Never Say Cut? Part 2

Never say cut?

In my last blog, I mentioned that I wanted to give an editor’s perspective on the increased amount of data—footage clips—that editors have to deal with. It’s not just that file sizes have ballooned due to resolution increases or the need for more and more coverage. I talked about the lack of urgency to say “Cut!” quickly once a take is done.

Directors’ takes on this have been, “Deal with it. I have better things to worry about than your complaints about how much storage you’ll need for my project.” Or more succinctly, “I have a solution for your problem, and it doesn’t involve you!”

Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. But I’ve been on set and have seen it happen. A take finishes and the director never says “Cut.” They talk with the talent and the camera rolls. They talk with the crew or the client and the camera still rolls. Eventually, someone on the crew might gently ask, “Should we cut?”

Directors might avoid cutting because they want to get several takes, one right after the other. When I’ve talked with directors about the multiple takes issue, the comeback is that the energy or the actors’ performance drops off when a director says “Cut!” It takes a bit to get that energy back. By not saying cut, a director can get a number of different performances quickly and efficiently. It makes perfect sense and changing methods to appease post workflow isn’t what this is about.

But here are some side effects of long takes:

  • During production, DITs (or camera assistants or data wranglers) still deal with limited storage on camera cards. The cards are getting bigger and are easy to swap out, but it still takes time to transfer footage to drives. Fortunately, DITs are prepared with more and more empty cards. The larger the cards, the better.

But as takes get long, the DIT’s focus becomes critically centered on making sure that footage is offloaded as quickly as possible. If those takes get even longer, it becomes a stress point. That’s when bad things can happen. You don’t want bad things to happen anywhere near memory cards.

  • Long takes are yet another reason the DIT is one of the last crew members to leave the set. Keeping crew happy pays off in the long run.
  • During production, log notes can be critical for communication between production and post-production. A log note on a single clip/single take is easy to interpret, but if there’s a single clip with multiple takes, then a log note might get confusing. If it’s a “starred” take, does the star refer to the first take, the seventh, the tenth?

There aren’t easy solutions. The director calls the shots and you need one person calling “Cut” or chaos ensues. Is the camera operator able to prompt the director about cutting in some way? For multiple takes on the same clip, can the director and the camera operator agree on a signal to quickly cut to start another clip? This won’t help with total project size, but it might help with logging issues.

Maybe there isn’t a solution. But next time I’ll give a concrete example where long takes directly affect the final outcome of a project.