FAMU International

Editing Film and Video: History, Theory and Practice

Fall 2006


Instructor: Henry Hills

Contact: henry.hills@verizon.net

Class times: Tuesdays 9:30-12:30  classroom 3


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. It is primarily making a nuanced rhythm, so it remains interesting. 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 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

Lisa Brenneis Final Cut Pro for Macintosh

Sergei Eisenstein Film Form and The Film Sense

also amusing:

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

www.lynda.com great on-line tutorials



Nonattendance of classes will be severely frowned upon. Initiative, ingenuity, interest, and imagination will be rewarded. Failure to make an impression could be fatal. This is for you. If your film is sloppy and sucks, you have to live with it. You must present and defend your work as a considered construction.


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.

The beginnings of editing:  screenings of Porter’s The Great Train Robbery,  discussion of Griffiths’s innovations, “Odessa Steps” scene from Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, & Ballet Mecanique by Ferdnand Leger and Dudley Murphy.

Discussion of theories of montage of Eisenstein and Peter Kubelka


Week two

Introduction to digital editing principals (text: William Gibson NEUROMANCER).  Introduction to the Final Cut Pro interface (the Browser, the Viewer, and the Timeline/Canvas).

Screenings: Slavko Vorkapitch montage sequences and WINDOW WATER BABY MOVING by Stan Brakhage.


Week three


 Field trip to Studio FAMU: 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.


Weeks 4-5

            Basic proficiency in editing with Final Cut Pro (&/or Avid), whatever it takes. Exercises! The second half of the class will begin meeting in the editing room on the first floor (across from International office)


primary exercise: SOME LIKE IT HOT (120 minutes) is on the hard drive of the Final Cut Pro system. You are to create a 10 minute version!


Week 6

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

            In edit room, effects, titles, and advanced features of FC


Week 7

            Half-way! Presentation  & group discussion of student work.  Assignment: bring in video sample of exemplary editing (5 min). Discussion of Structural Film principals.


Weeks 8-10

            The classroom portion will consist of screenings and discussion of short films (Maya Deren, Marie Menken, Kurt Kren, Ken Jacobs, Henry Hills) and selected portions of feature films (TRIUMPH OF THE WILL, THE INFORMER by John Ford, CITIZEN KANE, TAXI DRIVER, Chinese and Bollywood movies) plus intensive listenings to selected sound recordings (“Williams Mix” by John Cage, “Collage #1--Blue Suede” by James Tenney, “Come Out” by Steve Reich, John Zorn misc.)

            The edit room portion will be primarily one on one by appointment, discussing issues arising from the editing exercise or the student’s own film project.


Week 11

            Michael Figgis TIME CODE & Stan Brakhage PRELUDE: DOG STAR MAN:  Vertical montage!


Week 12

            Lars von Trier THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS. Overcoming problems!


Week 13

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