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Old 03-26-2002, 11:30 AM
plnnr is offline
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What Hollywood Needs Is a Really Good Editor


All of the Oscar related threads made me start thinking about the films that have won the Academy Award for Best Picture. I visited the Oscar site and can honestly say that I've seen nearly every one of them. I didn't like all of them by any stretch of the imagination, and the the ones that I did enjoy the most had one thing in common: good pacing (which is a product of the writer, in my way of thinking), and good editing. All of the films I enjoyed the most moved along at a good clip, so that even the films with long running times didn't seem that long. Here's a breakdown of the running times of the last 10 Best Picture winners and their running times, compared to the running times of a few previous winners:

A Beautiful Mind - 130 minutes
Gladiator - 150 minutes
American Beauty - 122 minutes
Shakespeare in Love - 122 minutes
Titanic - 194 minutes
English Patient - 160 minutes
Braveheart - 179 minutes
Forrest Gump - 141 minutes
Schindler's List - 185 minutes
Unforgiven - 123 minutes

It Happened One Night - 105 minutes
Casablanca - 142 minutes
All About Eve - 94 minutes
Bridge on the River Kwai - 161 mintues
The Apartment - 125 minutes
The Sting - 129 minutes

I haven't worked out the numbers, but, by and large, the films have gotten progressively longer (with a few exceptions, e.g., Ben Hur, Patton, and a few other big, sprawling films), while I think we will all agree that the quality is getting progressively weaker. Why is that I can sit through 161 minutes of The Bridge on the River Kwai or 142 minutes of Casablanca (I never paid attention to its running lenghth - it moves right along without a spot where you say to yourself, "Why is this here? They could have cut this out.") and be willing to watch the films again and again, but sitting through 141 minutes of Forrest Gump once is pretty difficult and 194 mintues of Titanic at all is damn near impossible?
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Old 03-26-2002, 11:46 AM
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What's your source for those running times? I have Casablanca on DVD and I'd swear it barely breaks two hours; no way is it 2:22.

That said, I think the trend in general is towards longer movies; I don't know why, and don't have a cite, but offhand I'm thinking of Contact and Boogie Nights, neither an Oscar contender but both at least an hour longer than they needed to be.

So if movies in general are getting longer, the Best Picture winners in general will too.
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Old 03-26-2002, 11:59 AM
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I just ran a search of the film titles with "running time" and reported what I found. There may be a few typos (Hollywood isn'tthe only place in need of an editor), but I don't think I got them too far off. It could be that the times listed were for DVDs with additional footage or commentary, but I tried to avoid those.
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Old 03-26-2002, 12:09 PM
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My goof: Casablanca runs 1 hour 42 minutes, not 142 minutes. This proves my point all the more. 1 hour and 42 minutes of well-written, character-driven, narrative vs. 3 hours and some change of special effects driven dreck (plus, you know how the damn movie is going to end - the boat sinks).
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Old 03-26-2002, 01:09 PM
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Naturally, I can't find it now, but I was reading an article just the other day in which the author suggested that it was the rise of Avid and other computer editing that was causing the trend towards longer movies. In the old days, editors had to clip and paste actual film together, which was an enormous pain in the ass. The longer the movie, the more cutting and pasting the editor had to do. Thus, editors did the best they could to keep movies short. Nowadays you can just click and drag digitized clips to a timeline on your Avid screen. It's so easy (compared to the old way) that editors and directors are letting the films run longer and longer.

I have no idea if this is true and I can't provide a site for it (I'll keep looking), but it seems like an interesting theory, anyway.
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Old 03-26-2002, 01:11 PM
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Oh, and one more thing. Paul Thomas Anderson (of Boogie Nights and Magnoila fame) was cited as a prime example of Avid fever.
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Old 03-26-2002, 08:02 PM
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FWIW, you could watch Driving Miss Daisy (99 minutes) almost two and a half times before you'd be done with Lawrence of Arabia (221 minutes).

Handing out the Best Picture award based on running time certainly would make the process more objective. Screw Schindler's List! Gettysburg (254 minutes) was the grandest movie of 1993!
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Old 03-26-2002, 08:39 PM
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Then there are some movies that weren't nearly long enough... FOTR shoulda been at LEAST nine hours long, hot dammit!!!
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Old 03-26-2002, 09:50 PM
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I grew old as I watched Pearl Harbor, To make it worse it was an horrible movie. Typical of hollywood today....
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Old 03-27-2002, 11:34 AM
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Personally, I think that most movies nowadays are too short. I mean, everyone was talking about how Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was too long, and nobody would sit through it... And it was only two and a half hours! Since when is that a long movie? What do folks want, TV episodes on the big screen? Or another recent example: The Time Machine could have been substantially improved with another half-hour or so, bringing it up to an even two hours. I would argue that the recent trend towards long award-winners indicates that longer movies are better.

Why are moviemakers so afraid of length?
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Old 03-27-2002, 12:19 PM
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I always get a kick out of seeing complex issues reduced to simple statements, i.e.: avid=longer running time; longer running time=diminished quality. Yawn.

Movies used to be shorter because they started out as short subjects shot and projected on a single reel. They were consided to be something that someone on his lunchbreak might watch, not something you made plans to see. Even when feature-length films came into being, the folks who made them considered them light entertainment that could not sustain audience interest for much more than an hour.

There were exceptions of course, like the films of D.W. Griffith, and I would suggest that many of them were far more long-winded than today's films.

Anyway, many things since then have happened to affect the length of movies. When double bills were popular, the main feature had to be of a certain length in order to earn a larger portion of the box office receipts (say 90 minutes), while the second feature of co-feature remained in the 60-70 minute range.

