I wanted to RECord some more thoughts on the art of editing for the "hitRECord Academy" collaboration by filmpunk. This third entry aims to focus on montage editing. The film I have chosen to use as an example is Tony Scott's "Spy Game." Mr. Scott (brother to Ridley) has a very interesting, and diverse, filmography. Over the past few decades he's been focusing more directly on action movies but even his more dramatic pictures have always had a kinetic edge to them (mainly due to the energetic ways his films are shot and cut.) "Spy Game" was edited by Christian Wagner, a frequent collaborator of Tony Scott's.
I want to focus on one particular sequence in the film, dubbed the "Training Montage," in which seasoned spy Nathan Muir (Robert Redford) teaches his protege Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) all about how to be a slick covert agent. You don't need to know anything else about the movie for the purposes of this editing guide.
It's as straight forward as montages come, but I think you'll find it to be very complex once you take it apart frame-by-frame.
> For this entry you will need to refer to the following off-site clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJvPfFSidJ8
Here are some bullet points to consider with regards to this sequence:
* The actual montage begins at :33, but I want to draw your attention to a neat little audio edit that I noticed. Go to :21. Mr. Redford says "In which case I'll presume you'll forget we ever had this conversation." At about :22 they cut to a two-shot of the characters and you'll notice a silhouetted extra passes by Mr. Redford. But while the sentence concludes with "...we ever had tis conversation," you'll notice Mr. Redford's mouth isn't moving. That is until the next sentence "Look, it's your choice" quickly is spoken. The editor used the silhouetted figure to bridge the two lines together to speed up the dialogue without cutting to the redundant close-ups. And because Mr. Redford's mouth is partially blocked, he was able to get away with the overdub. But if you look carefully, you'll notice the editing trick. Personally I find it interesting to look for these things in movies because you can learn how to do them and, more importantly, try and figure out why they were done in the first place. Shot variety and scene length seem to be the main reasons here. Okay, on to the montage...
* At :31 we go briefly to present day (the opening conversation was a flashback) and get a brief introduction by Mr. Redford that the traning montage is about to begin. * The sped-up walking clip from :33 to :34 is repeated (at normal speed) seconds later from :36 to :43.
* Like the earlier over dub clip of Mr. Redford, the classroom teacher's voice is dubbed on the second cut of him as the camera pans down to the radio set at :44 to :45. So the first cut of him speaking at :43 is carried over to a second shot of him (the pan down) from :44 to :46 and his mouth is not in synch with the words. The editor is able to achieve two visual cuts of the character with just one audio cut.
* At 1:12 the soundtrack contains a rewinding sound effect that's actually in the song. So, instead of fast forwarding the action like in :33 to :34, Mr. Pitt is shown training on a tape recorder that's rewinding. When the tape stops at 1:14, so does the song. Then when he presses "play" during the same second, the song kicks back in, and the characters are instantly back in motion.
* At 1:22 the song starts to slow down (the decrease in music volume allows for the dialogue to be heard easily than the previous coffee scene.) The blood pressure pumping coincides with the sounds of the song, pumping to the rhythm. There are some brief cutaways of the lie detector device as the tempo builds. Note that the lines on the lie detector device are straight up until Mr. Pitt says "Yes."
* At 1:30 the beat comes back and the lie detector's lines are moving around as the energy of the song becomes prominant.
* At 1:31 we're back at the coffee scene (also a continuation of the opening walking scene; this is now officially the main "come-back-to" scene of the training montage - the restaurant scene is another one, but it's secondary.) Now Mr. Pitt is asking for an assignment, but he's not ready. So we'll be sent back to more training footage elsewhere...
* ...like in the lie detector room at 1:36 (now fully established as the third "come-back-to" scene - and we can say it's third because there's no interaction with Mr. Redford, making it less imprtant than the restaurant setting.)
* At 1:48 the cutting now will go between the coffee scene and the lie detector scene (at a more frequent rate than before.) The editing will soon expand to more locations, but we don't know that quite yet.
* At 2:06 the music rhythm, and volume, increases. This puts Mr. Pitt on the move to do the "balcony assignment." But note how Mr. Pitt walks away from Mr. Redford, even after being notified he's "lost 10 seconds." His casual departure shows that his confidence is high and he's not too concerned with achieving his goal. The camera lingers on him and it's a longer single cut than most of the other cuts in the montage thus far.
* At 2:43, after several back-and-forths, the montage takes a brief detour to focus on the relationship between the two main characters. There are several cuts of Mr. Pitt asking personal information and this 4 second section shows how little he knows of his mentor (4 seconds of personal questions in a 3 minute-plus montage puts that into perspective for the viewers.)
* After some quick dialogue, at 2:57 the music's tempo suddenly slows down again (just like it did during the blood pressure pump section earlier.) Mr. Redford's speech pattern slows as he relays crucial information about how the lies need to be remembered. The change in musical pace triggers our subconscious and allows us to focus more on the lesson that Mr. Pitt is learning and less with the rapid cutting (i.e. the "getting better at being a spy" stuff.)
* At 3:01 the music's rhthym comes back as Mr. Pitt contemplates the "lesson" that was just emphasized.
* At 3:04 we're back at the balcony objective that's been in the works since 2:04.
* At 3:11 Mr. Pitt humorously tips his tea cup as the music gains tempo and volume. While one would assume that the montage may end on that note, it doesn't.
* From 3:13 to 3:17 the montage closes out with a medium shot of Mr. Redford. His grin widens as he raises his coffee cup. It's interesting to note that the monatge ends with his character because the whole thing has been showing Mr. Pitt gaining skills. But by closing with Mr. Redford it establishes he's hard to please and it's more important that he is satisfied with the success of the balcony assignment as opposed to us seeing that Mr. Pitt accomplished it.
Montage editing is one of the most varied techniques in editing. There are just so many ways to go about editing one. Perhaps the most common one is to play a song and just accelerated time and what the film's characters do during that period of time.
"Spy Game" really raises the bar in montage editing because there's so much going on. During the montage we get lots of dialogue that shows an insight into being a spy, but it's never boring. We never feel overwhelmed despite going back-and-forth between locations, conversations, and individual lessons.
When you really dissect the sequence you can see how painstaking the whole thing was to put together, and just thinking about how much thought was put into its storytelling could give you a real headache. But it's as ambitious as montages can come and it establishes so much about a lot of things in around 3 minutes. It's an extraordinary achievement and an entertaining one to analyze (especially for some of the smaller things, like the dubs at the beginning for example.)