Film & TV

Editing: Part 1

Ron Howard

Lesson time 15:59 min

For Ron, the editing process is the time when you execute the final rewrite of a movie. Learn how to find the right editor and develop an editing style for your film together.

Ron Howard
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Ron Howard teaches directing, editing, and storytelling in 32 exclusive video lessons.
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Editing is the process where the movie or the television show is actually made. Everything else is gathering the raw materials, as my friend George Lucas likes to say. It's also the place where you execute your final rewrite. Because there are so many creative decisions still to be made during the editing, and so much that you learn about the story it is that you want to tell. One of the most exciting but daunting things about the editing process, it's the time in which you actually come to terms with the possibilities of your story. Everything else has been a 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? Now if the results of that are unsatisfactory for you or your audience, there's still a lot you can do about it. And that is what it's important to understand is 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, and the scheduling, the shooting, 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. So it's important to put all of that behind you and have an open mind. I always like to turn to the editors at a certain point when I see a scene that's not working very well. And I like to say, what idiot directed that scene? Because it's just a way of formally putting all that behind us. It doesn't matter. This is the task at hand A good editor is proficient, is professional, is willing, hardworking, and doesn't have a lot of ego. Is willing to follow direction. And has good solid taste. A great editor is somebody who has all of those qualities and yet can look at a scene in a slightly different way. Has superb taste. And a creative imagination that inspires him or her to re-edit the scenes in ways that the director didn't present. That weren't necessarily scripted in a particular way. Might reorder some of the dialogue. Might structurally reshape things. I wouldn't want that to be the primary initial cut, but I love it when an editor has the confidence to take some sort of creative authorship over a scene and have it as an alternate version. Ultimately, however, editors are not the people who are supposed to decide what the final cut is. Whether the director has final cut in a contract or not, I believe that the best films benefit from this single oversight. And that's the director. But I work very closely with editors who are extremely talented and very creative. And it's another one of those key collaborations that yields a set of options. And ultimately, it's my job to choose the approach. Same with director of photography and all of these other categories. Yes, they have a tremendous amount of autonomy and au...

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Ron Howard made his first film in 15 days with $300,000. Today, his movies have grossed over $1.8 billion. In his first-ever online directing class, the Oscar-winning director of Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind decodes his craft like never before. In lessons and on-set workshops, you’ll learn how to evaluate ideas, work with actors, block scenes, and bring your vision to the screen whether it’s a laptop or an IMAX theater.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Good Class, makes me feel it was hands on....Good job Ron!

Excellent insights into the creative process, techniques, and temperament of a talented, successful director. "Inline" examples of the concepts Ron discusses would be helpful in solidifying understanding.

The class gave me insight to running a set more efficient, options to using camera and its locationing. Many variation to enhance my filmmaking skills.

I felt so under qualified to one day be a director but after taking this class I'm realizing that I'm right on track. I'm so happy that I took this course, and I can see myself coming back and re-watching sections to help keep my mind in the creative process that I would like it to be in. Thank you Masterclass and thank you Ron Howard


Jon Y.

Having watched all of this class (except 5 of the alternate staging possibilities), it seems to me that Ron takes a "shoot everything from every angle and look at how we want to develop the story in the editing room" in at least Frost and Apollo 13. This is a sensible approach with a large budget and team, but indie filmmakers with limited resources may want to consider alternate approaches, such as "this is the one or few options we'll give ourselves for this scene" to limit choices and hence complexity, as advocated by many filmmakers like the Cohen brothers. The downside to this is that you need to have the fully edited story fully envisioned before you begin shooting.

Robert F.

I'm enrolled in this filmmaking class and three others, Martin Scorsese's, Spike Lee's, and Hans Zimmer for film music. Kind of like a crash course in film school, and what has turned out to be a very good one. We'll I have a little YouTube channel and got stuck on some editing, so I reviewed Ron's lessons on Editing. Very good and detailed and they inspired to start the editing process. So I took the footage and stills from my little Canon SX170 camera, Some Synth. music created on my Yamaha; Watched Ron's "Angeles and Demons" without & with sound. And after the editing process my little video documenting a trip to The Getty Villa, is turning out to be something unexpected, A Gothic Tale. Thanks, Ron, enjoyed the class very much, and keep returning to it for new tips. Bob

Sarah Jane P.

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Susan T.

Editing is my field, so I am disheartened that I am unable to view these 2 lessons. I received a message that the video is bad or in a format that cannot be played on my browser. Is there any chance of fixing this format? I have an older version on Mac... 10.6.8

Susan T.

Received a message that the video is bad or in a format that cannot be played on my browser. Is there any chance of fixing this format? I have an older version on Mac... 10.6.8

RJane @.

Cinderella Man reminds me of Manny Pacquiao, who is a famous boxer, politician and celebrity in the Philippines. @RJanesRealm


Editing really is the final rewrite. No matter what anyone else thinks, the director really does have the final say during the editing process.

Mia S.

