it's all about the art of storytelling


Trailer Editing : The Art of Juxtaposition

I believe many people understand the functions of a Movie Trailer :

It has to be exciting, captivating, alluring, drawing, informing… the list goes on and on…

In short, it wanted your attention so that you will catch the movie!

The continuous winning formula in majority hollywood trailers that crowds our cinemas are those with template formulas of heart stopping sound effects punctuated with many fade ins and outs.

Personally, I find these trailers boring. They all look the same.

Recently, a very special trailer catch my eyes – The Cloud Atlas Extended Trailer.

This trailer defies the formula of short + sweet and instead goes all the way to a length of more than 5mins. The trailer literally brings you on a ride… in all directions and left you hanging for more.

It applies all the format of a good trailers: strong music, clever sound bites, showcase of big cast. However, i’m most impressed by its ability to tell a very complicated story in an “extended” short period of time.

And for the longest time, (with the exceedingly faster cuts employ these days) I am finally able to watch all the cuts clearly. I can see the cuts!

I shared excitedly with a friend about this trailer and  my view of its excellent editing. My friend ask : how do you gauge a good edit?

So I decide to take a closer look at this trailer, how did it manage to entice me even though i’m completely confused by its genre.

On first look, it makes no sense crossing from historical to romantic to sci-fi to action and then cris-crossing back and forth. It does seems like an overly complicated film.

Well, to start of, all good story telling has a strong theme as a back bone. (Even if it is only a trailer) This close to mini-short film trailer has a clever theme : EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED.

This seemingly ambiguous trailer has done a good job in helping you to connect them subconsciously. Each sound bites or visuals are cleverly juxtaposed with the next sound or visuals.

For example, the first act of the trailer shows an old man sitting by the bed side, reading. It seems that he was reading a book the young man picked up. But later, we saw him put down a letter. Cut to a woman reading a letter. Such parallel juxtaposition of two letters quickly link two sets of images set in different time and space together brilliantly. Somehow, a spell has casted on you. You know you are on the way to a magic world…

The editor helps to connects the dots for you by piecing the jigsaw puzzles and yet leaving some pieces empty, so that you can use your own imagination to fill them up.

We are living in a visual chaos millennium. Audiences can conjure their own visual stories way faster then previously. I believe it is more about what you show rather than how fast and how many you show.

A good editor is also a strong summarizer. We are constantly sieving through tones of footages and pick up those that are useful in telling the story.

If you want to train yourself as an editor, it maybe a good idea to start with editing a movie trailer. It forces you to only pick the most essential shots in order to tell the story (you want to tell).

But of course, this particular film has a unique story to begin with. There are 3 directors!!

Many people think that a good trailer is usually about understanding rhythm and pace. But I defer. It is a lot more than that. The art of juxtaposition will take you further.

If you like to understand the fundamental of what it means to be a good cut, this course maybe a right one of you to attend.

Continue to visit my training courses page for updates.


Leave a comment

Rhythm Editor

I have recently worked on a project that require me to make NO cuts at all. The director and myself was searching for the right word to credit me, in the end we decide to choose the word


Indeed, my job evolve into modifying the rhythm in an experimental short film that play with words – REMEMBER by Tan Pin Pin

Using visual thesaurus, the entire video is a one take choreography of word play. Pin opens up the possibilities of words trail with the word remember.

This seems to be an easy job, however, it turns out to be not such a breeze. We end up having multiples “rehearses” before recording the word dance and working on uncountable number of “takes”.

For me, it is the first editing job that really engage my little experience in dance choreography. When I view the “performance” I was constantly giving suggestions on how we can make each word appear with more interesting rhythm. In dance choreography, especially improvisational dance choreography,  audience may not see a clear development to a define story.
“Although there is no single approach to creating a dance that has a clear sense of development, certain characteristics are common to many effective pieces of choreography. Those qualities are unity, continuity, transition, variety, and repetition.” Sandra Cerny Minton share this effectively in her article – How to make choreography more effective

I had attended dance choreography class with Ecnad, there is one thing that I learned in my dance class that I get a chance to apply here. It is call – PHRASING. Yes, there are phrases in dances too!

I was suggesting different phrases in this short film by manipulating the time and space of opening the words. We were conscious of changing the rhythm of how this piece of work developed over a short period of 6mins and 22secs.

If you are curious about contemporary dance after reading this post. This video speaks about the vocabulary of movements and body intelligence.

To get a quick understanding about dance phrases, this video below is good to watch.

REMEMBER is a commission work by Singapore National Library BoardSingapore Memory.

Pin Pin also made another short film, Yangtze Scribbler under the same programme. Which is also edited by me.

“All the characteristics of effective choreography—unity, continuity, transition, variety, and repetition—are organized to contribute to the development of a meaningful whole. All phrases in a work should be designed to form the integrated sections of your dance, and all the sections of the dance should be placed in a sequence that moves toward an appropriate conclusion. The development of a work should lead the audience logically from the beginning through the middle and on to the end of the dance.” – Sandra Cerny Minton.

I believe strongly that DANCE and EDITING are interconnected.

