I love what I do and I love doing it.
How To Edit by Fernando A. Funes
As a teacher, I want to teach what I know.
So what do I know best? Long Form!
I’ve done what seems like hundreds of long form sets know from all the shows, jams, and practices.
I then realized that one of the most overlooked, taken for granted, and underappreciated skills is editing –how to edit, knowing when to edit, and why you should edit.
I then thought to myself, “I have to teach this! So I did!” The following is my thoughts on editing and some of the stuff I taught in my Friday 04/12/19 class.
What is editing?
Editing is ending a scene, or it is transitioning to a new scene.
How do we edit?
Stand back and watch a scene. Give it your full attention.
Ask yourself if the scene needs anything. If it does, go in and add it.
Maybe it needs someone to add background information like adding a location. I’ve been a waiter a million times dropping off water for two people sitting across from each other. Just depends on the situation.
If it doesn’t, watch the scene and let it breathe. Sometimes a good scene doesn’t need anything but space. Watch the scene and stay focused.
Once the scene has reached a high point — a conclusion, a laugh, a funny thing that wraps everything up — edit the scene.
When do you edit a scene?
Look for a button.
A button is a way to end a scene that provides closure for the scene and ends the scene on a high note.
A button could be a big laugh. For example, someone in the scene said something that got a huge laugh because it built upon a bunch of things that were established previously in the scene
A button, more often than not, is just a big laugh line that seems like a good place to end a scene.
Why do you edit?
You want your scenes to end on high notes because that keeps the audience wanting more and it keeps them watching.
If you let scenes drag on for too long –not editing scenes that should’ve been edited earlier — you may lose the audience. And if you lose the audience, your show’s energy will dip, and you will feel it on stage.
Once you lose an audience, or you feel an energy shift because you noticed they are not reacting the way you want them to or expect to, it’s hard to get them back.
Therefore, you always want to edit their scenes at their highest point as to keep the audience happy and keep the energy high.
If you can do that, you’re likelihood of having a good show increases, and if you have a good show, you’ll increase the chances of that same audience coming back to see you again and becoming loyal fans.
I get it, but how do I actually physically edit a scene?
There are a million ways to edit.
Editing techniques will vary by market, region, and school, and ultimately, it’s about finding what works for you and your groups, or what is the uniform practice of your improv community.
Here are two of the most common!
The Swipe — someone runs across the stage during a scene as if sweeping a dry erase board. The scene is ended and a new one can begin.
The Tag — Two people are in a scene, person A and person B. One person from the backline, person C, taps Person A on the shoulder because they want to do a brand new scene with Person B. Person C then takes Person A’s place to do a brand new scene with Person B. Person B remains the same character.
The most common long form format, the Montage, is composed solely of Swipes and Tags, and a lot of other long form formats utilize these techniques as well.
What did you teach?
We started off by doing two person scenes and me calling scenes and then discussing why I called a scene.
We talked out why a certain moment felt like an ending, and what were the elements we could list off that gave it that feeling.
We did this multiple times so that people started becoming aware of how much attention they have to pay during a scene. I still called the scenes, but I asked individual students their thoughts on why I called a scene.
All the answers were in the vein that it felt like a right moment to do it. For example, a scene had a huge laugh on a line that seemed to wrap everything up was a common answer.
Explaining a button isn’t always easy, but recognizing a button and calling a scene isn’t as hard.
It’s like you know a button when you see it, and that’s a good starting point.
What did you do after talking about scene buttons?
Okay, since I was working with players of various experience levels, some having had training and some being new to the art form, I wanted to use an easy long form that was user friendly. Therefore, I taught them the Usual Suspects format.
The Usual Suspects format is a long form developed by Spectacles Improv Engine, and that is currently performed by Pictures of Spaghetti, one of the best long form teams in Orange County.
