Editing can be a very powerful tool. Removing things does a whole hell of a lot more than just make it shorter. It changes characters, puts different context to character actions, changes the tone or the mood, and more. Removing little moments can affect how we view characters. But it would be boring to just tell you that. So let us experiment… I’m taking one day and messing around with one scene.
I plucked a scene from the beginning of Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight because it is fantastic and also because we get so much character information from the first meeting of Samuel L. Jackson’s Major Warren and Kurt Russell’s John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth. Let me preface this experiment by saying that I’m not going to just edit it the way I may want to for a fanedit. We’re going to really play with the possibilities, not necessarily try to make the “best” decision. So here’s the scene unaltered from the theatrical cut:
What a great scene! We start from Warren’s perspective and immediately understand that Ruth is not a trusting fellow, particularly of those who don’t look like him. One sentence accomplishes that. [SIDE NOTE: this is how language that is objectively offensive has a place in a movie, when it tells something about the character. In this film, that something will be an important point in the film. It’s not espousing the beliefs, the movie is literally called ‘The Hateful Eight.’ Alright, rant over…] Great scene, right? We understand the respect between two bounty hunters, especially. Daisy is a bit of a mystery though flaws in her character are immediately apparent. So Ruth and Warren have begrudging respect and camaraderie over their shared profession. Ruth trusts nobody, has something valuable and suspects everyone is after it. He’s thorough (checks the paperwork despite the cold and the hurry) but fair, certainly in his mind. He whines but ends up having his man help Warren secure his bounties. We understand the value of Daisy (it’s explicitly stated) and a good look at the headspace of Ruth and Warren. We also understand that the two men don’t look at the criminal as a person, really.
But what if want to make it shorter? Well, in my opinion that is a vague aim. The goals should be specific. It shouldn’t be “I wish this were a half hour shorter” it should be “I think this would be better with less of this and this and perhaps none of that.” But revisiting the scene, there are lots of things we could remove without making the scene incoherent. Each tweak will change the way the character comes off, subtly or not-so-subtly, or information will be suppressed which the viewer will pick up later (which can be good or bad). So what information are we trying to remove? One option would be to remove Ruth explicitly explaining who Daisy is. That would remove that information and the viewer would pick it up at the haberdashery and bits along the way. Let’s see what removing concrete information about Daisy does to the scene:
By proxy, we lose Daisy’s snot rocket (good introductory moment in my opinion) and Warren talking about his captures because that’s intertwined with Daisy’s intro. I also cut the part about tying Warren’s bodies up since they’re not mentioned in the conversation. This allows us to go straight from Daisy’s fantastic close-up right to the road. This serves to shorten the whole interaction but also changes some things. We get a lot less rapport with Warren and Ruth but most importantly Daisy is a mystery to us. We know she must have done something bad but not what. Granted, the original scene plays like that, as well but it still changes the context of the information. Ending on her close-up makes it so the scene is about Ruth and Warren meeting but the viewer senses that Daisy is the most important character here. Just by cutting straight away from that. It also removes Ruth helping Warren (or getting his driver to) which is a telling action.
Now suppose we like the scene as it’s now edited but want to give it a touch more of a Western flavor and add a little tension to the conversation which would be particularly helpful at the beginning and the end with Daisy. Ennio Morricone has done so much brilliant work; let’s try something from him. I’m looking for something unobtrusive and I’ll increase the volume as the scene plays so it will start out in the background but come to a crescendo on Daisy’s close-up. Here’s the scene still edited with ‘Tradimento Primo’ (from the film Tepepa):
Changes the mood. Subtly but distinctly. It feels like a bit more of a showdown at the beginning. Just when that tension is removed, the treatment and attitude of Daisy brings it right back as the music builds in volume and scope.
Or we could try something else with a bit of western flavor and see how the same scene feels a bit different. Bonus points if you get the movie this music is from:
I cheated and used two pieces but they’re related. The emphasis feels different with that music. The first piece quieted and let “I got it” breathe, set it up dramatically. This time the crescendo comes down so the line is a dramatic downbeat.
Now, just for shits and giggles, let’s recut it and try to completely change the mood of the scene:
The familiarity is removed so we’re very unsure of what is going on from Major Warren’s perspective. Daisy is menacing and the scene was extended to end on a shot of dead bodies. With the danger of Daisy put back in, she’s menacing. With all the joke-ish lines or familiar lines everything Ruth says removed plus John Carpenter over the whole thing it takes a darker tone. Mysterious in a bad way. It’s not spot on but hopefully it illustrates the point.
Please note that these are all rough drafts, to play around with and experiment. Also, I just realized there’s a continuity error I created with some of these videos so maybe this scene isn’t as flexible as I thought. If that isn’t a great fanediting lesson, I don’t know what is.