What Is an Editor’s Mental Process?

There’s a big difference between knowing how to organize footage and putting it together, and knowing what emotionally makes sense for each individual cut.


Video editing is so much more than what people first expect. There’s this whole other mental, emotional side to it that is so difficult to simply write out or explain to someone. However, a video from the Youtube channel Every Frame a Painting manages to do this quite well. Check it out:

Here are some of the major points the video brings up.


Editing is all about the eyes. An actor’s eyes can convey so much more about what they’re feeling that dialogue can. It’s through the actor’s performance that the editor is able to see what they’re feeling and decide from there where the cut should be.

Emotions take time. When you’re reading a book, the words on the page tell you what the character is feeling, and then you’re on to the next thought or action. Watching a movie, however, it’s up to the editor to decide how long it takes to realistically convey an emotion and make it stick with the audience. Cut it too soon, and you can lose a part of the actor’s performance where their face changes perfectly to show their exact emotional change. Cut it too late, and the importance is lost on the audience.

Long shot vs. many cuts. Both methods are definitely successful, and that scene from Empire is especially brilliant. One thing worth pointing out is with the version from Ant-Man, where the video argues that the emotion wasn’t believable because there wasn’t enough time allotted to it. However, Scott wasn’t putting his emotion into it. When the ants didn’t move right away, he gave up. THIS is what the film was trying to make you feel, that he wasn’t feeling.

Every shot has a natural rhythm. What’s interesting about this, is that when the rhythm is more obvious, then the audience can feel it too. And when that’s the case, the less the editing distracts the viewer. But as the video states, this isn’t the only answer. Pretty much any emotion could be conveyed completely through how a scene is cut.

What really matters is, what reaction do you want from people?

If editing is so instinctive, how do you learn it? Practice isn’t really the only answer. Watching finished works can be a great inspiration, like the scenes used as examples in this video. There’s also nothing wrong with getting help from others, asking what someone else feels watching a shot or a scene. However, both of those are only immediate solutions. You have to develop your sense and feel for the cut, not just someone else’s. In the end, being an editor means shaping the scene to not only what the actor is trying to convey, but your vision.