Narrative dialog editing

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This school is
Narrative Film Production
This course is:
Fundamentals of narrative film editing
This lesson is:
A quick overview of narrative dialog editing
The pages of this lesson are:
Lesson Summary - What is dialog editing?
Lesson Page - "Follow Dave?" Editing Workshop CD
Lesson Page - Analyze the dailies
Pop Quiz - Guess how many takes? - 4 points
Lesson Page - Select an editing program
Lesson Page - Edit the scene

Lesson Summary - A quick overview of narrative dialog editing

The theory of editing a dramatic conversation

What is this?
A conversation is when two or more people talk back and forth, back and forth without any pause.
When people have a conversation, there is a rhythm which MUST be maintained. This makes editing a conversation different from all other kinds of editing.
A unique style of editing (scripted dialog)
In a conversation, the dialog is the most important element. The spoken words are more important than the picture.
That is why editing a conversation is different from editing any other kind of scene.
Editing a documentary, event video, corporate video, broadcast video, multimedia and action scenes is totally different because they are edited based on the picture, not the sound.
Therefore, editing a conversation requires a completely different approach. It is extremely unique!!!
Only dialog editing
This is what I teach here.

Why are "L-Cuts" used only for conversations?

Dialog editing
When you edit a conversation, you edit the picture at a different frame than the dialog (audio.) Yet you always must keep the audio in sync (lip sync) with the picture. That is the definition of an "L"-Cut.
With a conversation, the sound and the picture are very dependent on each other. That is why the editing of a conversation is so challenging.
All other kinds of editing
When you edit other kinds of scenes, you edit the sound and the picture independently. You do not have to worry about keeping lip sync.
When editing other scenes (such as action scenes with no dialog), you use a patchwork of edits based on the picture. This is much easier since there is no dialog which must be synced to the lips in the picture.

Special Note

No pauses
By conversation, I mean two more more people continually talking back and forth, back and forth without any pauses. It is like a tennis match. There are no pauses!!!!
Then you edit based on the dialog (sound) while ignoring the picture.
If there are pauses
If there are any pauses in the conversation, you must edit the scene like an action scene, not like a conversation.
That means if there are gaps in the dialog, you must edit based on the picture, not the natural rhythm of the dialog.

The steps

Here are the steps of editing a dramatic conversation (dialog). Remember: These rules apply only to a conversation in a dramatic scene.

Step 1 - Select the best audio

For each sentence, you must select the best shot based on the quality of the spoken words.
Don't worry about the picture
With professionally filmed dailies, the picture is usually good, even for the worst of the circle takes (which are the best of the film dailies.) You should have an acceptable picture no matter which audio snippet you select.
Compare only one sentence at a time
Normally, each piece of the script is assembled into a conversation, one piece at a time. Conversations in motion pictures tend to have very short dialog... one sentence each, back and forth, back and forth. Therefore, look at only one sentence at a time. Find all of the takes that have the sentence and listen to how the actor say just those words.
Start by rejecting the bad sounding dialog for that sentence. Then it becomes easy to find the best clip for that sentence.
Adjust the natural rhythm
Once you have selected the best audio, you adjust the edits of the audio to create a natural rhythm of the conversation -- back and forth, back and forth. Therefore, you must adjust the gaps between the pieces of dialog.
Fortunately, when you have highly skilled actors, their natural speaking voice will already have perfect timing between each piece of dialog (between each sentence.) Just cut half way between sentences and it will probably already be perfect.
Again, don't worry too much about the picture for now
When you are finished selecting the best audio, the picture might not look ideal but the audio will sound OK. The scene will sound like a real conversation even though the different pieces of the conversation come from many different takes. That is absolutely amazing!
Microphone limitations
For most filmmaking, there was only one microphone so most of the audio is unuseable. You can use only the shots where the microphone is pointing directly at the actor who is talking. This makes selecting the audio very easy for a scene.

Step 2 - Next adjust the picture (but not the audio)

Once the audio is perfect, lock the audio. From now on, the audio never changes.
Once the audio is locked, you adjust the picture by rolling the picture edits forward and backward to find the best visual transistion. This is done by trial and error. This is called an "L-Cut".