"'Apollo 13' was the most challenging editorial project that I've ever been involved with, I believe, and I've been in some very challenging ones ('Rush' was a huge challenge, 'Back Draft,' very very challenging; in its own way, 'Frost/Nixon,' very challenging). But the nature of telling the story of Apollo 13 in an authentic way suggested to me that I needed to look at the crisis from three different perspectives, and each step along the way that the suspense there needed to be filtered through three different perspectives: the astronauts themselves, the mission control team who was trying to rescue them and do everything they could from thousands of miles away, and the family at home that actually had communication with mission control and no way to talk back, but between what was on the TV and what they were hearing over the NASA speaker was keeping them on the edge of their seat and emotionally wrought. So I fully shot every crisis point, from all three vantages. And it was not until we reached the editing room that we began to focus the way in which we were going to develop each of these crises. And I knew I wanted them to unfold in different ways from different perspectives so sometimes you'd feel it more from the family, sometimes you'd feel it more from mission control, and of course many times you'd want to be there alongside the astronauts. Well these were editorial decisions, ultimately. And it required months of editing, re-editing, looking at scenes, looking at entire sequences, looking at entire movies and taking notes while watching it, and then having these long conversations. And days and days of going through the film, stopping and going. And there were some scenes that without any re-shooting were completely re-cut and re-engineered to reflect some other insight. We would literally do things like use one or two lines on camera and then record new dialogue to try to clarify a moment of tension and crisis, and let that play over somebody's head, or off camera or over in a wide shot where you couldn't tell what the people were saying. And we were able to invent scenes that ratcheted up the tension and made it more emotional, and all of that is about discovering the possibilities of the footage, the material you have in the editing room. By the time you see a scene back and forth a number of times, and try beginning in a different place, or using a different shot to start than the one you had initially planned, ending at a different point - because one of the things you're looking for, of course, is not just refining the elements of that scene to deliver its full potential, but you also have to think about the scenes that preceded, the scenes that follow it; its meaning to the entire story. When you recognize that a scene could perhaps achieve more, or be clearer or be more mysterious, that generally boils down to some kind of a re-editing to try to play with the shots and the footage to create a different rhythm and therefore a different feeling and a set of impulses or data that are coming to the viewer."

Mia S.

"The editing style is often borne out of a nature of the central characters. You're telling the story through these characters, and so often they set a feeling or a rhythm. 'Cinderella Man' was an interesting combination; because on the one hand it's the depression, it's a very humanistic, honorable but everyday kind of central hero, and whenever we were in his world, there was something about him that was modest. It was harsh, it reflected his lack of resources as a father and a husband. And there was a kind of simplicity to it and a sense of pressure, a bit of darkness around him -usually with some warm light that they were kind of hovering around. And the editing and the camerawork followed that, with him. In the ring, he became a different person with a different objective, and the intensity and the violence often suggested and demanded tight cuts, short cuts, explosions - and that was the paradox of Jim Braddock, is that he was a kind, gentle, honorable man away from the ring, but when he was fighting for his family, he would do anything to win - if it was honorable. He was a uniquely, remarkably great guy, principled guy. 'Frost/Nixon' has some similarities because there is a kind of combat, and Salvatore Totino, the cinematographer, and the editors worked on both projects. We were very open about the fact that some of the interview scenes needed to have that same kind of combative intensity, and we should use some of the cutting patterns and some of the stylistic choices that we had used in 'Cinderella Man,' which we had made four or five years before. It was really fun to see how we could take this verbal combat and make it a little more visceral and intense for the audience. And the shooting mattered, but so did the editing. So those scenes are cut in a way that's a little bit similar to some of the punch exchanges in 'Cinderella Man.' But away from those interview scenes, 'Frost/Nixon' has a very different editorial rhythm, because David Frost was a completely different kind of a protagonist. He was glamorous, he was fast, bright; sexier, more kinetic environment that he was in. So that suggested another kind of pace, and another kind of editing rhythm. So I needed to have a sense of that in staging the scenes - more camera movement, shorter cuts, more variety, not using the same shot repeatedly, or not staying in the same shot for a long time, but having lots of coverage, lots of angles. And the editors saw that, saw the way I was approaching it, and understood the kind of pace that we were going for, which was much more contemporary and just pacier, breathless almost, in places."

Mia S.

"Ultimately, however, editors are not the people who are supposed to decide what the final cut is. Whether the director has final cut in a contract or not, I believe that the best films benefit from this sort of single oversight, and that's the director. But I work very closely with editors who are extremely talented and very creative. It's another one of those key collaborations that yields a set of options and ultimately, it's my job to choose the approach. Same with director of photography and all these other categories - yes, they have a tremendous amount of autonomy and authority, but they're all reporting to the CEO of the movie, and that's the director. You and your editor - assuming you are working with somebody in that capacity - need to have a conversation early on. And the conversation needs to go something like this: (editor to director) 'Do you want to let me know which takes you liked the most, or do you want me to watch the footage and make my own autonomous decisions?' The director's answer could be A or B; A would be, 'No I'll tell you which takes that I like, and I'll even give you a sense of how I think the scene should be edited together. Either I'll call you on the phone, we'll watch the dailies together, or I'll send you a memo, an email, some notes.'Or it could be B, which is, 'I know how I think it should go together, or the options for the ways it could go together. But why don't you creatively see what the scene says to you and try it?' Because I've always got my plan; that's not going anywhere. And yet you may have a great new idea. So that's that initial conversation; we'll assume that they picked A. Follow the director's notes as best you can. It's a good idea for the editor and the director to meet whenever possible; sometimes it's on the weekend, sometimes days after shooting, sometimes it can be a stint over the Internet. You can just download a scene or two and look at it, so that the director learns a couple of things: the director first learns that the scenes are coming together in a way that may not be exactly refined and it may not include all the choices that the director has in mind, but basically, it looks good; the actors feel right in their characters, the approach is working. It may reveal some disappointments, and that will give the director a chance to analyze those, come to terms with them, and either make some adjustments or not. But at least that's an opportunity before the whole movie is finished to make some decisions. It's very important and helpful if the editor can be working quickly, right behind the principal photography, and sharing scenes with the director as soon as possible."