FAMU International

Editing Film and Video: History, Theory and Practice

Fall 2005


Instructor: Henry Hills

Contact: henry.hills@verizon.net

Class times: Tuesdays 9:30-12:30


Course description

This course will approach editing from both an ideal and a real perspective. In an ideal edit, heavily nuanced, making art is the main consideration and time is unlimited.  We will  analyze Vertov’s “Man With a Movie Camera” as a fundamental text.  In an editing job, one is working against a deadline and trying to give a clear presentation of someone else’s ideas.  Each has its own set of potential challenges, which we will discuss. To a large degree, every edit is unique; there is always trial and error in the beginning, but there are many aspects they all hold in common. The beginning is always becoming familiar with and making a realistic assessment of the footage to be cut. A film must be totally reconceptualized between the shooting and the cutting. What is there is what is there (not what was intended or dreamt of, not what went on off-camera). Editing is then organizing (especially organizing!), reducing, and making rhythm (whether for clarity of argument, emotional development, or structural integrity); it is primarily creating meaning, clearly expressing the vision of the director. We will explore parallel concerns and problem-solving in music and writing. We will work with film strips as well as digital imagery, and explore how the materials and tools affect the decision making process. Students will learn to function on both Avid and Final Cut Pro as early in the semester as possible. We will look at a wide range of films to see how they are cut, how they are constructed. There will be set editing exercises, but the students are primarily expected to bring their own projects to discuss and work on. Editing is a largely subjective activity. No rules exist that cannot just as well be broken. The only ways to learn to edit are by doing it (primary) and by studying what others have done (secondly).


Recommended texts

Ken Dancyger The Technique of Film and Video Editing : History, Theory, and Practice

Helmut Kobler Final Cut Pro HD for Dummies


Supplemental texts

Lisa Brenneis Final Cut Pro for Macintosh

Sergei Eisenstein Film Form and The Film Sense

Walter Murch In the Blink of an Eye

Edward Dmytryk On Film Editing

Ralph Rosenblum When the Shooting Stops


On-line Resources


www.kenstone.net      the 2 main FCP awesome-gurus

http://www.editors-resource.com/5/avid-media-composer-manual-.html on-line Avid manuals

www.lynda.com great on-line tutorials

www.scopitones.blogs.com fun



Nonattendance of classes will be severely frowned upon. Initiative, ingenuity, interest, and imagination will be rewarded. Failure to make an impression could be fatal. Attendance at special screenings (if any) mandatory.



Week one

Course overview

Self introduction by students--where they are, what they know, & what they expect. Self introduction of instructor.

Introduction to the film strip. Film is where moving-image-thinking began. If you don’t understand the basic physical nature of film, you don’t understand the ideas it produced. The parallel mechanisms of the camera and the projector. Introduction to the frame. Demonstration of the splice. Exercises in making splices. Introduction to the viewer & the rewinds. The concept of a negative and a workprint. Introduction to the trim bin.  Introduction to the flatbed.

The beginnings of editing:  screenings of Porter’s The Great Train Robbery, selections from D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance, “Odessa Steps” scene from Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, & Hills Kino Da! (on the idea of sync)

Discussion of theories of montage of Eisenstein and Peter Kubelka


Week two

            Introduction to digital editing principals (text: William Gibson “Neuromancer”).


Weeks 3-5

            Basic proficiency in editing with Final Cut Pro (&/or Avid), whatever it takes. Exercises!


Week 6

         Exploration of Dziga Vertov’s “Man with a Movie Camera”. Conversely, discussion of Warhol and non-editing.


Week 7

            Half-way! Presentation  & group discussion of student work. Ezra Pound’s edit of “The Wasteland”.


Week 8

            Brakhage “Cat’s Cradle” and “Window Water Baby Moving” montage (horizontal) & “Prelude:Dog Star Man”  superimposition (vertical). Discussion of Brakhage’s 60s theories and the Art of Vision. Gertrude Stein “Stanzas in Meditation”. Musical examples by Albert Ayler & James Tenney.


Week 9

            Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” & “Marnie”. The psychoanalytical edit. And is it in fact editing when it’s all planned out in advance?


Week 10

         Surreal films: (“Ballet Mechanique”, “Chien Andalou”, “Rose Hobart”) vs. Aleatory writing theories  & practice: (Cage “Williams Mix”, Burroughs “Third Mind”, MacLow “Asymmetries”). Subjective/non-subjective hallucinations.


Week 11

            The music video (Harry Smith “Early Abstractions”, Kenneth Anger “Scorpio Rising”, Bruce Conner “Cosmic Ray” & “Breakaway”, Henry Hills “Gotham” & “Little Lieutenant”) and its opposite (“Money”). Steve Reich tape pieces, Terry Riley. The concept of trying to do something new.


Week 12

            Lars von Trier The Five Obstructions. Group exploration of editing in films selected by students for their interesting editing (Prior assignment; pick a film then a segment of that film in which you admire the editing; look at it silent). A glance at comics (Little Nemo, early MAD, Kim Deitch). The idea of “language writing”. Plunderphonics. Music of John Zorn. Or does irony rule?


Week 13

            Presentation of student work. Talk about jobs. Summary, and suggestions of places to keep looking.



(This same course will be presented next semester in a substantially different version.)