Introduction to Film Editing

Procedures for teachers is divided into five sections:
Prep -- Preparing for the lesson
Steps -- Conducting the lesson
Extensions -- Additional activities
Community Connections -- Real world actions for students after completion of the lesson


Media Components

Computer Resources:
Specific Software Needed: Materials:

Students would need the following supplies:

Bookmarked sites:

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Introductory Activity:
(One 50-minute class period)

Note to teacher: You may want to use the following Web site, which contains terms related to editing, as a resource throughout this lesson:
  • Tell students that in this lesson they are going to be focusing on film editing, specifically why it’s done and some of the techniques film editors use.

  • Tell students that an edit is what joins two shots together. Tell students that you are going to show them a clip from a film that contains a few edits. Ask students to look for where one shot ends and the next begins. Play the clip from CITIZEN KANE, starting with the man reading at the long table (clip starts roughly 18 minutes into the film). Stop the clip after the woman says she’ll sign the papers (the clip is roughly one minute in length).

  • Ask students if they saw the edits (or changes from one shot to another). Tell them you are going to play the clip again and that you want them to say “edit” when they see an edit. Play the clip. The edits are as follows: Man at table <EDIT> “Charles Foster Kane” text <EDIT> “First encountered…” text <EDIT> Boy slides down snow bank, throws snowball <EDIT> Snowball hits sign <EDIT> Boy throws another snowball, woman watches from window (stop clip). You may need to rewind the clip a few times to make sure students are seeing the edits.

  • Tell students you will now play the clip again and that you want them to count the edits as they see them. Play the clip again, starting with the man at the table. Stop the clip on the shot of the snow-covered sled (roughly 2.5 minutes). Ask how many edits were made in the clip? The count should be eight.

  • Show the clip again and ask students to write down one of the edits in the clip, i.e., describe a shot and the shot that immediately followed. After showing the clip, ask students to share their edit descriptions. Ask why they think the editor moved from the first shot to the second. What did the edit communicate to the audience, e.g., a change of place, passage of time, a different point of view, etc.? For example, a director might first show a shot of the outside of a house, then the inside, so viewers will know where they are when they go inside. A director might film one person’s face as they talk, then move to another’s face to show their reaction. List student responses on the board.

  • Using the list the students have just created, ask them to describe what they think the purpose of film editing is and what the role of a film editor is on a film project.

  • Tell students that now they’ve thought about the purpose of film editing and the role of a film editor, they’re going to learn about some of the techniques film editors use.

    Learning Activities:

    Activity One:
    Part One:

    (One 50-minute class period)

  • Tell students that there are two basic styles of film editing. Write the phrases “continuity editing” and “montage (discontinuity) editing” on the board.

  • Tell students that you are going to show them two clips. One is an example of continuity editing, and one is an example of montage (discontinuity) editing. As students watch these clips, ask them to keep the following questions in mind: How is the passage of time portrayed? How do the edits convey change of place? Do the edits reveal different views? How different?

  • Play the short continuity editing clip from CITIZEN KANE in which Kane flies into a rage and tears apart his bedroom. This scene begins roughly one hour and 48 minutes into the film and lasts roughly three minutes. It begins immediately after the white bird exits the frame and starts with a woman walking out on Kane. Kane proceeds to wreck the bedroom. This scene ends when Kane passes the large mirror in the hallway and exits the frame. Stop the video at that point. Tell students that this clip is an example of continuity editing. Ask students what they think “continuity editing” means. What does the word “continuity” mean? Write down their responses.

  • Play the short montage clip of the opera singer from CITIZEN KANE. This scene begins roughly one hour and 34 minutes into the film and lasts for roughly one minute. It begins with a shot of a newspaper headline “Washington” and ends as a light bulb burns out and a voice fades. Stop the video. Tell students this is an example of montage (discontinuity) editing. Ask students what they think montage (discontinuity) editing might mean. Write down their responses.

  • Ask the students how the continuity clip showed the passage of time. Did it seem to be real time, or was time condensed or shortened? How about the second clip? How did the first clip move the audience from place to place? Was it smooth or jarring? And the second? How was the audience’s view of the events changed in the edits of the continuity clip? Was it a smooth change from shot to shot? And how did the audience’s views of events change in the montage (discontinuity) scene? Were the edits seamless or jarring? Here are a few examples:
    • The continuity scene contains smooth edits from shot to shot, changing only to follow the character’s movement and help point the audience’s attention to specific props and actions. The actions are shown in real time, which forces the audience to see the arc of Kane’s rage and his subsequent change in mood.

    • The montage (discontinuity) scene, on the other hand, condenses weeks and months into a few seconds. The edits plunge the audience into many different places, with quick edits. The flashes of newspaper headlines sweep the audience from coast to coast in a matter of a few shots. Here time is condensed (or shortened) to show the progress of a long opera tour in a very short time. Ask the students to imagine if this scene were shown in real time.

  • Ask students to list characteristics of the two types of editing. Record their responses beneath the phrases you wrote on the board. Have students list how time, place, angle of view, and other factors are utilized differently in each type of editing.

  • Break students down into groups of two to three students. Guide them to the Web site listed below. Instruct them to start with the definition of “editing” and follow the links to continuity and montage (discontinuity). Ask students to follow hyperlinks that interest them and/or relate to editing, and also to view some of the example video clips.
  • After 30 minutes, regroup, and based on what they learned during their research, ask students to add to/revise the list of characteristics of the two types of editing.

    Part Two:
    (One 50-minute class period)

  • Tell students that now that they are familiar with styles of continuity and montage (discontinuity) editing, they will watch two more clips from another film and identify the category in which each clip belongs.

