Three Great Directives For Editors


These are three sets of editing “directives” that I discovered on Wikipedia that translate to almost any film or video project, each of which makes a good checklist for your own edit work or that of your chosen film editor:


Edward Dmytryk lays out seven “rules of cutting” that a good film editor should follow:

  • “Rule 1: NEVER make a cut without a positive reason.”
  • “Rule 2: When undecided about the exact frame to cut on, cut long rather than short.”
  • “Rule 3: Whenever possible cut ‘in movement’.”
  • “Rule 4: The ‘fresh’ is preferable to the ‘stale’.”
  • “Rule 5: All scenes should begin and end with continuing action.”
  • “Rule 6: Cut for proper values rather than proper ‘matches’.”
  • “Rule 7: Substance first—then form.”

According to Walter Murch, when it comes to film editing, there are six main criteria for evaluating a cut or deciding where to cut. They are (in order of importance, most important first, with notional percentage values.):

  • Emotion (51%) — Does the cut reflect what the editor believes the audience should be feeling at that moment?
  • Story (23%) — Does the cut advance the story?
  • Rhythm (10%) — Does the cut occur “at a moment that is rhythmically interesting and ‘right'”?
  • Eye-trace (7%) — Does the cut pay respect to “the location and movement of the audience’s focus of interest within the frame”?
  • Two-dimensional plane of the screen (5%) — Does the cut respect the 180 degree rule?
  • Three-dimensional space of action (4%) — Is the cut true to the physical/spatial relationships within the diegesis?

Murch assigned the notional percentage values to each of the criteria. “Emotion, at the top of the list, is the thing that you should try to preserve at all costs. If you find you have to sacrifice certain of those six things to make a cut, sacrifice your way up, item by item, from the bottom.”- Murch

According to writer-director Preston Sturges:
There is a law of natural cutting and that this replicates what an audience in a legitimate theater does for itself. The more nearly the film cutter approaches this law of natural interest, the more invisible will be his cutting. If the camera moves from one person to another at the exact moment that one in the legitimate theatre would have turned his head, one will not be conscious of a cut. If the camera misses by a quarter of a second, one will get a jolt. There is one other requirement: the two shots must be approximately of the same tone value. If one cuts from black to white, it is jarring. At any given moment, the camera must point at the exact spot the audience wishes to look at. To find that spot is absurdly easy: one has only to remember where one was looking at the time the scene was made.


A lot to think about hidden in there, from the obvious to the cunning, and many “rules” that I have followed for years as a director, cinematographer, film editor and video colorist