When engaging in the art of editing film, a gentleperson will find themselves cutting together a plethora of dialogue scenes, or scenes where two or more people stand around and have discourse.

    A gentleperson must remain calm as it is easy for a dialogue scene to transform into tedium. Fret not; follow these simple rules, and your dialogue scenes will have fresh life in no time.

    1. Seen and Not Heard

    Though one seeks not to be rude, it is one’s job as the editor to find the story within the scene and be rather merciless in removing dialogue that is extraneous.

    The writer of a film often prides themselves on their turn of phrase, and it is one’s job to sort out the wheat from the chaff. If there is a line of dialogue that can be realized with a look or reaction from an actor, do so.

    A gentleperson understands that film is a visual medium.

    Like a child, a film is better if it’s seen rather than heard.

    2. Choose Wisely

    When approaching a scene of dialogue, one has a variety of tools in one’s arsenal. It’s a gentleperson’s responsibility to know what those tools are and how to utilise them properly.

    One of those is the choice of shot within a scene.

    The commonplace way to edit a scene is as follows: wide shot to establish the location and persons involved in the discourse, followed by back and forth of medium and close ups between the manifold characters within the scene, cutting back to the wide shot during moments of punctuation within the scene.

    When one lingers on a wide shot, it gives the audience a feeling of detachment from the characters. This can make the audience feel like voyeurs into the lives of others. While we are to avoid voyeurism at all costs in reality, in the case of film, this feeling is justified.

    Room has a scene that lingers on a wide shot; the child Jack and his grandma talk in a bathroom, as we watch from the end of a corridor. It’s the first time Jack is vulnerable with a human, other than his mom. It makes one feel like their conversation is precious, and aren’t privy to it in its entirety.

    Use the shots in a dialogue scene in such a way that follow the emotional beats that are happening within the scene itself.

    Proper order, for a proper moving picture.

    3. The Story’s the Thing

    It is common for common editors when editing dialogue to simply cut back and forth between the two people conversing. Allow me to explain further; when person A is talking, the shot of person A is chosen. When person B is talking, the shot of person B is chosen.

    A gentleperson should know better.

    It’s one’s duty to find the main story of the scene and to focus on that. If the scene is about how a character is feeling within the dialogue scene rather than the dialogue itself, then focus more on their response to the dialogue and how they’re processing the action.

    Inglorious Basterds, while a shocking film to kinder sensibilities, does this well enough; Melanie Laurent’s Shosanna finds herself at a lunch with the man who was responsible for murdering her family. Notice the amount of time spent on Shosanna even when she isn’t speaking. This is because what matters most to the narrative is how she is interpreting the events rather than the actual events of the scene.

    4. A Gentle Pace

    Whenever I am editing a dialogue scene I, on occasion, find that there is something not quite copacetic; somehow the interaction has lost it’s life. I don’t complain, keep a stiff upper lip and realize that one of two things has occurred:

    1) One has over-edited, and lost the rhythm the actors brought to the scene.

    or

    2) One has under-edited, as the rhythm that was created on set didn’t work or tell the story of the scene as well as it could’ve.

    Often in dramatic scenes, I notice the pace needs to be slower, giving more moments for dialogue to register emotionally for the characters. In more comedic scenes, the pace tends to be faster. I know when I’m struggling to make a scene funny, I try quickening the scene’s pace.

    If I feel like I’m not engaging emotionally with a character in a scene, I lessen the amount of dialogue and add in more shots of the character simply emoting.

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    • Brenden Bell

      Screenwriter, Editor, Blogger, and Visual Content Manager

      Brenden Bell is a screenwriter, video producer, editor, teacher, and Visual Content Manager with The Initiative Production Company. He loves eating ice cream, everything nerdy/dorky, thinking too much, and dogs (mostly just the big ones, but he’s open-minded)


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