Back in the Nineteen whatevers (10s? Teens?) Russian filmmaking pioneer Lev Kuleshov demonstrated that we infer meaning from the juxtaposition of two unrelated shots that isn’t contained in either shot on its own.
The exact same clip of this handsome devil’s face is presented against different shots: first soup, next a dead little girl in a coffin, and so on. And against each shot, we read his expression differently: hunger, grief, desire, etc.
Sometimes on set, you get performances that aren’t working in the way you hoped, and there isn’t time or budget to get it right in the moment. It happens.
But if you don’t rush to call ‘cut’ after each take (or don’t let the 1st AD, in their ever enthusiastic verve to move on, do it), and generally let the camera roll a bit, crafting authentic moments can still be possible in the edit.
Those little in-between bits can be gold for giving us unselfconscious and unguarded performances, and if we’re thoughtful about what we juxtapose them against in the edit, we can craft relevant meaning and import that may not have been intended on set as such.
This is especially helpful when working with children and untrained actors. My current project happens to have involved a several children and a lot of untrained actors, so a running mantra around the edit “suite”* has been to evoke ol’ uncle Kuleshov.
*One of our editors and VFX is in South Africa, the other editor in Kenya. The Post Sup and EP are in Nigeria, and I’m in NY. So our “edit suite” is a WhatsApp group/Google sheet combo.