Editing Film Using Traditional Methods

The traditional process of editing film has changed little over the years. Although the equipment has improved dramatically, the steps are basically the same. Following is a simplified workflow outlining the film editing process.

Note that the original camera negative is almost never used during the creative editing part of the process. The negative must be handled as little as possible, and then by professionals in the proper environment, to avoid damaging it.

Figure. Diagram of a workflow for editing film using traditional methods.
  1. Stage 1: Shooting the Film and Recording the Sound

    Audio is always recorded separately from the film, on a separate sound recorder. This is known as shooting dual system sound. While shooting the film, you need to include a way to synchronize the sound to the picture. The most common method is to use a clapper board (also called a slate or sticks) at the beginning of each take. There are a number of other methods you can use, but the general idea is to have a single cue that is both audible and visible (you can see what caused the noise).

  2. Stage 2: Developing the Film

    The developed film is known as the original camera negative. This negative will eventually be conformed to create the final movie and must be handled with extreme care to avoid scratching or contaminating it. Normally, the negative is used to create a workprint (film positive) and then put aside until the negative is conformed.

  3. Stage 3: Creating the Workprint

    The workprint is created from the original camera negative and gives you a copy of the raw film footage to use for the editing process. Because workprints are film positives, they can be projected and used as dailies, letting you view what has been shot.

  4. Stage 4: Creating Audio Scratch Tracks

    An audio scratch track is similar to the film’s workprint—it’s a copy of the production audio to use while editing. Depending on the type of mechanical film editor you intend to use, you will often create an audio scratch track on magnetic film. Magnetic film, known as single stripe, three stripe, mag stock, and fullcoat, uses perforations like regular film but is coated with magnetic material. Once the magnetic film is synced with the film on the editor, both the audio scratch track and the workprint are run in tandem, maintaining their sync during editing.

  5. Stage 5: Editing the Workprint

    This is the point when you make decisions regarding which parts of the film footage you want to use and how you want it laid out. Editing the workprint involves physically cutting and splicing at each edit point. Changing your mind about the exact placement of a cut or trying an alternative edit is time-consuming and tends to be hard on the film. (This is the part of the process that digital editing greatly facilitates.) When you are satisfied with the edited workprint, you send it to the negative cutter.

  6. Stage 6: Conforming the Negative

    The negative cutter uses the edited workprint as a guide to make edits to the original camera negative. This process is called conforming. Because there is only one negative, it is crucial that no mistakes are made at this point. As opposed to the cutting and splicing methods used when working with the workprint, the cutting and splicing methods used for conforming the negative destroy frames on each end of the edit. This makes extending an edit virtually impossible and is one of the reasons you must be absolutely sure of your edit points before beginning the conform process.

  7. Stage 7: Editing the Audio

    You typically “rough-cut” the audio while editing the workprint. While the negative is being conformed, the audio is edited (using the original sound rolls) and finished with sound effects and any required dialogue enhancements.

  8. Stage 8: Creating the Answer and Release Prints

    After the original camera negative has been conformed and the audio finalized, you can have an answer print created. This print is used for the final color timing, where the color balance and exposure for each shot are adjusted to ensure the shots all work well together. You may need to create several answer prints before you are happy with the results. Once you are satisfied with the answer print, the final release print is made.