The London Symphony Journals. #5.

Last year I wrote of Alex Barrett’s crowd funding campaign in aid of his new film, the silent celebration of the city, London Symphony. I’ve invited Alex to use Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second as a platform to broadcast his thoughts as the project moves along. Herein lies his latest diary entry, as well as an extensive gallery of new images from the film.

Sometimes, things do go according to plan — in my last entry, I spoke about my aim to finish the first rough cut of London Symphony by the middle of October. Well, it took a lot of hard work, but I was able to finish on schedule (which, for this ‘in all my spare time’ project, makes a nice change). In all, I was pretty pleased with how the rough cut came together, and some early feedback proved encouraging.

I then spent the second half of the month continuing to refine the edit, and last weekend I screened the film for a few friends — call it a test screening for the test screening, if you will. The response was excellent, and many of the comments expressed exactly the reactions I wanted to provoke from an audience. Hopefully the film will work in the same way for a wider audience when the time comes — but that time isn’t just yet. First, I need to work on a new cut of the film, and Jim needs to write the score. This part of the process has been progressing slowly, though the snippets I’ve heard are everything I wanted them to be.

The new cut I’m working on will be based partly on some suggestions which arose during the post-screening discussion, and also address some outstanding concerns of my own. In my last entry, I mentioned that, when it comes to the actual editing, “Eisenstein’s five types of montage may never be far from my mind, but I’m also not following them in the way that I once thought perhaps I might”. I thought now might be a good time to discuss the approach that I am taking to cutting the material. Of course, a great deal of the editing is instinctual and therefore can’t be written about, but for much of it I have fallen into a specific method, which I’ll try and outline now…

Overall, you could say I’m taking a musical approach to the material, and my primary preoccupations are the motion and the rhythm of the material. I’ve often consciously used a kind of Eisensteinian Metric montage (where each shot in a sequence lasts for a specific number of frames) to help build a regular rhythm (which can then be disrupted for effect), but I think my main technique is what I’ve come to call a ‘continuity of discontinuity’.

Standard filmmaking grammar is based upon rules of continuity editing which viewers understand inherently, even if they aren’t aware of it — for instance, an actor might move their arm, and the motion might be used to stitch together two different angles, with the movement starting in the first shot and continuing into the second. Thanks to the conventions of standard continuity editing, the audience accepts that these shots (which may have been filmed hours — or even days — apart) form a continuous piece of action. This technique, of ‘cutting on the action’, is standard practice for filmmakers, and helps to smooth over the cracks, and lend a certain fluidity to an edited sequence. Seeking to find such a fluidity between disparate material filmed over many months and many miles apart, I have sought to exploit the viewers’ understanding of this filmmaking staple by cutting material with no continuity in a way which conforms to the conventions of continuity cutting, thereby bringing a continuity to the discontinuity of the footage.

Another element of this style concerns geometric matching within the frame. For instance, if am cutting together Shot A and Shot B, and Shot A contains a person walking from right to left, but Shot B contains someone walking diagonally from left to right, I will cut on the exact moment when their position within the frame overlaps, thereby creating a geometric link between the two shots and the two movements they contain (to an extent, this also brings a certain continuity to the movements). Finally, I’ve also often cut just as a particular action within the frame is concluded — such as, say, a dog turning their head or a person pointing. Cutting on the exact frame in which the movement is completed helps give the film a sense of fluid motion between shots. Or at least, that’s the idea. How well all of this will really work for an audience remains to be seen, but what I’ve outlined here is, at least, the thought process behind many of the editing decisions in the film.

I’ll write another update for this journal in due course, but for more regular updates you can still join the official London Symphony community here: