In Camera Editing Article – A Cinematic Perspective

While in-camera editing may seem backwards, there is a rich history behind it as I have been told by some of my film studies friends.

Some of America’s greatest filmmakers are known to use the technique, from Alfred Hitchcock to John Ford.  For a variety of reasons, both of these directors were so sure of their vision was correct, they wouldn’t leave any room for someone to re-edit their scenes.  While they shot “out of continuity”, they won’t provide any  “extra coverage” that could be used for changing the context of the scene.  Hitchcock was known to fall asleep on the set while his very detailed storyboard instructions were followed out.  For him, the camera work was merely a formality.

“Rope (1948) was another technical challenge: a film that appears to have been shot entirely in a single take. The film was actually shot in 10 takes ranging from four and a half to 10 minutes each; 10 minutes being the maximum amount of film that would fit in a single camera reel. Some transitions between reels were hidden by having a dark object fill the entire screen for a moment. Hitchcock used those points to hide the cut, and began the next take with the camera in the same place.”

Source: Wikipedia

John Ford didn’t want the studio to mess with his vision, so he wouldn’t leave anything for them to use.

“Ford typically shot only the footage he needed and he often filmed in sequence, minimizing the job of his film editors. In the opinion of Joseph McBride , Ford’s technique of cutting in the camera enabled him to retain creative control in a period where directors often had little say on the final editing of their films. Ford noted:”

“I don’t give ‘em a lot of film to play with. In fact, Eastman used to complain that I exposed so little film. I do cut in the camera. Otherwise, if you give them a lot of film ‘the committee’ takes over. They start juggling scenes around and taking out this and putting in that. They can’t do it with my pictures. I cut in the camera and that’s it. There’s not a lot of film left on the floor when I’m finished.”

Source: Wikipedia

It is hard to imagine that approach would work with today’s features, but remember both men were making films back in the 1930s-1940s.

To understand more of what in-camera editing is, the following comes from Videomaker Magazine.

“While the differences between editing in-camera and shooting to edit are many, the main difference between the two is a matter of sequence. When you shoot to edit, you can shoot your scenes out of order (out of continuity), since you’re going to re-arrange them in post production anyway. When you edit in the camera, however, you need to shoot all of the scenes in order (in-continuity). Because in-camera editing requires that scenes be shot in the order, you might have to do some leg work to produce a scene that requires more than one location.”

Practice, Practice, Practice

“When you edit in the camera, you will need to be sure of every shot before pressing that record button. Because you won’t be able to trim a shot later, you’ll have to shoot it at just the right length. Not too long, not too short. Mastering your timing can be challenging. It is difficult to make precise edits in the camera. Practice makes perfect when shooting to edit. Prepare your shot as much as you can before you record. You get only one shot.”

“There will be times, however,when you’ll screw up a shot while editing in-camera. What do you do then? One solution is to rewind, re-cue the tape and try again. In many cases it’s the only option. ”

The Shoot Out 24 Hour Filmmaking Festival Boulder is proud to continue this rich tradition of filmmaking as it offers both challenges and opportunities to the participants.

2 thoughts on “In Camera Editing Article – A Cinematic Perspective”

  1. “Every year I get asked the same question about in-camera editing and why do we do it.” It’s nice to talk about Hitchcock and Ford in your explanation for in-camera editing. The truth, though, is that it gets boring. It might be fun once, but I don’t want to do it year after year. Perhaps that’s what people are suggesting when they ask why you do it.

    It may be of interest to note that the “In-Camera Editing” assignment for film students at CU Boulder (10 years ago, anyway) is given during the first part of their first semester in Film 101. I liked it in Film 101, but I don’t want to do it again.

    To me, and to presumably many others, it feels like a beginner activity, and I want to feel like I am advancing in my skills as a filmmaker.

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