Books on film editing

Top 5 books for film editors

Here are my top 5 books for film editors that focus specifically on the art and craft of film editing, rather than on how to use any one particular piece of software. Between these five books is a healthy mix of making of insight, technical info and well worn craft.

Behind The Seen – Editing Cold Mountain on Final Cut Pro

Koppelman’s exquisitely detailed book follows Walter Murch and his team as they edit Cold Mountain, one of the first studio features to use Final Cut Pro, which until that time had always been considered unsuitable for the serious business of editing a Hollywood film.

This may all seem very dated now we’re in to FCPX, but Murch was cutting on FCP3 and a beta of 4. (Possibly he had a better deal than we do today?) The book is both extremely personal, full of diary entries, anecdotes, Murch’s musings on the history, technique and craft of editing and the day to day workings of a large feature film edit suite. The book is a lovely big book, stuffed with behind the scenes images and the glossy pages carry a comforting weight to them.  If you love film editing, you’ll love this book.

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Making Movies – Sidney Lumet

This little book is a total gem. One of the first books I ever read on filmmaking, its a thoroughly respected classic. Part ‘professional memoir’ part filmmaking masterclass it lives up to the high praise on the jacket -Roger Ebert: ”I am sometimes asked if there is one book a filmgoer could read to learn more about how movies are made and what to look for while watching them. This is the book.”

Lumet’s films (12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, The Verdict to name just a few) are all brilliant and this book is equally insightful and enchanting. Although not strictly a book on film editing exclusively, the chapter on The Cutting Room is excellent and Lumet’s wisdom and understanding of the entire filmmaking/storytelling process will make you a better editor. Read it.

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The Film Editing Room Handbook

Norman Hollyn‘s books is now in its 4th edition, and hopefully in the ten years since I bought the third edition, its been updated to keep pace with the industry. (Although one amazon reviewer doesn’t seem to think so.)

The book is pretty beefy and could be considered as ‘film-school-for-editors-in-a-book’, although the focus is much more on the young graduate entering the real world of edit assisting for the first time, than educating seasoned professionals. I have to confess I read this book quite some time ago and found it at times a bit of a slog (lots of handling 35mm film editing info – interesting but not immediately useful to me at the time) but to be honest it is a fantastically detailed, step by step, manual for those wishing to work in a large production edit suite. If that’s what you’re looking for, I’m not sure you’ll find a better book.

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The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film

The second Walter Murch book on this list, and another beauty. I’ve not read In The Blink of an Eye or that would probably be on this list too (as it is on most others) Michael Ondaatje is the writer of The English Patient and it was during the making of that film that he and Walter became friends. The book is a catalogue of many ‘conversations’ about a whole heap of topics, including many of Walter’s films. It is also packed full of black and white photographs and tid bits from several decades of iconic filmmaking including Apocalypse Now and The Godfather Part III. If you like Murch’s work and want to know more about the man behind the craft then this is an excellent read. If you just want to know more about film editing then you’ll be in for a treat too.

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As an aside, another excellent ‘conversations book’ is the dialogue between film director Cameron Crowe (Jerry McQuire, Almost Famous etc) and Billy Wilder. Crowe’s journalistic background shines through, as does Wilder’s immense wit and wisdom in a unique book called Conversations With Billy Wilder.

When the Shooting Stops

I usually end up including at least one book I’ve not had a chance to read yet, just because I like to keep exploring. When The Shooting Stops (The Cutting begins) is considered somewhat of a classic. It has age on it side – first published in 1979, it is Ralph Rosenblum’s take on the editors story and their vital influence on the filmmaking process. Rosenblum was editing from the late 50’s through to the 80’s with nearly 40 feature credits to his name and his book reportedly goes in depth on the editing several of Woody Allen’s films including Annie Hall. I’m looking forward to finally finding the time to read it.

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Two other books too good not to mention

The Final Cut by Steven Bach – This epic book is part history of United Artists, part bio of the making of Heaven’s Gate, which essentially sank the studio. A fascinating read and a real insight into what can happen when egos, budgets and Hollywood get out of control.

Notes on The Making of Apocalypse Now by Eleanor Coppola – Essentially Francis Ford Coppola’s wife’s journal during the torturous making of Apocalypse Now her book provides an incredibly up close and personal account of the making of the iconic film and delivers the inside scoop on the pressures and excesses of Francis’s filmmaking journey that clearly feed into the chaos of the final film. A truly unique account of Apocalypse Now and of what it was like to make films at the height of the ‘brat pack’ era.

UPDATE: More books on Film Editing!

Books On Film Editing – Part 2  |  Books on Film Editing – Part 3

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