Lecture #12: Documentary & Discontinuity Editing


In our discussion of documentary filmmaking, we’ll look at the various different ways of making documentaries and the problems it poses in the editing room. We will also talk about how organising bins and story writing in the editing room works with documentary.

Some concepts and terms for the documentary editing room include:

  • Observational footage
  • B-Roll or Beauty shots
  • Talking Heads
  • Archival footage
  • Reenactments
  • Narration or Voice Over
  • Title cards
  • The role of the director on or off screen


The documentary trailer is a critically important part of pitching a documentary and raising funding, often edited way before the film is finished and even before much of the shooting has been done. Documentary demos are a very specific and useful genre of edited works that are more important now than ever before. We will talk about  some tips from the professional field about how to cut a strong documentary demo and what funders and producers are looking for.



This week we also look at the flip side of making editing invisible: Discontinuity.  Discontinuity has many interesting effects that can heighten the feeling of a scene. Typical approaches like jump-cuts, which once seemed very aggressive and shocking, are now very much part of film language.

Disrupting film grammar with discontinuity has an interesting history we will look at this week.

Breathless  — Jump Cuts


Chapter 2 “The Early Sound Film” The Technique of Film and Video Editing: History, Theory, and Practice.


Senna (2011)

Capturing the Friedmans (2003)


Lecture 10 will explore two more forms of filmmaking and editing many of you will encounter: Trailers & Short films. We will look at some examples in class and discuss some of the particular techniques that you can use to tackle these formats.


Short filmmaking is all about getting to the point and making everything count. Short films, like features, are also often most effective when the story is told visually — SHOW  don’t TELL.

I will give some editing tips for smoothing out aspects of making the short film, from dialogue overlaps to organizing bins and storyboards.

We will look at the steps and some tips for these steps.

  1. Logging
  2. First Assembly
  3. Rough Cut and Variations
  4. First Cut
  5. Second Cut
  6. Fine Cut
  7. Feedback sessions
  8. Final Cut

After the Final Cut is locked, sound editing should start, followed by sound mixing, colour correction and digitising.

Often shorts are considered under 15 minutes (this is the cut off for festivals like Cannes) but can be also considered under 50 minutes.

To get a handle on how to cut short films, its good to watch lots of them. Here are a few sites with more short films and a few very well executed shorts.

Tuileries”, 2006, Coen Brothers (5 minutes)

  • ACT I – Opening setup
  • ACT II –The conflict that the main character will face (2 minutes)
  • ACT III – The resolution of the film

“Wasp” Andrea Arnold (24 minutes)

The library has short film collections of Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry, both worth checking out. Also check out the whole collection Paris, Je t’aime.

Books on Short Filmmaking

  • Cowgill, Linda J. Writing Short Films: Structure and content for screenwriters. New York: Focal Press, 2006.
  • Irving, Davide K. and Peter W. Rea. Producing and Directing the Short film and video. New York: Focal Press, 2006.

Cutting Trailers


‘Drive’ 2011 Trailer Mash Up

‘Drive’ Original Trailer

The Shining as a comedy

Willy Wonka as a horror

Breaking Bad as a Romantic Comedy


Taxi Driver


The Shining


Spider-Man (banned after 9/11)

Eyes Wide Shut

The Godfather Part III

Strange Days (teaser trailer)

Fight Club

The Matrix

The Piano

Chungking Express