In this artice, the masters of cinema share their views and their proccess for editing their movies. These film editing quotes from Stanley Kubrick, David Lean, Ridley Scott and more will help you achieve the best cut possible on your next film project.

To learn how Hollywood editors cut their movies, we also recommend reading our article: Film Editing Quotes: Lessons from Film Editors

Editing feels almost like sculpting or a form of continuing the writing process. 

Sydney Pollack

Years ago, they would turn it over [the film] to an editor. I can’t do that. It would be unthinkable for me not to be in on every inch of the movie – and this is not out of some sort of ego or a sense of having control; I just can’t imagine it any other way. How could I not be in on the editing, on the scoring, because I feel the whole project is one big writing project? You may not be writing with a typewriter once you get past the script phase, but when you’re picking locations and casting on the set, you’re really writing. You’re writing with film, and you’re writing with film you edit together and you put some music in. This is all part of the writing process.

Woody Allen

[on his background as an editor] It’s everything. I often wonder at directors who’ve never been editors. I just don’t understand how they go to work. I kind of piece it together as we’re making it. And editing is one of the, if not the, chief of the tools of my trade.

David Lean

The notion of directing a film is the invention of critics – the whole eloquence of cinema is achieved in the editing room.

Orson Welles

Editing is the only unique aspect of filmmaking which does not resemble any other art form – a point so important it cannot be overstressed. It can make or break a film.

Stanley Kubrick

Once you start to realize that a film is the sum of its editing, then editing is the thing you’re always looking at.

Anthony Minghella

The script is nothing but a collection of motifs which I work over with my actors as the filming proceeds. The final decisions I make in the cutting room, where I cut away all obtrusive elements.

Ingmar Bergman

The most enjoyable part of directing or filmmaking for me is editing. It is literally the language of filmmaking. It is right there, and you learn constantly how dumb you are and how much you have to learn every time you take a picture into the cutting room.

William Freidkin

The essence of cinema is editing. It’s the combination of what can be extraordinary images of people during emotional moments, or images in a general sense, put together in a kind of alchemy.

Francis Ford Coppola

Editing the Film

To me, there are two main elements to editing: juxtaposing images and creating tempo. Sometimes an image is so meaningful or beautiful that it can capture or illuminate our original question: What is this movie about? In Murder on the Orient Express, the shot of the train leaving Istanbul had that quality. It had all the mystery, glamour, nostalgia, action I wanted the entire movie to have.

Sidney Lumet

The film is not shot, but built up from separate strips of celluloid that are its raw materials.

Vsevolod Pudovkin

Our primary function is to create an emotion and our secondary function is to sustain that emotion.

Alfred Hitchcock

Well, you always discover a lot in the editing room. Particularly the action, because you have to over-shoot a lot and shoot an enormous amount of material because many of the sequences have to be discovered in the editing and manipulation of it.

Christopher Nolan

The most important requirement for editing is objectivity. No matter how much difficulty you had in obtaining a particular shot, the audience will never know. If it is not interesting, it simply isn’t interesting. You may have been full of enthusiasm during the filming of a particular shot, but if that enthusiasm doesn’t show on the screen, you must be objective enough to cut it.

Akira Kurosawa

I like to cover a whole movie without repetitious angles. The average film, which owes a debt to television, is usually covered in a very basic ‘in the box’ way. Today you can look at a lot of films or most television shows, and you can sit there and snap your fingers to the rhythm of the cut. You know from experience when the cut is gonna come, and often, where it’s gonna be.

You often know what the next shot is, because the editor and the director have established a cutting pattern that becomes boring and predictable! And I perceived a long time ago, that a director whose work I really admired, the Italian Neo-Realist, Michelangelo Antonioni – his films used to never use the same shot twice. He would never do that over-shoulder close-up jive. He would cover a scene one way, and it was simple – there’d be no repetition of angles within the scene, and then he’d cut to the next scene. It was sort of like the way you read a good book.

Your eye scans the page from left to right, and you scan until gradually the words disappear and become thoughts, images and real dialogue. If a book was indicating a pattern of dialogue that kept repeating itself in a boring way – you’d put the book down. And Antonioni and Kubrick to a great extent, are the only other filmmakers that never repeated angles. They would find the right angle for a shot and a scene, and then move on.

William Freidkin

If you don’t get physically ill seeing your first rough cut, something’s wrong.

