Editing in the Post - Internet West by Cameron Caves

With the onset of digital filmmaking, there have been many innovations in film in the last five years. The easier it is to make a film, the more creative films get made. And right now, it’s very easy. As the upcoming Indie Renaissance approaches, more and more films are being made right now than ever before. In the next five years, this market is going to explode. We’re going to need more directors, more writers, more editors, more filmmakers than ever before.

If you’re an aspiring editor, there are two films, both released in 2013, that are massively important to editing. Both of these films are unique in their editing, and are edited with supreme mastery of the skill. 

The first is Upstream Color, directed by Shane Carruth. Shane Carruth isn’t known for being conventional. This is especially evident in the editing he oversaw on Upstream Color. The average shot length in this film is around eight seconds. Nearly the entire film is in montage, with few scenes utilizing continuous editing. But it’s not a series of static jump-cuts. Every shot is from a different angle, a different distance away from the subject, or oftentimes the orientation of the subject in the frame is changed. The effect that this has on the film is unique: If film is the manifestation of visual communication, then the editing in Upstream Color is massively effective at communicating. The little dialogue that is in the film is rarely spoken by a character that is on-screen. The montage stlye of Upstream Color, and its method of communication, was pioneered by Carruth’s earlier film, Primer, and will be utilized in his next film, The Modern Ocean. There is a growing movement by certain filmmakers, used in Gravity (By Alfonso Cuarón), and Birdman (By Alejandro González Inñáritu), to have long, unbreaking shots. Upstream Color's editing, the antithesis to this dogma, proves that this method of editing isn’t the only way to provide a tense, uneasy atmosphere. Upstream Color’s unique, montage, nonlinear editing style will undoubtedly be influential in the future.

The second film is Spring Breakers. Like Upstream Color, Spring Breakers is edited in a non-linear fashion. The director, Harmony Korine, has had a string of unconventional films throughout his career, Including Gummo, Julien Donkey Boy, and Mr. Lonely. He takes this unusual style and subject matter to Spring Breakers. In the commentary he describes it as “a liquid narrative.” It is both linear and nonlinear, using flashbacks to earlier points in the film that the audience saw from a different angle, flashforwards, intercuts, several angles of the same action, several takes of the same scene of dialogue. Harmony Korine mentioned while making this film that, for a year during development of this film, he collected hundreds of photos and videos to use as reference. This certainly reflects on the film, as it really is just a collage of moving images. Using multiple takes of the same scene has an interesting effect: Sometimes, pieces of dialogue that seemed less dramatic or desperate, will have this effect on the second or third time that the dialogue can be heard. Showing the same scene from multiple angles adds to a disjointed narrative, and reveals actions that weren’t seen in the first angle. Although it utilizes more continuous editing than Upstream Color, it also cuts to intercuts to shots that make little sense out of context, and are only understood later in the film, when shown in context. Another article referred to Spring Breakers as “The Citizen Kane of [our] Generation,” and that’s an appropriate title. This film is edited unlike any other film ever made. Filmmakers in the future will utilize the “linear, nonlinear” editing pioneered by this film.


These two films are the prime examples of editing in modern films. The montage sequences in Upstream Color progress the story and convey information in a new, innovative way. The liquid narrative of Spring Breakers connects images and creates new meaning from, had it been continuous, a straight-forward story. From these two films, any editor could learn a lot. The effects gained in these films, and the implications of those effects, will form a basis for a new, bold generation of filmmakers who will go forth and make new stories in new ways.

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