Rekindling Old Frames

Deleted Scenes ☛

I’ve recently locked picture on the movie Sparks and Embers and it’s fallen to me to prepare the deleted scenes. As the editor, I work with the audience in mind so, when deciding which scenes to recommend including, I found myself wondering: what do people get from watching deleted scenes?

To answer this question let me talk a little about why scenes get deleted. At least one scene has hit the cutting room floor in every feature film on which I’ve worked; distributors now request these as part of their delivery requirements (although the filmmakers aren’t obliged to provide them). Some editors offer this material reluctantly; one described it to me as being like presenting your dirty washing for inspection. Others see it as a vindication of their job: “Behold, all the dross from which our mighty scissors protected you, oh audience!”

Terry Gilliam, unable to believe his luck in “Lost in La Mancha”

You could be tempted to wonder if the existence of deleted scenes reflects badly on the director. After all, they may have cost a lot of time and effort to shoot – for that work to be discarded is surely a waste? There are some directors who pride themselves on never over-shooting in this way. However as, anybody who’s ever lifted the directorial megaphone knows, things rarely go as planned. I’m not just talking about freak thunderstorms, unscheduled parades, sick actors, and all the absurd misfortunes recorded in Hearts of Darkness or Lost in La Mancha. Sometimes unexpectedly good things can happen too: a sudden burst of sunlight can turn a bland but necessary shot into a thing of beauty. An actor can find hidden depth in what was originally a humdrum speech, or even give a look so devastating that it renders words redundant.

When these things happen, the good filmmaker has to be ready to embrace them. And embracing them means a change of plan. Perhaps we anticipated that the lead character would prove difficult to like, but the way the actor is playing him or her, nothing could be further from the truth. This means that the ‘save the cat’ scene that Blake Snyder had us include – the scene that was engineered just to make us love the protagonist – can safely hit that modern day cutting room floor, the deleted scenes folder.

Gold gathering dust: a deleted scene from Kurosawa's "Ran"

Gold gathering dust: a deleted scene from Kurosawa’s “Ran”

Even when everything does go according to plan it’s still possible that that plan might have been, whisper it… flawed. This is not the sign of a rookie at the helm or an incompetent screenwriter: many of the greatest films dropped scenes that either proved unnecessary or just didn’t work. The great Akira Kurosawa once had his crew up all night spraying an entire field of wheat with gold paint. The result was a visually spectacular recreation of the black and gold of Japanese lacquer. It was axed in the edit. The ruthless decision to excise the scene is all that matters: the audience don’t care how hard people worked on the shoot.

Most filmmakers make every effort at script stage to minimise the risk of shooting needless scenes, but you can’t completely remove the possibility of redundancy from the process. Famously, Woody Allen always schedules in a week’s filming some time after the main shoot, to pick-up any additional material that might prove necessary. Directors are not infallible; like other artists, they occasionally need to try something out to see if it will work.

So, if these scenes are natural wastage, why do people jump to that chapter on the DVD or Blu-ray?  There are a lot of answers to this question, including the fact that most people don’t.  Those who do watch deleted scenes will do so in different ways for different movies.

No spoliers now

“Vertigo” No spoliers now

The first DVD I ever owned was a copy of Vertigo, one of my favourite films (predictable, I know). The DVD included an alternative ending that Hitchcock had been forced to shoot and which I was eager to see. Apart from historical curiosity, the idea that I’d get to watch an unfamiliar moment from an old favourite was very appealing: like a previously unnoticed room in a familiar house. Through watching that deleted scene I was given a second chance to watch Vertigo for the first time. If only for one minute and forty eight seconds.

For recent release films the draw of deleted scenes is different. What we hope for is more of the same: more fun, more thrills, more tears. It’s possible that we might get it: some scenes are cut out because, despite being good scenes in and of themselves, they break the flow of the film or push the running time beyond what the Studio considered marketable. Such scenes, when they exist, are a treat.

