Film & TV

Ron Howard’s Film Editing Tips: How to Edit Film

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Sep 10, 2019 • 5 min read

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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, Howard 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,” Howard 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.”

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Ron Howard teaches directing, editing, and storytelling in 32 exclusive video lessons.

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What Is Film Editing?

Editing is one of the most important elements of the film creation process. Howard views the editing process as an opportunity to “execute your final rewrite.”

  • It’s easy to think of film editing as the mere execution of certain video editing techniques: cutaways, crosscutting, parallel editing, continuity editing, match cuts, and so on.
  • However, you need to think beyond just simple camera movements and their impact. Try to think of film editing as a 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 post-production.
  • Editing is often a lengthy process that spans many rounds of shaping, refining, and fine-tuning.
  • Today, there is a lot of video editing software that makes the film editing process run smoothly, including Avid, Adobe’s Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro, and Magix Movie Edit Pro.

Howard 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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How the Film Editing Process Works

Howard 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,” Howard 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?”

Ron Howard talking to people on set

Ron Howards’ 3 Editing Tips

Below, Howard 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. 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 a 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.
  2. Get feedback. Howard 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.”
  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. Learn this and more in Ron Howard’s MasterClass, which introduces aspiring filmmakers to the craft of editing.

Want to become a better director or editor? The MasterClass All-Access Pass provides exclusive video lessons taught by film masters, including Ron Howard, David Lynch, Spike Lee, and more.

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