early films

1. Lumiere Brothers’ first films

2. Edwin Porter, The Great Train Robbery, 1903

⁃ Describe the sequence of events portrayed in the films.
⁃ What are the editing techniques used to convey the different sense of time?

Visual patterning: Composition, geometries:

3. Dziga Vertov, Man with a Movie Camera, 1929

⁃ What shots are being put together?
⁃ Are there similarities between the shots? (e.g. geometry, direction of action)
⁃ What meanings are emerged from the edits?

Fast editing:

4. Schwechater, Peter Kubelka, 1958 uses fast cutting.

5. Eric Gandini, Surplus: Terrorized into Being Consumers, 2003

  • Gandini worked with editor, Johan Söderberg, a composer and percussionist, and applied the techniques of music arrangement to the editing of the visual materials and vice versa.
  • Remember in Lecture02, we looked at the idea of visual music, where images and movement create musical rhythms.
  • Here, both visual and audio recordings are used as basis for editing (sometimes music sets the pacing of images while at other times the edited visual sequence sets the rhythm of the music.
  • The idea of rhythmic patterning can be applied to both audio and visual.


  • Can you identify any ‘rules’ used for editing each of the above examples?
  • How can you make use of these approaches in bringing your work together?
  • Are there any elements in your own discipline you can bring across in editing?


Experimentation with editing

Continue to explore the techniques and processes of editing. The conventional editing methods aim to create continuity that bring disparate shots together into a coherent whole:  Look at:

  • Jump cuts/ straight cuts
  • dissolves and other transitions such as wipes
  • Cut-aways
  • Parallel editing or inter-cutting between two or more scenes to signify parallel actions.
  • Repetition/ progression

[Sergei Eisenstien’s diagram of vertical montage, 1938]

Conventional editing techniques used in narrative cinema aims to build continuity between cuts in editing in order to build a logical telling of a story. In the 1920s, a group of Russian filmmakers including Lev Kuleshov, Dziga Vertov, Esfir Shub and Vsevolod Pudovkin, reacted and responded to the cinematic language developing in Hollywood at the time. Through practice and theorisation, these filmmakers developed different types of editing for story-telling, documentation, and experimentation. Eisensteinian system of montage is one type of Soviet Montage theory that works distinctly with discontinuity rather than continuity. Below is a summary:

1. Metric:

  • varying lengths of shots/ edits
  • largely independent of image content

2. Rhythmic

  • creating rhythm through editing
  • varying lengths, movements, directions of shots
  • largely independent of image content

3. Tonal

  • relate to image content and meanings
  • colour’ of characters, actions, and events
  • to create resonance with the audience through the image

4. Overtonal

  • editing to bring out the emotional response to the image sequence or the whole film

5. Intellectual

  • “Collision Montage”
  • expression of ideas e.g. through visual metaphor
  • dramatic graphic contrast between shots and editing rhythms to enhance conflict

Soviet Montage theory has been instrumental in the development of film editing. It is still foundational in the studies and usage of contemporary editing practice. Many of Eisenstien’s techniques and those of the other Soviet filmmakers have been adopted and further developed in different ways. See whether you can find examples of these techniques.

[Sergie Eisenstein’s sequence diagrams that map the composition of a shot as well as the directional movement of the objects depicted]

[ tutorial from UOW library]

History and context

Editing systems:

  • Non-linear editing: starts anywhere, edit anywhere
  • Analogue video editing is linear: it is compiled, starts at one end and complete at the other
  • DNLE systems is based on the film editing system
  • Metaphors used in the interface reflect this

The basic components

  • Project/ Bin/ Browser: for managing your source files (your film/ media bin)
  • Source/ Viewer: where you look at source files
  • Program/ Canvas: where you look at your edits
  • Timeline: where you edit (your editing bench)

The principles

  • Existing digital files are imported e.g. movies, still images, audio etc.
  • Footage is captured: movies and audio
  • The software points to the locations of these files (not embedded or converted) – this makes the system non-destructive
  • Source files are dragged down to Timeline for manipulation: cutting, duplication, layering etc.
  • Image and sound can be synchronised or unsychronised
  •  Completed edits are exported

Screen/ aspect ratio is:

  • image width divided by image height expressed as a ratio
  • commonly 4:3 (1.33: 1) or 16:9 (1.78:1)
  • Editing screen format should follow shooting format!
  • As 16mm film (the source material you are working with) has the aspect ratio of 1.33: 1, please shoot and edit on 4:3!!

Video systems are:

  • PAL (e.g. Australia, UK) , NTSC (e.g. USA, Japan), SECAM (e.g. France), historically determined by their electrical systems
  • related to the image resolution – the number of horizontal lines that make up the image
  • related to the frame rate e.g. PAL at 25fps, NTSC at 30fps
  •  For this project, we will be using PAL, 25 fps, 48 kHz.
  • For more detailed information please refer to this Video fact sheet: Video fact sheet

File management:

  • software point to the file’s location i.e. references the path to where the file is stored
  • Footage is captured and stored on the Scratch Disk you nominated
  • This means: if you move or delete any imported/ captured files, your editing file will say: ‘offline’ when it tries to find those particular files.

Best practice:

  • set your scratch disks to a sensible location
  •   create a project folder that stores all files related to the project including your editing file (i.e. your Premiere or Final Cut Pro file)
  • have a sensible and logical file systems so you know where everything is
  • back up your work by copying your folder to an external storage device
  • For more detailed information on managing you file for editing please read this hand-out: Managing your files (for DNLE) on managing your files.


What are these? How would you approach these elements?

  • Metric/ rhythmic patterning
  • Layering, sculpting, repetition
  • Composition, geometries
  • Temporal/ speed

Are there any elements in your discipline or interests you can bring across? Can you name these?

  • e.g. geometry and composition in graphic design
  • e.g. rhythm in music
e.g. creating of narrative through editing in film studies

In terms of found footage films, what is the role of editing in:

  • creating narratives
  • imbue/ impose meanings onto images
  • derive/ unearth meanings from images

Workshop tasks:

  • Telecine footage
  • begin edit work on computer
  • discuss editing approaches with tutor
  • Additional footage needs to be telecined by week 4

Other business:

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