I recently completed work on another web series. This one is a series of Valentine’s Day tips for single people. Unlike all my previous videos, I had someone else edit them. As it turns out, knowing when to edit out of a scene is an acquired skill.
The benefit of video, as opposed to live performance, is that you have the ability to see a scene in its entirety. We can see the exact moment when an improvised scene is at its funniest, then end it on top.
Often in live shows, we find ourselves chilling on the sidelines, enjoying our friends performing while we forget to edit the scene. Ideally, you edit out at the apex of the scene – the point where maximum laughs occur – or the point where the dramatic action hits a note of suspense and intrigue.
You’ll know when you missed an edit. The audience’s reaction wanes and the energy starts to flatline. Often, performers start getting invent-y when they’re starting to flounder. Things are going fine until they blurt out some left field discovery or declaration. Don’t let a scene get to that point.
The worst edits are the Mercy Kills.™ The scene is dying. The players on the sidelines are waiting for a laugh to edit on, but it never comes. The players inside the scene feel gross and just want to get off. Finally, arbitrarily, someone puts the damn scene out of its misery.
It is always better to edit early than late. If you’re in a longform show, you can revisit those characters. But no one will want to revisit them if you’ve overstayed your welcome.
I once heard the great 3033 discussing this issue. They said Alex Fendrich was masterful at editing before a scene had reached its climax. That seems difficult to pull off, since we often don’t know where scenes are headed. But that approach does serve a longform show well. I imagine Alex watches the scene, waits for the characters and the premise/tone/theme to be established, then edits. The performers can decide if those things merit a return later in the show.
Think about it. When you sit down at a new restaurant and order something you’ve never had, you don’t commit to eat the whole meal. You try a bite. If you like it, you keep eating. Too often, we sit down at the improv table and commit to eating every last bite of an unfamiliar dish. An edit is just an opportunity to consider whether you want another bite. Sometimes you will, sometimes you won’t. There are unlimited meals in the improv restaurant. Stop eating the ones that don’t taste good.
To further beat this metaphor to death, imagine your favorite meal. Think about how it tastes when it hits your tongue. Are you hungry now? You anticipate and look forward to that next bite. When an audience loves a scene, they want more. Edit out of that scene before they’ve gorged themselves. When it comes back in a later beat, they already had a craving for more. You just delivered. And they will love you for it.
Got an improv question? E-mail me at boilingpointimprov[at]gmail.com