Unreal Nature

December 11, 2014

Where Best to Put the Chisel

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:56 am

… On a very limited bandwidth, you know certain things about them better than they do, and probably better than anyone else on earth does.

This is from The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje (2002):

Murch: The editor has a unique relationship with the actors. I try never to go on to the set to see the actors out of costume or out of character — and also just not to see the set. I only want to see what there is on the screen. Ultimately, that’s all the audience is ever going to see. Everyone else working on the film at that stage is party to everything going on around the filmed scene: how cold it was when that scene was shot; who was mad at whom; who is in love with whom; how quickly something was done; what was standing just to the left of the frame.

… In the course of editing, you look at all the material for the scene, over and over again. Your decisions about timing, about where to cut a certain shot and what shot to go to next, all those things, are dependent on an intuitive understanding of the actors. On a very limited bandwidth, you know certain things about them better than they do, and probably better than anyone else on earth does. You see them forwards, backwards, at twenty-four frames per second, at forty-eight frames a second, over and over and over again. You are studying them the way a sculptor studies a piece of marble before deciding to chisel it — here. So I have to know all the hidden veins and strengths and weaknesses of the rock that I’m working with, in order to know where best to put the chisel.

It’s disconcerting for me to actually meet an actor in the flesh. For the most part, they have no idea who I am — I’m just a person who worked on the film. There’s a vague kind of distraction that I detect in their gaze. On the other hand, I know them better than anyone! But it’s only a very narrow spectrum; there are whole areas of their personality that I have absolutely no knowledge of. But, nonetheless, when I meet an actor, the current is flowing in one direction only.

My most recent previous post from Ondaatje’s book is here.

-Julie

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