Sunday, March 28, 2021

Speak Easily - 1932 - Editing Exercise - Sequence 1 - The Set Up

There are the ruins of a good comedy in the penultimate Keaton feature for MGM, "Speak Easily."  Released in 1932, it has the typical overwritten, over-explained plot of his "talkies," often more noise than humor.  I turned it over to my students in a dozen sequences after discussing film editing, use of close-ups, tightening action, and knowing when to end a scene.

Here is sequence #1 of the film, as released by MGM.  It has gone into the public domain, so that was the main reason I chose it for the exercise:

The group working on this sequence first noted that, since it is immediately established that this is taking place on a campus, why bother with the extra expense of hiring two mediocre actors to portray students?  They don't add anything, they aren't in the least bit interesting or funny, so cut them out!  
"Is this how some producers got their kids into movies?  Parts like these?" 

Next came the overuse of master shots, in some cases making the cavernous set the emphasis, instead of what is going on.  This is supposed to be a poor professor, but he has a huge apartment like this?
Using a video editor, master shots became medium shots, action was tracked with the camera to add emphasis to the movement, and insert shots were incorporated, again to heighten the motivation of the butler as he produces his letter to the professor, which ultimately proves to be fake.  
Insert shots also allow for the cutting of a second here, another there.  Nothing is lost for the sake of the scene, but the overall effect is to keep the action moving.

Finally, they decided that the scene should end with "I'll buy companionship!" referring to the Keaton character's need for friends as he hurries to pack.  The action that followed seemed more bungling and incidental than funny.  End with the joke and get out!

So their Sequence #1 came out as this.  The public domain source had some inherent flaws with the print quality, so expanding the frame created some fuzziness that wouldn't be present in a proper production.

The original clip ran 6 minutes, 20 seconds.  The students' version ran  5 minutes.  The group liked the sense of instant gratification with digital editing and were pleased that it started the film off with less exposition.  

They had even more fun with the second sequence.

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