Can film editing be learned from a book? Not really. Can film editing theory be learned from a book? Probably, and Richard D. Pepperman's The Eye is Quicker is as good a place to start as any. Film editing seen through the eyes of Pepperman is fresh and dynamic and alive. His tone is personal, humorous and engaging, taking tech books out of the realm of dry and removed tomes we're forced to read for edification purposes, and transforming them into something we actually enjoy reading. At least once per chapter, I found myself wanting to rush out and edit something, anything.
The strength of The Eye is Quicker lies in the fact that Pepperman himself is a longtime teacher and knows how to present his craft in a way that students can connect with. His aim with this book is to bring editing back to the basics, instead of all about new technology hyped bells and whistles. He opens with a statement that I think best sums up his intentions: "I'm concerned that the tradition of passing on essential knowledge from an experienced mentor to new assistants and apprentices might be lost and `replaced?by tool-intensive training alone. I hope this book can help preserve that vibrant, more complete way of learning.?
Pepperman manages to employ an anecdotal tone that only the best educators ever manage to carry off. Like all good teachers, he partially holds your hand and coddles you, while simultaneously challenging you to jump off the precipice into the unknown and have faith in your own abilities.
Pepperman reveals himself as a person first, allowing the reader to become comfortable with him, and then he gets into the mechanics of his subject. He makes editing into a life view, rather than simply a cut and paste exercise. He humanizes editing, making it more about instinct than precision. By the end of this book, you begin to view editing as a way of being and seeing the world, not simply as a nine-to-five job performed by rote using a set of basic principles.
Don't get me wrong, the basics are offered in this book. Things that every film student learns in Editing 101. Pepperman also includes a list of Nine Key Codes that all editors should constantly keep in mind and strive to remain true to. He also supplies specific movie references that the editing student can turn to for examples. This makes his teachings more concrete and tangible, taking his book from a one dimensional study of a two dimensional discipline to a more complete representation of editing. He supplies countless frame by frame pictures to illustrate the differences in cuts and their impact on the finished films. My only problem with this approach is that it's still too static for a visual medium such as film. At times, I found it difficult to visualize the cuts just by seeing the storyboard pictures alone. Books on film, especially on editing, should come standard with interactive CD's or DVD's.
Each chapter begins with a perfectly placed quote that adds layers of meaning to the context. Everyone from Godard to Einstein is referenced. My favorite quote, though, comes from a slightly less conspicuous source. It's by Rob Nillson and is placed at the start to chapter seventeen. Nillson states, "The magicians who bottle the genie are the actors. The magician who lets the genie out of the bottle is the editor.?
The underlying message in The Eye is Quicker is that editing is all about subtlety. Visual logic is key. Technique can only take you so far ?the rest resides in your gut. Pepperman reiterates that we must never get so caught up in the aesthetics of editing that the film's drama takes a back seat to stylistics (there are quite a few people I can think of in Hollywood that would be well served by this advice).
The Eye is Quicker is a rarity in the world of trade books ?it teaches technique but it also affects perception.