Hollywood Ten film director Edward Dmytryk’s 7 rules of editing, all the way from the days of film (something to bear in mind), are still relevant in the digital era. Here I will interpret them and relate them to modern films.
Rule 1: Never make a cut without a positive reason
To follow this rule, an editor should remain with his current shot only as long as this is the best shot in capturing the content necessary to engage the audience. If this is not the reason for a cut, then there is no real positive reason for a cut. This is made possible in the modern era with multi-cam editing features that allow for such a decision to be made whilst comparing the quality of shots.
Rule 2: When undecided about the exact frame to cut on, cut long rather than short
While every cut is an impulsive decision, and this was particularly a problem during destructive editing, it is still better to be in a position of more opportunities, rather than leaving yourself in a position where you are limited as to when you will cut or where to cut to. Luckily, the software we use gives us the ability to change this process. However, this could be likened to how I roughly cut anything I produce, leaving myself plenty of leeway while I just choose the sequence of shots that I deem best.
Rule 3: Whenever possible cut ‘in movement’
It goes without saying that an editor should look for some movement, obvious or subtle, from the main focus actor and use this to trigger the transition to the next shot. Typically, this would be an actors entrance or exit from a room, bringing a sense of fluidity to the scene. A prime example of this is the opening scenes of Amelie, as cuts are transitioned according to both actor movement.
Rule 4: The ‘fresh’ is preferable to the ‘stale’
This rule is referencing the pacing of a film, and how a shot can become ‘stale’ if it is unnecessarily lengthy. This will help the viewer remain engaged in the film as far as possible.
Rule 5: All scenes should begin and end with continuing action
To maintain an audience’s interest, there should be something significant to the plot of the scene or the film itself to begin and end the scene. Anything in the build up to the significant action should merely be a director’s choice on set and should be omitted from the edit.
Rule 6: Cut for proper values rather than proper ‘matches’
I deem the ‘values’ in question to regard the dramatic content of the film. A mismatched may not be noticed on first look, especially if the key focus of the frame from a viewers perspective is elsewhere to the mismatch. Thus, sacrificing dramatic content for the purposes of fixing an disputably noticeable mismatch may not be all that necessary.
Rule 7: Substance first — then form
Similar to Rule 6, the dramatic content should be prioritised over the structure of the edit. Audiences will be entertained more so by the quality of the drama than the structure of the edit.