I am extremely fortunate to be given two opportunities to marry dance and film in my own work : U_R_NOT_ME and PRIMAL FEAR.

PRIMAL FEAR will be screening on 2 June 2012 with Singapore Arts Festival 2012.

1 Comment

Vertical Cinema (Maya Deren)

Maya Deren is most well regard for the avant garde films (with a strong sense of movement) she made in the 1940s and 1950s. She is recognized to be one of the pioneer in dance films. Undeniably, her films show a clear desire to tell stories through moves. I have become a fan quickly the first time I watched her first film Meshes of the Afternoon. Editing of Meshes is one that showcase an editor who understands rhythm innately. The original film was edited without sound. It was a silent film made by Maya and her first husband Alexander Hammid . Many years later, a score was created by Maya’s third husband, Teiji Ito. The clever use of juxtaposition between different shots create a magical world without using any special effects. A truly brilliant edit. Both sound and visual.

So what is vertical cinema?

Maya was also a film theorist. There was a record of an extensive discourse about Poetry and the Film: A Symposium (1953) between Maya and few other renounced artist, one of them is Arthur Miller. Here, she spoke about her theory on vertical cinema.  “The distinction of poetry is its construction (what I mean by “a poetic structure”), and the poetic construct arises from the fact, if you will, that it is a “vertical” investigation of a situation, in that it probes the ramifications of the moment, and is concerned with its qualities and its depth, so that you have poetry concerned in a sense not with what is occuring, but with what it feels like or what it means.” 

Many contemporary filmmakers and artist are influenced by Maya’s style. Barbara Hammer (an experimental filmmaker) speaks about how she adopt maya’s vertical cinema in her work.

Recently, a student ask a question about the rules and regulations for cutting a rhythmic video. The best answer can be taken from Maya’s quote: ” Whatever the technique, it must serve the form as a whole, it must be appropriate to the theme and to the logic of its development, rather than display of method designed to impress other movie makers.”

You can read about Maya’s film theory from her book.

Leave a comment

Crying Girl (Short Film)

A student film I edited more than a decade ago.

The crying girl in this film is now a mother of three.

Look out for the end credit. A definite showcase of rebelliousness. So good to be young.

Check my work page for more updates in near future.

Leave a comment

DCP – Digital Cinema Package

Recently a Singapore filmmaker, Chai Yee Wei kindly shares his new knowledge about DCP (Digital Cinema Package) with a bunch of us in the industry. Since we are all migrating to digital filmmaking, it is inevitable that we will need to learn the new rope on how to handle this monster on cinema. In the near future – 2012, there is a possibility that 80% of Singapore’s cinema will be adopting digital projection, therefore DCP will become one of the 101 filmmaking lesson you have to take in regards to prepare your digital files (film) for screening.

Read some basic understanding about DCP from wikipedia.

If you hire a post house to get the files ready for you, it may cost you tens of thousands of dollars. Fortunately, there is an open source freeware – OPENDCP available for you to test. Please note that currently opendcp doesn’t support subtitling.

Trial and error is certainly needed. In order for you to fully convinced that you have the files right is nonetheless testing it on a DCP projector. This will be one of the most tricky situation for all independent filmmakers.

Yee Wei’s company  Hot Cider Films is offering service below for filmmakers who need a fuller support on this new technologoy.

1) Industry standard DCP(Digital Cinema Package), DCDM (Digital Cinema Initiative Distribution Master), Encryption and KDM generation.
2) software conforming from multiple sources, like DPX, TIFF sequence or even a QT file.
3) Industry compliant subtitles in multiple languages

You may contact Chai Yee Wei via his company Hot Cider Films for more information.


Learning filmmaking backwards

“Cinematic production is traditionally a linear progressive process – From script, to storyboard, to shoot, to edit to sound mix to delivery. Subsequently, more often than not, we teach cinematic production following the same linear progression. But is this really the best or most effective way to teach filmmaking?” – Mike Jones

I asked the same question when I started to teach filmmaking and editing in various institutions. I did a small experimentation of reversing the order in one of my class and I was rather happy with the result. It seems more logical for one to understand how the footage will turn out at the editing stage before they go out to shoot or before they learn how to write a visual script. Screenwriting is a skill different from other forms of story telling (in writing). It requires the writer to visualized actions on paper. It will be even better if every craftsman in filmmaking (writer, director, cinematographer or even producer) have a better understanding on the aesthetic of film editing. Better films will be made.

Read the full article from Mike Jones here.

Mike Jones [.tv] is a treasure trove of information on art and technology of media understanding

Leave a comment

Documentary Guide

A new place for you to search for documentaries with social interest. A fast track research.

Documentary Guide is conceived to bring to its audience the widest collection of documentary films from around the World Wide Web. It is one of the few CURATED search engines on the Internet. We have researched and indexed thousands of films, hundreds of sites and numerous databases from around the globe. We have organized them, tagged them and curated them for education and awareness. This platform is made for film makers, researchers, filmgoers, students, educators and all individuals who strive to learn more, know more and do more.”