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Who decides about the sequences of scenes for a movie?

My friends are telling me that the Editor edits the film, so he will arrange the scenes in the way he sees fit. But I have some doubts about this as this seems largely the director's decision. So how do the editor and the director (and maybe other parties) collaborate in this process and how much responsibility and competences does the editor generally have in this regard? Can he rearrange whole scenes or does he only edit on a finer granularity?

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    Do you mean the order of scenes within the film or the ordering of shots within the scene? – Catija Jan 29 '15 at 2:28
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The major players would be:

  • the script writer
  • the director
  • the editor

But opinions and decisions could come from a wide range of other roles:

  • the actors
  • cinematographer
  • the producers
  • the studio
  • audience (audience tests)

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

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The screen writer(s) write the script (s) with the planned sequence of events, including all dialog and action, possibly based on original fiction, or story outlines, etc., and with lots of input from the director and producer(s), etc.

The director shoots the scenes in the final draft of the script in the order which the director and producers have decided on (which is a complicated decision-making process) for making the movie fastest, cheapest, etc. Some times final draft script pages are delivered to the movie set on the days those scenes are to be filmed.

Sometimes the director on the set decides not to film entire scenes in the script or to add more scenes and often to change dialog, etc. Actors sometimes ad-lib their lines, and sometimes goofs in filming a scene are left in the movie because they make it funnier.

After production and adding special effects, etc. to footage, the editor (under the director's supervision) edits various shots from various takes of a scene into a complete scene, and does this for all the scenes, and assembles the scenes into the complete movie.

Sometimes entire scenes, characters, and plot elements are "left on the cutting room floor" during editing and are not in the final movie.

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It should also be noted that the editor - while (s)he has definite influence over general scene order - is there largely to decide on (or help decide on)...

  1. which takes should be used of any given scene
  2. which shots/angles should be used at any given point in a scene (wide shot or closeup here? Closeup of which character/actor? Etc.)
  3. what order within a scene to use the different shots
  4. the pace of cutting within a scene/how long to linger on each individual shot
  5. how to transition between shots/scenes, but not necessarily which scene leads into the next
  6. how and when to use soundtrack music
  7. where cuts need to be made for length (and other) purposes (which admittedly often translates into cutting entire scenes)

That said, all this (along with a few things I'm probably forgetting) is still a lot of responsibility and influence being given to the editors, even if it may seem on the surface like the editor is just in charge of small/nitpicky things. And again, this isn't to say that editors don't have a major say in the matter - oftentimes people realize in post that a little scene rearrangement will improve the flow of the movie, or that an entire scene just doesn't work (for any number of reasons) and has to be cut - but that's just not the editor's primary reason for being there.

The director has a somewhat parallel/similar relationship to scene order (i.e. that's not their primary reason for being there, but they still have major influence on the subject). Of course, the relative influence of the director and editor(s) over scene order also depends on the dynamics within that particular film (including, oftentimes, some overlap in terms of jobs - it's not entirely unusual for a movie's director to also be on the writing team), and on the standards of the particular studios they're working with and what industries - if any - they're working within (is it a Hollywood movie? Nollywood or Bollywood? Independent?). But the screenwriter(s) definitely have the most influence over scene order. At least in theory - as has been said, there is a complicated decision-making process with heavy involvement from the director and producers.

  • While very nicely written, could you provide some references/citations to back up some of this? – MattD Jul 3 '15 at 2:39
  • Errr.... I am an editor? Sorry, but this is entirely based on my own & my friends' (quite valid) experiences. – ghostdog Jul 3 '15 at 2:52
  • As for directors helping with the script - just look on IMDB. Even in Hollywood/outside of the indie stuff I tend to work on, it's not uncommon to see a director with writing credits on the same film. – ghostdog Jul 3 '15 at 2:59

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