In case of doubt, delete

I don’t know exactly how it happened. I think someone said it in a documentary. Or maybe I read it. But once, while I was studying the subject of audiovisual editing in my Advertising degree, I heard a quote that stuck with me: “When in doubt, just cut”.

Despite the precise planning of the shootings and the many principles on which film editing is based (continuity raccords, etc.), that of the film editor is not a systematic task, but one with plenty of room for creativity and initiative.

In the same way as a draft of a book is revised, when a film is being edited there isn’t a single correct solution. The editor has to rely on intuition and experience to figure out when it is better to cut and when to leave. A single word or a single frame may seem insignificant considering that the entire work is composed of thousands of them, but harmony is a fragile thing and it takes very little to damage it.

With this uncertainty, it is normal that the film editor hesitates from time to time. There is no mathematical formula to apply; or an equivalent case to replicate; not even two different people who will give you the same advice. Too often all the options seem right and wrong at the same time.

Sometimes, after much testing and comparing, we ended up reaching a solution we believe to be satisfactory. But there is a second possibility that for some reason we don’t take that much into account: deleting.

If you don’t get that sentence to fit well, if you’ve had to rewrite that chapter ten times, or if that character just won’t work, perhaps it’s because neither of them should be there in the first place.

When I get stuck in the middle of something I’m usually too distracted by the fact of being stuck to think about a solution, so it usually takes me a while to realise. But if I am lucky enough and I have a moment of truth, I end up remembering the saying and realising that everything was as simple as removing the obstacle and going on.

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