Editing dialogue is always tricky. As editors, it’s your job to know what to leave in and what cut out when constructing the scene. That said, here are a few tips to help you edit dialogue.
Stay true to the scene when you edit dialogue
When you have to cut dialogue, there’s often conflict between parties. There’s the script, plus the director has his or her own vision. However, sometimes things just don’t line up. A script should work as a script, but that doesn’t mean it translates perfectly to shot footage. For this reason, a director might stray from the script to emphasize a particular point. Likewise, a director’s vision might work as raw footage, but it doesn’t always carry over with the same intent when it’s cut together.
As the editor, you have to stay true to the message of the story. Cut clips together accordingly. Also, know that you aren’t working in isolation. Talk with the director and screenwriter to understand the purpose of the dialogue you’re editing.
Keep on pace
One of the greatest superpowers a video editor wields is the ability to compress or expand time. An editor controls the pace of the film. You can extend that pace by holding on a single shot before cutting to the next line or by adding in a reaction shot. Or, you can speed things up by trimming clips and overlaying them on top of each other. Either way, the pace of the dialogue is not limited by the talents’ delivery.
Scene pacing should be dictated by the scene’s goal — what it’s trying to accomplish.
Don’t neglect reaction shots during your dialogue edit
The flow of a conversation isn’t always focused on the person speaking. Sometimes, the true impact of what is being said is reflected in the response of the person who is listening. Shot selection should focus on the conversation and how it relates to the story, as opposed to who is delivering the dialogue.
You need to know when to show the speaker — for instance, when the dialogue is poignant and reveals something about the character. On the other hand, when one character’s dialog reveals something about another character, it can be best to show a reaction shot instead.
Talk it out
Being an editor is a collaborative process. Always talk with the writers, directors, and producers about the goals of the scene and the film as a whole. It will keep everyone in the loop and ultimately help you do your job correctly and in keeping with everyone’s vision.
Uses these tips the next time you are cutting some dialogue. You can learn more by reading “How to Edit Dialog.”
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