*Full Disclosure: I’m a big fan of Pictures of Spaghetti, and I believe everyone should go watch them. Here’s a blog post about them I wrote way back. Check it out! => https://fernandosimprovblog.wordpress.com/2016/12/29/the-improv-life-scene-edits-or-why-pictures-of-spaghetti-rocks/
Players line up in a backline in an A-B-C-D-E-F order.
Player A and Player B come down from the backline and ask the audience for a suggestion.
They then do a scene.
Whenever it’s reached a high point or big laugh, someone from the backline claps to signal the end of the scene and goes back to the audience for another suggestion for a brand new scene.
They use the following prompt: “That scene was about horses. What else reminds you of horses?”
They get a suggestion from the audience for a new scene between Player B and Player C.
The process repeats itself until every pairing has gone down the line or the allotted show time expires.
The scenes are not related although they can be. That’s up to the players whether or not they want to make a call back.
Players have the liberty to tag into scenes and explore those universes if they wish. Tags allow for players in the backline to explore interesting scene ideas or characters they want to play with, and are overall encouraged if there is something to be played with in a scene.
Scenes can be long. Scenes can be short. It just depends on the backline and their instincts to edit.
Why did you teach this form?
What I’ve always liked about the Usual Suspects format is its focus on editing.
The clap is such a conclusive way to end a scene that there is no ambiguity in this edit.
Edits have to be clear and final. Ambiguity makes for awkward edits, and awkward edits make for awkward shows, so watch out for it.
Essentially, the clap is functioning as a swipe.
Also, this format puts pressure on the backline to watch scenes, observe them at a deeper level, and be hyper vigilant about when to edit.
To have success in this form, you cannot be afraid to edit, nor can you push that responsibility to another teammate who you feel is better at it. What if they are in a scene? Who is going to edit them? You will become a fearless editor, and that will help you out in all areas of your improv journey.
Amongst its many joys and skill builders, the Usual Suspects format will teach you how to edit.
So what happened next after you taught them the Usual Suspects format?
They edited their own scenes! Scenes were shorter than average, but that is because people were hyper vigilant about ending scenes on a high note.
Also, since students couldn’t count on me to call scene for them, they had to be their to have their fellow students’ backs and edit scenes at high points and keep the energy up.
Afterwards, I asked the students how they felt, and one thing that stuck out to me was the need to observe scenes on a deeper level and be ready to call scene at the perfect moment.
How did that make you feel?
Amazing! I felt like the lesson I was trying to teach was communicated clearly and effectively.
Editing isn’t something I was taught in a lot of my improv classes because it’s assumed that you already knew how.
However, if you’re going to drive a car, you have to know how the different gears in the transmission work. You have to know how to accelerate, break, and change lanes.
You have to be aware at all times of your vehicle and your experience in the vehicle. To be oblivious of those things is dangerous.
The same goes for a long form set.
You have to be aware at all times of what is going on.
You have to be able to adapt and respond at a moment’s notice depending on what your team may need from you or how the energy of the audience is affecting your set.
It’s a hypervigilance that rewards you with amazing stage moments when you submit your full attention to the set, but it punishes you if you’re distracted or not giving it your full care and concern.
Damn, this is a lot to take in! What next?
Come to my drop-ins! Come study with me! Come study with Matt Thomas on Sundays from 11am to 1pm! Basically, go do improv and learn this for yourself!
Improv is fun! That’s why I do it! If it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t be here!
Yes, there are technical things you have to know to succeed in it — like any art form — but once you master those technical things, your improv abilities will sky rocket and you’ll be doing things you never imaged.
Yes, editing may seem like a given for a lot of people, but it’s a skill that needs to be developed by everyone if they want to be an amazing improviser.
So please go out there and do some improv.
Fernando A. Funes.
Spectacles Improv Engine host drop-in Improv Classes every Friday from 12pm to 2pm and every Sunday from 11am to 1pm at STAGES Theater in Fullerton. Classes are $10, and every class is different from the other. Check it out!