Editing 101: 5 Rules - Part 1
Issue: June 1, 2018

Editing 101: 5 Rules - Part 1

JJ Lask is a creative editor with PS260 (www.ps260.com), which has studios in both New York City and Venice, CA. His list of credits includes work for M&Ms, NY Lottery, Yahoo, American Greetings, and UPS to name just a few. Each month throughout 2018, Lask will deliver ‘5 Rules’ that editors might consider for both practical purposes and inspiration.  

Rule 1: The First Rule Of Editing Is, There Are No Rules In Editing 

An editor is issued countless hours of footage, so the last thing he or she needs is to be handcuffed with rules. The editor must be free to roam into the abyss of endless possibilities. And the editor must cut scenes and clips together and make mistakes because in the mistakes is often where you find the “Wow, that’s cool.” In the abyss is where editors find the magic. No one ever made a difference by following the rules. Rules are a hypocrisy to the sovereign state of creativity.

If you have rules in editing then you are really afraid to change your habits. Habits lead to shortcuts and there is no room for shortcuts in editing. Those looking for shortcuts - look for another craft. Rules inevitably lead to either true or false, right or wrong. In editing, there is no true or false, no right or wrong. Editing is poetry.

Rule 2: You’re An Editor For A Reason

You didn’t find the profession, the profession found you. You probably carry around some social deficiencies. Have no fear - all negative labels are positives in the world of editing. Being alone, quiet and not wanting attention is the fuel that makes great editors. Pale? ideal! Can’t sleep at night? Brilliant! Can’t express yourself in words? Wonderful! Don’t really like people? Perfect!

We are depending on the editor to use his or her personality cracks for a greater conscious level of innocence, sympathy, grief, happiness and love. A great cut relies on you to slip between the frames to tell the story in a truthful way. The editor is the only one who holds the key, because of their deficiencies, that can open the door and slip between the frames.  

Rule 3: The Rule Of Three

Why does every edit feel better when you have three shots in a sequence? Three represents the union of body, mind and spirit. Three is the beginning, middle and end. Active, passive and neutral. Present, past and future. The Rule of Three is a cosmic law and religious tenet. It is fundamental to the universe and just so happens to work great in editing.

Mathematically, three is the only number equal to the sum of all the terms below it: 1+2=3, 2+1=3. Three is the last number that can be defined. Therefore, after the number three you have too many numbers. Thus, you have a mess. But in editing you can’t have a mess. Each shot needs to propel the next. Shot 1 is the beginning. Shot 2 is the middle, and Shot 3 is the end. Done! You can’t have a fourth shot in a sequence, since Shot 4 is too many and it would be an extra ending. Humans on a elemental level are conditioned to seeing in 3s. Don’t give them 2s or 4s. Give them what they rudimentary understand on a primal level.

Three is the magic number. It just is.

Rule 4: Never Read The Script

Take notes
Breathe the film
Let the footage guide you
Light candles
Drink wine
Drink water
Have a purpose

And if you have to read the script, then god forbid never look at the stupid script notes. Who cares what they liked on set? It has no bearing on what will cut together thousands of miles away in an edit room.   

Once during an edit, director Henry Alex Rubin was prepping his next job, which had budget restrictions. He suggested cutting the script supervisor and his producer said how would the editor be able to edit without the script notes? Henry turned to me and said, "JJ, do you look at the script notes?" I replied, "I’ve never looked at the script notes in my life." Done!

Rule 5: Watch An Obscure Foreign Film

Robert Redford once told me if you want to clear your head, watch a foreign film. Well, if you want to fill your head, watch an obscure foreign film. Nothing elevates your perspective and sophistication more than watching foreign films. One of my favorites is an Iranian film called Close Up by Abbas Kiarostami.