How To Get Away With Editing Part 4: Using Your Intuition

Editing takes time, patience, creativity, inspiration, organisation, practice, and intuition. Welcome to part four of How To Get Away With Editing. Today we will focus on what it means to use your intuition to build a story.

Most people might assume editing is simply splicing clips together to form 90 minutes of a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Rightly so. They aren’t wrong but the way you edit can greatly affect the pacing and flow of the story. Essentially, it can make or break a film.

You don’t want the audience to feel frustrated. But how do you do that? The easiest way to answer is by using your intuition. The script and the director only give you so much direction before you have to decide for yourself what you need to show and for how long.

For the most part, you actually need to feel your way through a scene. Unless there are specific instructions from the director on how the scene should be edited, you, as the editor will often have the freedom to edit it instinctually.

Your audience can’t choose where to look, so you need to choose for them. There’s usually two things needing to be answered: 1. Where is the scene taking place? 2. Who is involved?

Both of these questions can be answered with an establishing shot. Starting with a wide and moving in closer to the action as the scene takes place. Without an establishing shot the audience can feel disoriented or confused.

You will then use tighter shots as the scene gets more intimate or intense. A change in shot size is used to punctuate lines or change the atmosphere of the scene. 

A general rule of thumb is close shots continue a scene, wide shots give it a break, letting the audience breathe a bit.

We also want to see what a character sees. If we show a shot of a character looking offscreen, naturally we’ll then cut to whatever it is they’re looking at. 

It’s also important to show someone listening. If you have two characters having a conversation, don’t assume whoever’s talking is the one we need to look at. Both characters, whether they’re talking or listening, are equally important. This is also a way you can show respect to the actor’s performance. They may just be sitting there silently but they’re still focussed and present.

Many of the rules mentioned are of course guidelines. If you want your audience to feel frustrated or confused then basically do the opposite of what I said.

The opening shot of a film/story is one of the most important choices you have to make. The director often has the reigns on these decisions but it’s still up to you to find the best take and the best way to incorporate that take into the beginning of the scene.

Opening shots can often tell the entire story with one image. They can give hints to what’s happening, or about to happen, and set the tone and pace of the entire film, so chose the opening shot wisely.

No matter what you’re editing, whether it’s a fictional narrative, documentary, or vlog, the opening shot is important.

In part two of How To Get Away With Editing we talked about timing and rhythm. This is something that comes with practice. Much like a classical music piece, the edit will have ups and downs and tell a story simply by how it feels.

You don’t just cut together a mix of shots for the sake of variety. You have to think and feel it out as you go, consistently going back over the scene again and again until you feel the scene flows. It’s all about intuition. You cut based on instinct. 

Instinct and intuition are your friends as an editor. There’s no better way to create a story than by using those two things.

The director will have gotten the performances he/she wanted from the actors but the audience won’t feel those same feelings and emotions unless you edit using your own feelings and emotions.

Watch the actors performances. Which ones give you chills? Which ones make you cringe? Figure out which performances fit well together. If you get emotional watching a scene you’ve edited then the audience will certainly feel those emotions. 

As objective as editing sounds, you can’t really create a compelling story unless you as the editor are being subjective and cut according to your own emotions.

Editing takes time. But that’s ok. It doesn’t all come from knowledge, it comes from intuition, which grows with experience.

You have to cut. You have to have patience. Let inspiration be your guide to an amazing story.


  • Jay Evans


    Jay Evans has spent the last 8 years working as a film editor, 4 of which have been with The Initiative Production Company. In his spare time he enjoys music, comedy, experimental cooking and getting lost in the woods.


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