Step 3 - Add cut away shots

Once the audio and the picture edits are perfect, you can add cut-away shots (or insert shots) to enhance the visual look of the scene.

Step 4 - Add the musical score

Since most of the mood of a scene is created with music, you need to add background music and narrative film music (music which tells a story.)
As you add narrative film music, you might want to add additional room for the music between the sentences of the dialog. In that case, you go back to step 1 and start all over again to add the extra gaps between the sentences of the dialog. Then things get really fun!

Step 5 - Add sound effects

Only the dialog is recorded on the movie set. Almost all other sounds must be in post production. You have to add sound effects, walla, ambience and other sounds to make the scene seem real.


Creating L-Cuts
An "L-Cut" is where the audio and the picture are not edited at the same point. This edit looks like an "L". Hence the name "L-Cut". Wow!
Rolling the picture edits
Everytime you edit for sound, lock the sound track, and then roll the picture edits to find the best visual transition, you create "L-Cuts". If you use this method of editing a conversation, you cannot avoid creating "L-Cuts".
You can create "L-Cuts" other ways but my method is, by far, the easiest way to do it. This procedure is the easiest to understand.
Accentuate and emphasize
L-Cuts do more than just create a nice transition point for the picture. L-Cuts can also emphasize one actor over another by showing the listener's anticipation or reaction to the conversation.
This is very subtle so you need to study this carefully. This is explained in great detail in Lesson #3 and there are two DVD-Video disks specially designed to show how to make L-Cuts and their impact on storytelling.

Ordering the Editing Workshop disks

The "Follow Dave?" Editing Workshop CD-ROM
This lesson uses a scene on a CD-ROM to demonstrate how "L-Cuts" are created. You need to order the CD-ROM if you wish to take this lesson.
So far, I have not found a better introduction to editing a conversation. On the disk is an educational movie which explains the entire process in just 11 minutes.
Order the disk
You can order the "Follow Dave?" Editing Workshop CD-ROM by going to the Star Movie Shop website. Currently, the price of this disk is $12 plus $3 shipping in the USA. They accept only PayPal.
Or you can pay with the points you have earned at Wikiversity.

Free offer

You can soon as you have 15 points, you can request the disk for free.
Note: You can earn enough points simply by doing an excellent job of Formatting the script and by taking the Pop Quiz for creating the thumbnail storyboards.
To contact the Star Movie Shop, you simply Click Here. Or visit their Star Movie Shop website. Or just contact your instructor (That's me.)

Special free offer

The "Follow Dave?" Editing Workshop CD-ROM
I need people with Final Cut Express 2 or better to test these lessons.
If you have Final Cut Express 2 or better, please contact me. I will provide free copies to selected individuals for this month only.

(This offer is not valid in some locations.)

I have Final Cut Express. I want a free copy of "Follow Dave"..

Dialog Editing

Different kinds of movies
In this film school, you will not learn to edit documentaries, event video, multimedia, corporate video in this course. The technology for editing the other kind of movies is completely different. Don't become confused. Study conversations separately from other kinds of scenes.
Different kinds of conversations
There are also different kinds of conversation. Monologue are not edited the same way as a conversation between two more people. Same with group conversations with two more more independent conversations at the same time.
We keep things simple in these lessons. We study just a two way conversation.
When you first begin to learn editing, you need to start with the most basic and most structured kind of scene. That is a simple conversation. That is what you learn with the "Follow Dave?" Editing Workshop CD. I recommend that you look at the "Start Here" movie on that disk. It might seem a bit childish but it is a good overview of the narrative film editing process.

Things to think about

Only one microphone
When you edit a conversation, things are different for another reason. Normally, there is only one microphone used to film a conversation. This limits your options which makes editing easier.
Best quality sound
In modern filmmaking (developed in the 1930s), normally only one microphone is used to film motion pictures and television dramas so only half of the audio (or less) is good.
A single microphone pointed down a the chest of the actor records the best possible sound quality. But using this technique, you can record the audio of only one actor at a time. Therefore, the editor will be limited to only a few shots because only a few shots will have the necessary dialog.

The next page

The next page tells you what to look for on the "Follow Dave?" Editing Workshop CD.

Contact your instructor

Your instructor for this film editing class is Robert Elliott. You can email me by clicking here.