  • Play the continuity clip from VERTIGO in which Scotty chases the crook on the roof. This clip begins roughly 2.5 minutes into the film (which is immediately after the opening credits) and lasts roughly 1.5 minutes. It begins with a hand on a ladder and ends with Scotty looking down at the fallen policeman. Stop the video. Tell students to review the characteristics on the board and think about which category this clip best fits while you cue up the next clip. Ask students to hold judgment until they see the next clip.

  • Play the short dream-sequence montage clip from VERTIGO. It begins roughly 1 hour, 23 minutes into the film and lasts about 1.5 minutes. It begins with the main character asleep in bed and ends when he sits up awakened from fright. Stop video. Ask students to which category this clip best belongs.

  • Ask students to again classify each clip as an example of either continuity or discontinuity editing. Have students describe the factors or characteristics that clued them in to their answers.
    • Ask how time and place were manipulated by the edits.
    • Ask why they think these clips were edited using one technique instead of the other.
    • Ask how the scene might be different if it was edited in the opposite style.
    • Ask how the students would have done the scenes differently if they were the film editor on these clips.

    Activity Two:
    (One 50-minute class period)

  • Now that students have a basic understanding of continuity and montage editing, break students into groups of three to four and point them to the following sites for short films:

    • Young Filmmakers Gallery
      This site contains a gallery of student-made short films.

    • Atom Films
      This site contains a gallery of independent short films. Note to teachers: All of the films on this site may not be appropriate for your students. You may want to preview the site first and download the films you feel comfortable having your students watch.

    • iFilm
      This site contains a gallery of independent short films. Note to teachers: All of the films on this site may not be appropriate for your students. You may want to preview the site first and download the films you feel comfortable having your students watch.

  • Ask students to review two to three short films as a group and look for the use of continuity editing or montage (discontinuity) editing in the films. Tell them to find at least one example of each of the two editing styles. Tell students not to focus so much on whether they might like the film as a whole, but to instead remain focused on the use of editing in the film (even a bad film can have example of good editing).
    • Ask students to note the title of the film, the URL of the film, a short description of the scene they chose (one for each style), and why they chose this scene as a good example of the particular editing style. Students should also explain how they feel the editing helps communicate the story.

    • Go around the class and ask each group to describe, or, if possible, show the scene they chose and explain why they chose it. If students are going to show the film, they might download it to the hard drive in advance or at least have it opened, loaded and ready to play (some sites allow downloads, some do not). Ask them also to explain how they feel the editing furthered the story. Ask the other students whether they agree with the presenters’ choices and opinions and why.

    Culminating Activity/Assessment:
    (Two to three 50-minute class periods)

  • Break the class into groups of five or six. Give each group the IN-CAMERA EDIT ORGANIZER. Tell each group that they are to prepare a simple story (under ten shots), which would best be communicated using continuity editing. Ask them to keep it simple, avoid dialogue and to think of a scenario that is possible in the classroom environment with existing props and lighting. Students should be given about 30 minutes to come up with a scenario. An example scenario would be:
    • Bill is writing with a blue pencil. He stops writing and rubs his eyes. When he goes back to write again, he cannot find his pencil. He searches his desk, but cannot find the pencil. As he searches, he notices the student next to him has a blue pencil. Bill glares at his neighbor. Bill gets up his nerve and snatches the pencil back. Bill holds the pencil triumphantly. Just then, a student passes by, and bends to pick something up. It is Bill’s blue pencil, which had fallen on the floor. She hands it to Bill, who now holds two blue pencils.

  • Pick one of the scenarios and shoot it. Start with continuity editing. In these exercises, the edits are made by simply starting and stopping the camera on different shots. It takes a little practice, but it is possible to make fairly complex scenes with this method. It might sometimes be necessary to review and re-cue shots as you go to make smooth edits. Have students think about what they have learned about continuity editing, and have them try out some techniques. Edits should be smooth and easy on the eye; time and place should not change drastically from shot to shot. Remember, you don’t want the audience to be distracted by the editing!

  • Repeat the above process, but this time using montage (discontinuity) editing. Students should fill out the IN-CAMERA EDIT ORGANIZER for this shoot as well. Have students think about what they learned about montage (discontinuity) editing, and try out some techniques. Edits can be jarring, time and place can change abruptly, etc. Remember, you want to give the audience a lot of information in a short period of time – it should still make sense, but you want the audience to do some work.

  • Review the finished scenes you have shot. Refer to these scenes as the “rough cut.” Explain that the first step in any editing project is to create a rough cut, which is just what it sounds like, a rough assemblage of the shots which must be reworked and refined. Ask students as they watch the rough cut to think about where further edits might be made to help with continuity, or to add rhythm, etc. As students view their scenes, ask them to explain why they chose the editing techniques they did, and encourage other students to give them feedback regarding their choices. What shots might be added to enhance the scene and strengthen the story and what shots could be cut? Students should take notes of what they might change, and what works. Explain that editors must review the same shots and scenes many times over before they finish the film. The finished film is called the final cut.

  • If time allows and equipment is available, student groups might use their notes to make a fine cut of one of their stories. Fine cutting is when editors revise the rough cut, and refine each edit. When finished, students might also add music, sound effects and voice-over to enhance their scenes.


    Cross-Curricular Extension:

    • Ask students to research other roles in film production. If they are interested in studying film, encourage them to look at the Web sites of colleges or universities that have film studies programs.
    • Digitize the scenes the students shot and create a Web site showcasing student work. (If you do this, be sure to get parental permission if you’re showing images of students on the Web.)
    Community Connections:

    • Invite a film editor to speak to the class about his/her job and experiences. Show the film editor the scenes the students shot and ask him/her to comment on them.
    • Invite a film student to speak to the class about their goals and student projects.

    Overview | Procedures for Teachers | Organizers for Students