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  • Writer's pictureDorsa Sajedi

Editing Class 3&4: Tension

Note: Online class, so the there is no technical notes on this post and only theory/the application of theory. The class the following week was cancelled, and the fourth class was the application of this knowledge, so I have collated my notes into this single blog post.

How to create Tension?
  • Suspense

  • Withholding

  • Holding back

  • Preventing catharsis/release

  • Delaying a resolution

  • Creating a (false) belief of impending harm

Creating a SPACE of uncertainty and un-safety.
  • Allowing audience to anticipate

  • Asking Q's without immediate answers (a delay in achieving these answers will leave audiences anxious)

What happens when the camera cuts away?

Do the characters know where the danger is?

Types of tension:
  • Ticking time bomb

  • The task

  • Mystery

  • Romantic Comedic

  • Anti-climax

(1) What does the audience (you) want?

(2) What are the characters worried about?

(3) Who knows what?

(4) Where is the line of 'too far?'

INTERCUTTING (Cross-cutting) -- time, space, characters.
  • Consider the meaning and purpose of each scene: use this to help construct the pacing

  • Don't lose track of where everyone is

  • This technique isn't just for 'murder'/serial killer related genres - can be used to create romantic tension (i.e. 'Out of Sight' - idea of that 'electric' first touch between two love interests and representing that via intercutting)

  • Can slow down & expand at our control

  • To communicate emotional state

  • Takes 'forever' to communicate he's scared (in 'Zodiac': intercuts when he runs away, skipping frames to make it seem like he's running away really fast - sharp movements, but then also repeating frames/movement from different shots to then create the illusion that time has been slowed down)

  • Breathing space

  • Giving audience what they want

  • Giving the audience distance from what they fear

  • Giving the audience NOTHING

CLIP: Sicario
  • Obscuring footage, not showing whats being discussed

  • Stillness of car builds anticipation

  • Dog barking, etc. 'punctuation' - additions to the footage that 'rattle' us

  • We know who we're 'with' -- the woman, because we constantly return to her/see her

CLIP: Munich
  • Natural reaction, part of human nature -- you don't want the young girl to get hurt. And because you're not sure if they can signal each other on time, that sense of anxiety but also hope increases.

  • The pacing, up until 3:40 is what I would say is neutral, as soon as we see the girl run out of the car and up the stairs, we know what is coming. We know that she is at risk of getting hurt before the characters themselves know. This is where the tension starts to build. We, as the audience, wonder if they will realise/notice on time.

  • As soon as she enters the room at around 4:13, there is an artificial construction of time slowing down. She's moving around the room, and all we want is for her to quickly leave the building again, but she doesn't, she's searching for something.

  • We intercut to the dialling of the payphone. This again increases the tension as we know she is running out of time.

  • This intercutting away from the room aids that slowness of time and increase in anticipation and anxiety. This happens 2-3 times. On the third, we remain with the bombers for a little longer. This provides breathing space, but also gives the audience distance from what they fear

  • We return to the girl at 5 minutes, the tension starts to build again.We're back with the man at the payphone, he has realised that it has all gone wrong. But the others do not know, the tension rapidly increases at this point

  • There is more intercutting between the bomb remote and the other man running towards the others, enhancing this tension - but this then slows, when they get there on time, and the key is pulled away from the detonator. The pacing has slowed, and the sense of time has returned to neutral.

  • When the girl has driven off, and they continue with their plan there is a sense of relaxation 'at least the young girl is safe.'

CLIP: Barry Lyndon
  • Intercutting from the two characters on the balcony to them on a ship: a voiceover confirming that 6 hours after they met, she was in love.

  • The cuts are made around the eye contact that the two characters share with one another

  • His eye contact is constant, and we cut in closer to him sooner than we do with her, as she is more hesitant to match his constant eye contact

  • The pace is slow, but the romantic tension is building

  • When she leaves, we cut to him watching her walk away, and from this the audience know instantly that he will follow her

CLIP: Point Blank
  • A lot of intercutting occurs in this scene

  • The rhythmic tapping of the feet/walking in that hallway both achieves a build in tension, but also aids the edit to go through several occurrences very quickly. If you look into what is actually being shown in each of the shots, its' clear to see that lots of bits have been cut out, that progression of time has sped up.

  • The crescendo of tension is towards the end, when the woman closes the door, because your first though is that she isn't going to be able to close that door on time -- she closes the door, and you breathe for a moment, a split second, until you realise you can still hear the feet tapping. And then, the door slams open, and the tension has once again peaked at the man shooting the bed, until it calms.

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