Film & TV

Ron Howard's Best Film Editing Tips and Techniques

Written by MasterClass

Nov 1, 2018 • 5 min read

MasterClass Video Lessons

Ron Howard Teaches Directing

Ron Howard is a legend on both sides of the camera. As a child, his portrayal of Opie in The Andy Griffith Show and Richie Cunningham in Happy Days launched him into every living room in America. After leaving acting to direct, Ron developed an extensive directorial résumé which includes Cocoon, Splash, Parenthood, Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon, Solo: A Star Wars Story, and the beloved TV series Arrested Development. In addition to being a box office blockbuster, he is a two-time Academy Award–winning director.

“I have endeavored my whole life, to try to demystify the process of directing,” Ron says. “If you start to look at it piece by piece, scene by scene, sequence by sequence... it is a lot less mysterious. Because these stories, they are mosaics. And the more you understand that, the more exciting it is.”

Editing is one of the most important elements of the film creation process. Ron views the editing process as an opportunity to “execute your final rewrite.” Rather than thinking of editing as simply executing certain editing techniques, think of it as the time to make creative decisions, learn more about the story you’re trying to tell, and flex your personal editing style. Once you’ve shot everything, you go into the editing room to bring it all together. This is one of the most crucial elements of postproduction. Editing is often a lengthy process that spans many rounds of shaping, refining, and fine tuning. Nowadays, there are a great number of video editing softwares that make the film editing process run smoothly: Avid, Adobe’s Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro, and Magix Movie Edit Pro, to name a few.

Ron says: “Editing is the process where the movie or the television show is actually made. Everything else is gathering the raw materials, as my friends George Lucas likes to say.”

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Ron Howard’s Editing Principles

Ron urges brutal honesty in the film editing process. It’s when you have to leave the story you hoped you were shooting and instead look at the raw material you actually have. Be open to the possibilities that the footage offers.

Prepare yourself for the first cut to be long, difficult to watch, and potentially even heartbreaking. Then, do the unsettling but essential work of opening up problems to discover solutions—you might even find a little thrill in the results.

“One of the most exciting but daunting things about the editing process is it’s the time when you actually come to terms with the possibilities of your story,” Ron says. “Everything else has been a sort of hope. A belief. Now, in very tangible ways, you’re looking at what your story actually has to say. What does it convey? How effective can it be?”

Below, Ron illuminates three important aspects of film editing which are useful for experienced video editors and beginners alike.

1. Collaborate

While some directors choose to edit their own feature films, others work with professional film editors. If it’s in your budget, consider hiring a film editor or video editor, along with an assistant editor. A creative collaboration can bring your film to places you’d never considered, not to mention the added benefit of working with someone who has their own unique editing techniques.

But that doesn’t mean you let your film editor take off and do everything on their own. It’s necessary to tell your editor your basic expectations for your working relationship. Do you want to direct the editor to your sense of how scenes should be put together or do you want to open it up to the editor’s instincts? Are there certain types of cuts, like jump cuts, quick cuts, or close-up cut ins, that you prefer or dislike? A good editor is proficient, professional, hardworking, able to take direction, and has good, solid taste. A great editor is all that plus an upgrade to superb taste and a creative eye—available to spot new ideas to present to the director.

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2. Get Feedback

Ron emphasizes the value of showing your edit to an audience for feedback. You might be surprised by the way moments of confusion for the audience can lead you to a new, more creative version of a scene. It’s also helpful to watch films you love with the sound off to pinpoint inspiring edits.

“If the results are unsatisfactory for you or your audience, there’s still a lot you can do about it,” Ron says. “That is what is important to understand: that despite your plan, despite everything that went into all the choices that you made—from the script, through the casting, through the production design, the budgeting, the scheduling the shooting—well, it doesn’t matter what you thought you were doing or what you hoped you were going to get. What matters now is what you have to work with.”

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3. Experiment

If you’ve never gone through the editing process for a feature film before, Ron also recommends trying a quick, lower stakes exercise to get a feel for the editing process in a fast way. Instead of moving images, you’re going to capture some photos for this storytelling exercise.

Build and edit a storyboard to show to an audience using composed snapshots. To keep it simple, frame your story around your perspective on an outing. Use a two-pack of disposable cameras and head out to an event, hike, party, or even just a walk. Take pictures of the setting, objects, or people that stand out, and obstacles you encounter on the way. Lay out the photos and tell the story of your outing. Critique each photo it on its own and its role in the story. Arrange, edit, and add text or sketches if you see fit. Now show it to a friend or classmate and gather feedback.

Once you’ve taken on that low-stakes practice assignment, it’s time to get to the real thing! Experience your surroundings as a filmmaker and enjoy the frames you spot in nature. Trust your instincts and dig into the tools of your craft. The sequence of frames you edit together just might become Hollywood’s next big blockbuster.

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