All of these quotes were chosen from Sidney Lumet’s Making Movies. Additionally, the comments in front of some of the quotes were added due to the collaboration of Christopher Murrie, A.C.E.
1. Blue or red may mean totally different things to you and me. But as long as my interpretation of a colour is consistent, eventually you’ll become aware (subconsciously, I hope) of how I’m using that colour, and what I’m using it for.
2. Don’t let the difficulty of actually achieving a shot make you think that the shot is good. (This times a million. The audience doesn’t care how hard/cool it was to get that shot. If it isn’t right, it isn’t right. As an editor, this one gets me pretty frustrated. Don’t be precious.)
3. There are no small decisions in movie-making. Nowhere does this apply more than in editing.
4. Almost every picture is improved by a good musical score. To start with, music is a quick way to reach people emotionally. (True. But be careful when using temps. Make your scenes play without music first. Then, score enhances what is already great. It is too easy to lean on music to make a scene play when it otherwise wouldn’t. Hell, I like to cut with no sound at all sometimes just to make every idea play as best I can purely on the basis of the visuals.)
5. Everything becomes creative if the person doing the job is.
6. Commercial success has no relation to a good or bad picture. Good pictures become hits. Good pictures become flops. Bad pictures make money, bad pictures lose money. The fact is that NO ONE REALLY KNOWS. Through some incredible talent, Walt Disney knew. Today Steven Spielberg seems to.
7. When this magic happens, the best thing you can do is get out of the way of the picture. Let IT tell YOU how to do it from now on.
8. Over-length is one of the things that most often results in the destruction of the movie in the cutting room. (There is nothing more painful than being given a fixed run time to hit. But, sometimes that is a necessary reality and a film should be crafted from the start with those parameters in mind. Know and plan your film well enough that you aren’t wasting time shooting material that will get cut because you were too long in the script.)
9. Normally I’m not concerned about audience reaction. But when you touch on sex and death, two aspect of life that hit a deep core, there’s no way of knowing what an audience will do.
10. If a picture is edited in the same tempo for its entire length, it will feel much longer. It doesn’t matter if five cuts per minute or five cuts every ten minutes are being used. If the same pace is maintained throughout, it will start to feel slower and slower. In other words, it’s the change in tempo we feel, not the tempo itself. (This is true on the macro level, for the whole film, and the micro level, within each scene.)
11. The script must keep you off balance. Keep you surprised, entertained, involved, and yet, when the denouement is reached, still give a sense that the story HAD to turn out that way.
12. If the writer has to state the reasons, something’s wrong in the way the character is written. Dialogue is like anything else in movies. It can be a crutch, or when used well, it can enhance, deepen, and reveal.
13. The way you tell a story should relate somehow to what that story is. Because that’s what style is: the way you tell a particular story.
14. I think inevitability is the key. In a well made drama, I want to feel: “Of course – that’s where it was headed all along.” And yet the inevitability mustn’t eliminate surprise.
15. Edit it for story, but as part of the form of melodrama, edit is as surprisingly, as unexpectedly, as you can. Try to keep the audience off balance, though not to a point where the story gets lost.
16. Don’t let a technical failure destroy the shot for you.
17. Improvisation can be an effective tool in rehearsal as a way of finding what you’re really like when, for example, you’re angry. Knowing your feelings let you know when those feelings are real as opposed to when you’re simulating them.
18. Good camera work is not pretty pictures. It should augment and reveal the theme as fully as the actors and directors do. (This should get reposted in every one of the multitude of cameraporn posts that populate this subreddit. I don’t care how great your camera and lens package is. Shoot an engaging story with an iPhone, and it will be compelling. Shoot a beautiful but boring one on the latest digital 4K thingy, and nobody will give a shit.)
19. We’re not out for consensus here. We’re out for communication. And sometimes we even get consensus. And that’s thrilling.
20. There are no minor decisions in movie making. Each decision will either contribute to a good piece of work or bring the whole movie crashing down around my head many months later.
I’m not the messiah, but you can follow me: