Exploring cinematic rhythm / by Glenn Dixon

Surfcoast Secondary

While capturing footage for a short film commissioned by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD), I was on location at Surf Coast Secondary College. The opportunity arose for me to help facilitate a two day filmmaking workshop for a small group of enthusiastic students. The media teacher and I provided the participants with raw footage from my previous visit, which included interview footage (A-roll) and general vision of the school (B-roll). Students were invited to craft their own interpretations of the school’s story in the form of a two minute film. One of the major points of discussion I initiated as I floated between the groups revolved around creating rhythm and energy in the edit.

For me, filmmaking rhythm is more challenging to isolate and define than the concept of rhythm in music. Musical rhythm is precise, consistent and repetitious. Motion picture rhythm is dynamic and less confined to consistent intervals of time. If a musician wanders off beat, this has an immediate and jarring effect on an audience who are disconnected from the continuity of the piece and whose attention is diverted to the execution of the music. Films attribute their sense of rhythm to the cumulative effects of the cinematic elements. The amount of time it takes the audience to process the information within the frame and from the soundscape greatly influences the impression of rhythm. It could be concluded that the complexity and richness of the information in each shot alludes to the amount of screen time it requires. It is up to the film editor to evaluate each frame critically, considering its fluid relationship with the preceding visual and how it will influence the shots to come.

Cinematic rhythm is also created through the juxtaposition of visually diverse images. Running spacious wide shots into extreme close ups generates significantly more momentum than cutting between a series of similarly framed mid shots. In my experience, the greater the contrast in perspective, frame size, subject, lighting etc, the more energy will be created in the cut.

Many students chose to create a narrative bed using the A-roll interview material and overlay B-roll that supported the dialogue. Some early cuts included B-roll that ran for twenty seconds; we discussed the impact this has on an audience and I questioned them as to whether this was their intended effect. In most cases this lead to re-edits and more conscious decision making around the timing, pairing and order of visuals.

After the students had an opportunity to screen their work, we participated in a short exercise while watching my original DEECD cut. The students were encourage to clap each time they anticipated a cut in the film. It was very interesting from my point of view to get such feedback on my work. After all, my edit is not the way to make the film, it is simply a way. I may need to revisit a few of my own cuts as a direct result of the students’ feedback.

Special thanks to Andy Forssman and the workshop participants, Surf Coast Secondary College and DEECD for the opportunity. I hope we get to hang out again sometime soon!