Martin Scorsese

I never discuss the plots of my films. I never release a synopsis before I begin shooting. How could I? Until the film is edited, I have no idea myself what it will be about. And perhaps not even then. Perhaps the film will only be a mood, or a statement about a style of life. Perhaps it has no plot at all. I depart from the script constantly. I may film scenes I had no intention of filming; things suggest themselves on location, and we improvise. I try not to think about it too much. Then, in the cutting room, I take the film and start to put it together and only then do I begin to get an idea of what it is about.

Michelangelo Antonioni

I had been very impressed with the voiceover of ‘Apocalypse Now,’ with Martin Sheen’s voice. That was a great voiceover; it really internalized the Martin Sheen character, who was essentially fairly low key and didn’t say a lot during the whole movie. But he thought a lot, so I always thought that was really great.

Ridley Scott

The key to making good movies is to pay attention to the transition between scenes.

Steven Soderbergh

When the great actor says the line, you can put scissors precisely at the point A and it’s wonderful. When the star says the line, you can hold for four frames longer because something else happens

David Lean

I consciously did away with fade-ins and replaced them with the cut. Henceforth, I never used such editing techniques again. In fact, neither dissolve, fade-in nor fade-out can be regarded as ‘the grammar of film,’ they are no more than characteristics of the camera.

Yasujirô Ozu

A picture should end as it has to. I don’t think anything in life ends ‘right’.

Carol Reed

Pace and Tempo

You see so many movies… the younger people who are coming from MTV or who are coming from commercials and there’s no sense of film grammar. There’s no real sense of how to tell a story visually. It’s just cut, cut, cut, cut, cut, you know, which is pretty easy.

Peter Bogdanovich

Tracking action without cutting is the least jarring method of placing the audience into a real-time experience where they are the ones making the subtle choices of where and when to look.

Steven Spielberg

Willy [Wyler] once said to me, “If you’re going to shock an audience, get them almost to the point of boredom before doing so…” And of course he’s right.

David Lean

All art has to do with breathing in and breathing out. Because our whole life consists of rhythms of day and night; light and darkness; black and white; breathing in and breathing out – and in this we live. If we don’t inscribe rhythm in every interpretation, every recreation – swiftly, slowly, restrained, you let loose, you make a pause, you maintain the whole time a tension, so that the public is given an opportunity to breathe along – well, then it does not function.

Ingmar Bergman

A film is – or should be – more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what’s behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later.

Stanley Kubrick

The more cuts, the faster the tempo will seem. That’s why melodramas and chase sequences use so many cuts. Just as in music,fast tempo usually means energy and excitement. If a picture is edited in the same tempo for its entire length, it will feel much longer. It doesn’t matter if five cuts per minute or five cuts every ten minutes are being used. If the same pace is maintained throughout, it will start to feel slower and slower. In other words,it’s the change in tempo that we feel, not the tempo itself.

Sidney Lumet

Viewer Engagement

The function of the flashback is Freudian…You have to let them wander like the imagination or like a dream.

Sergio Leone

I want to give the audience a hint of a scene. No more than that. Give them too much and they won’t contribute anything themselves. Give them just a suggestion and you get them working with you. That’s what gives the theater meaning: when it becomes a social act.

Orson Welles

Cutting Scenes

We cut people out of films all the time, almost never having to do with their performance but strictly because of what makes the story work best. Of course, the actor, being by nature insecure, always thinks it’s the performance. But it’s rarely that. It’s overwhelmingly some other reason, usually traceable to me. Either I pick the wrong person at audition or when I see he film and get a little more into it, that the person seems wrong then. Or most of all, I’ve written it badly and don’t realize it until its up on its feet being shot. Over the years I’ve cut many people. I cut Vanessa Redgrave out of Celebrity, and she’s as fine an actress as there is in the world. Obviously it had nothing to do with her acting.

Woody Allen

When you write something, at first you might feel very defensive and protective of every single thing, but after a while, you just see what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes you do test screenings, and an audience tells you that, or sometimes you eventually just go, ‘Let’s cut the joke out.’

Edgar Wright

The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.

Alfred Hitchcock

When you’re in the editing room, the dangerous thing is that it becomes like telling a joke again and again and again. Eventually, the joke starts to not be funny. So you have to be careful that you’re not throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Ridley Scott

When I’m editing, I’m only concerned with the questions of “Is it good or bad?” “Is it necessary?” “Can I get rid of it?” “Does it work?” My identity changes to that of an editor. I am never concerned with how much difficulty there was to shoot something, how much it cost, and so forth. I look at the material with completely different eyes. I’m never troubled losing material. I cut everything to the bone. When you’re shooting, you want to make sure you don’t miss anything, and you cover it as fully as time and budget allow. When you’re editing, you want to get rid of everything that isn’t essential.

Stanley Kubrick

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