Editing for comedy is a very specialized skill. One wrong shot – too wide, too close, whatever – can ruin the laugh. Here’s an excellent primer for new comedy writers, directors, producers, and editors. Read on and avoid all-too-easy to make beginner mistakes:
by Noam Kroll
No matter what genre they’re working in, an editor’s job is undoubtably a difficult one. That said, editing comedycomes with its own set of principles and challenges that can often make it that much harder to tackle. Unlike many other genres that have a lot of leeway in terms of pacing and timing, comedic edits need to be extremely tight and specific in order to land well with an audience.
For those of you out there cutting comedy, whether it’s in a commercial or feature-film format — these tips on how to edit comedy scenes are for you!
1. Go Multicam Whenever Possible
Comedy scenes are often shot with a two or three camera setup in order to catch spontaneous moments and have proper coverage on improvised dialogue. If you’re fortunate enough to be given source footage for more than one camera on the scene you’re editing — always take advantage of that.
In other words, don’t simply edit your scene as you would have if it were shot with a single camera… you won’t be taking advantage of the material you’re given. Great comedic actors will most often have near-perfect comedic timing. When working in a multi-cam session, you’ll be able to maintain the beats in the scene much more organically and effectively.
2. Know When the Beats Aren’t Landing
Whether you’re cutting a multicam project or not, there will be times when the comedic timing of a scene simply doesn’t work. Perhaps it takes too long to get to a punchline, or there isn’t a long enough awkward pause after a joke has been dropped.
As a comedy editor, it’s your job above all else to be the authority on what’s working and what’s not. When things just aren’t landing, you need to know when to cut or when to pad the scene. It’s amazing how just a few extra frames added or trimmed can be the difference between a joke landing or not, so always stay sharp with regards to timing…