In a study released in mid-2008, neuroscientists noted that certain styles of motion pictures are capable of exerting “considerable control over brain activity.” In the study that used fMRI imaging to study neocortex response, researchers found that the level of control exerted was linked directly to the film’s editing and directing style. One of the films screened for subjects was an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents “Bang! You’re Dead.” The findings are probably not that surprising to most experienced editors, I think many of us feel that on some level editing is a form of manipulation. However, it’s interesting to see real data on the topic. Read on…
“Our data suggest that achieving a tight control over viewers’ brains during a movie requires, in most cases, intentional construction of the film’s sequence through aesthetic means,” the researchers wrote. “The fact that Hitchcock was able to orchestrate the responses of so many different brain regions, turning them on and off at the same time across all viewers, may provide neuroscientific evidence for his notoriously famous ability to master and manipulate viewers’ minds. Hitchcock often liked to tell interviewers that for him ‘creation is based on an exact science of audience reactions.’ “
To illustrate the effect that editing has over content, I’ve included a few editing mashups below. These are popular film trailer audio tracks, re-cut with Toy Story 2 footage. It’s an interesting contrast, and works surprisingly well. All hail the editor!
The Dark Knight vs. Toy Story 2
Toy Story 2 Requiem
In closing, here’s a relevant quote from esteemed editor Walter Murch; “Film editing is now something almost everyone can do at a simple level and enjoy it, but to take it to a higher level requires the same dedication and persistence that any art form does.” Happy editing.