Later, when films started being sold to televisoni, it worked out that a 100-minute length was more or less ideal for a two-hour time slot, allowing twenty minutes for commercials. (There are even a handful of examples of shorter films have stuff added for TV broadcast in order to reach this length.)

Somewhere in here you get the roadshow productions, which were meant to be epic length spectaculars that you had to drive downtown to see in first run theatres. Long running times were a positive virtue for these films, which were supposed to be, in every sense of the word, "bigger" than ordinary films.

Still, throughout all this, the belief persisted that most audiences just didn't have the attention to sit still for much more than two hours. So if plot points and characterization had to be deleted to get the film down to that length, they were.

None of this has anything to do with the Avid. When scenes are deleted like this, they have already been edited and screend to gauge the pacing of the film. It is then more work to cut them out and (in many cases) redo the soundtrack to match. I seriously doubt any editor, director or producer ever said, "Oh the hell with it, it's just too much work to edit the rest of this movie, so let's leave out all that stuff we shot at such enormous expense." Likewise, it's unlikely that, with the Avid editing system, filmmakers are now saying, "At last, we can leave everything in!"

Anyway, regardless of how anyone feels personally about the quality of recent Best Picture winners, it's clear that they were successful films that managed to entertain their audience, not bore them to sleep. It's doubtful that arbitarily cutting them down to two hours would have improved any of them. The people who didn't like them would have one less thing to complain about, but they probably wouldn't be won over. And the people who did like them would merely lose a piece of a film they loved.

As for the question of being able to sit through 161 minutes of BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, but not FORREST GUMP or TITANIC, I ascribe it to what I call "Golden Age Syndrome," the persistant belief that, prior to our own time, there was a Golden Age when everything was great, before it all went to hell in a handbasket. No doubt, twenty years from now, someone will be posting on this board bemoaning the sorry state of current cinema and wondering why they can't make great films like GUMP and TITANIC anymore.

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  #12  
Old 03-28-2002, 07:02 AM
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Or it could be that The Bridge on the River Kwai is a good movie and Titanic is a load of shit.
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Old 03-29-2002, 02:13 PM
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Yeah, it could be, but as Erik Lonnrot said in Borges' "Death and the Compass"...

"It's possible, but not interesting.... reality may avoid the obligation to be interesting, but...hypothesis may not."

One could just as easily say, "BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI is a load of shit, and TITANIC is good movie." But where does that leave us? Nowhere.

The "Golden Age" hypothesis, on the other hand, does a good job of explaining the senseless ranting and the yearing for a mythical better time when everything had achieved a pinnacle of excellence.

We can then judge the films on their own merits, not on the useless assertion that "they just don't make 'em like they used to."

steve biodrowski
www.thescriptanalyst.com
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Old 03-31-2002, 01:48 PM
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The better editing is that where the length matches the subject matter.

I just finished watching "It Happened One Night" (great on DVD with Capra's son's commentary and the radio play with Gable and Colbert), and was struck that the pacing was fabulous until the end, then the last wedding scenes go by in a blur. Itcould have used another five minutes of dialog. But that wasn't an editing flaw, necessarily, as much as lack of material and/or bad judgment about the script.

I don't know Avids and modern digital equipment are responsible for longer movies. I'd think in part the opposite: that it was easier to make cuts, therefore more were made, removing more of the dross. But, on the other hand, I wouldn't dismiss the idea, as ScriptAnalyst, that the newer equipment has no effect. Writers have noticed for some time that there's a difference between handwritten, typed, and computerized fiction. The difference is in part that rewriting by hand is so difficult, one must plan carefully. Whereas writing with computers one can skip around, cut-and-paste indefinitely with little effort. The planning makes for better writing. So it probably is with some aspects of movie-making; but it's always been heavily planned.

One thing modern equipment does is to make tricky editing, special effects, wipes, etc., cheaper. If these improved techniques are capitalized upon, then the audience's attention can be held longer, and therefore movies can be longer.
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Old 03-31-2002, 01:58 PM
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I firmly agree with plnnr.

I don't much care about movie length, as long it's entertaining/engrossing. I do wish that theaters would reinstitute the practice of intermission reels once films get too much longer than, say, 2.5 hours or so.

B-movies suffer from bad editting as well, not just the better class of film (or those intended to be that better class, at least). I was watching Ghosts of Mars the other night. Now, yes, it was bad, and in my opinion not even bad in an entertaining way (John Carpenter used to make entertaining b-movies. In recent years, he's simply...stopped. I don't know what broke, but I sure wish he'd fix it). But in that movie was the seeds of something that could have been an entertaining hour-including-too-many-commercials "Outer Limits" (the bad remake series, not the classic run) episode.
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Old 03-31-2002, 02:40 PM
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One thing being overlooked in this discussion is that once upon a time long-running movies came with an intermission!!

Look at Dr. Zhivago: 197 minutes, but it had an intermission.
My Fair Lady: 170 minutes, and it had an intermission.
Heck, even 2001 at a mere 139 minutes had an intermission.

What a concept! Let people get up after an hour or so, stretch their legs, go to the bathroom, and refresh their popcorn.

I guess if you scheduled a 10 or 15 minute intermission for Lord of the Rings or Gladiator or Titanic, you might not be able to cram in as many screenings in one day.

Still, it's a shame. Intermission makes a longer movie so much more pleasant.
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Old 03-31-2002, 06:58 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Drastic
I don't much care about movie length, as long it's entertaining/engrossing.
As Roger Ebert says (though I don't know if this quip is original to him), "No good movie is too long, and no bad movie is short enough."
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