More commonly, however, scenes were deleted because they were dull, repeated information, were too tangential or just didn’t really work. If I’m honest, I can’t ever remember watching a deleted scene and thinking “why did they cut that?” (feel free to tell me of any gems I might have missed).

The appeal of deleted scenes is mainly intellectual. They can allow the curious to see behind a few other doors in the world of the film, but, divorced as they are from their context, they rarely provide an emotional experience.

Soon, however, all this could be academic – distribution of deleted scenes may not be with us for much longer. As we move towards viewing movies via download and streaming, DVD and Blu-ray look likely to become obsolete. In truth, deleted scenes were only ever included to make these discs seem value-added. Once these formats have gone, it’s unclear quite where deleted scenes will find a home.  When watching movies via the Internet we’re back in the age of VHS: the film is all you get for your money. The public availability of deleted scenes may prove to have been an aberration, a brief glimpse of the director’s ‘plan A’, seen through the edit suite door before it closed on us. Should this prove true I’ll be sad… if only a little.


Copyright © Guy Ducker 2013

Edited by Dr Sara Lodge

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4 Responses to “Rekindling Old Frames”
  1. Jon Wade says:

    I used to watch deleted scenes on DVDs, but soon found that they really were all rubbish. Or so, they seemed. I have wondered in the past if the scenes seemed bad because they were no longer in the film, maybe many scenes seem a bit naff if watched out of order. More often than not watching the scenes just spoiled the memory of a film immediately after watching it. Pointless.

    Maybe your next blog post should be called “what makes a directors cut?”. I have never (as far as I recall) watched both a normal version of a film and a directors cut (OK, Blade Runner is problem an exception, and a major one at that). But films like Lord of the Rings all had longer versions which I lapped up. Never in those films did I think “they should not have bothered with this bit”. So why does the director sometimes shove back in what the editor took out?

    I assume it all comes down to the producers pocket watches telling them that 90 minutes is enough, thank you very much.

  2. Helen Brady says:

    I like the deleted scenes. I like to see where the film could have gone. OK, some paths are far more interesting than others, and most of them are often superfluous. However, occasionally I do think it was a mistake to cut out certain scenes that made the story clearer – and I’d say that’s true of virtually every Ridley Scott film, not just Blade Runner. When I watched Kingdom of Heaven in the cinema you could just tell there was a better film waiting to come out in the Director’s Cut, and there was.

    I want to have more than the cinematic experience, if I really like a film I will buy it to watch on DVD, I’ll watch it again with the directer’s commentary – admittedly, some of those are hugely better than others, more insightful of the process and less of the super-smooth ‘we were all wonderful, darling’ that some directors indulge in. I think some distributors forget, or ignore, the public’s desire to own things – we like to have copies of favorite books, trinkets, souvenirs, it’s what merchandising is all about. If they truly think that no one will ever want to create their own personal archive of films and will be content with streaming and forgetting… I think they’ve fundamentally misunderstood the human psyche that wants to own a physical presence of something that gave them pleasure, and I believe that goes for most of their audience.

    Brian Helgeland gives good commentary – watch the extras/deleted scenes for A Knight’s Tale – he explains that the long speeches given to Paul Bettany’s character, while excellent performances, unbalanced the focus and took the spotlight off Heath Ledger’s arc – BUT happily they are still available on the DVD, which streaming is never going to allow.

  3. I much prefer Behind the Scenes as opposed to Deleted Scenes. As I’m sure you know, many times the deleted scene is simply a portion of an included scene and it’s a bit boring. I sure hope Blu-Ray sticks around for a bit or that digital content allows some sort of Behind the Scenes download. I literally buy Blu-Ray for behind the scenes alone. (oh yeah, it comes with the film too, I suppose) One of my favourite director’s Jean-Pierre Jeanet is one of those you mentioned that feels it’s such a waste to shoot scenes that will be cut and as such pours his heart and soul into pre-pro. Definitely a goal to try and aim for. As a working Director of Photography myself, I also try to hit that mark of shooting what’s necessary but am definitely guilty of shooting extra coverage within a scene so I have options (which I suppose is a bit different than cutting an entire scene)

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