Today's Reading


They say a picture's worth a thousand words.

That's not what I'd say.

I'd say it depends on the picture. I'd say it depends on the size and the color and the subject and the print and the framing and the focus and the composition. I'd say it depends on what you were doing the hour before, the day before, the year before, the life before. I'd say it depends on whether you're looking at it on a wall or scrolling past it on a screen or cutting it carefully out of a book, digging your knuckle into the gutter of the spine because the margins are so small and the blades are so long and it's impossible to get a straight line, but you don't want to dig up a guide and an X-Acto knife because you aren't willing to wait, you have to have it, you have to have this picture, right now, and your kitchen scissors are close enough and good enough—yes, good enough—and Jesus Christ, Marissa, when will you get it through your thick head: Imperfection is a price happy people pay to cradle the weight of something they love.

That's what I'd say.

But I understand some people prefer the cozy imprecision of "nice round numbers," so I'm willing to pretend, for the moment, for the sake of argument, that a single picture is indeed worth one thousand point zero zero words exactly.

It would follow, then, that two pictures are worth two thousand words.

A hundred pictures, a hundred thousand words.

At that rate it wouldn't take too many pictures before you'd have in front of you all the words there ever were in all the world and more besides, more words than anyone could thread together into anything resembling sense.

Think about that the next time you go to the movies.

If you want to trick the human eye into believing a series of pictures represents continuous motion—what first-semester film school students learn to call "persistence of vision"—you're going to need to present your audience with about sixteen frames per second. More, if you'd like, but no fewer.

Sixteen. Not round, but still a number people like to hang on to. It's often said that 16 FPS was the standard frame rate in the silent film era, but that's wrong—there was no standard. Those cameras were hand-cranked, and directors varied the frame rate from scene to scene depending on the rhythm that suited their story. But once talkies came along, picture had to sync to sound, and since then, the frame rate used in movie production and projection has been 24 FPS, with a few exceptions I won't let myself go into, because according to Amy no one wants to hear what anyone thinks about Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk.

By this reckoning, at eighty-five minutes, your average movie is made up of 122,400 frames. So if a picture's worth a thousand words—well, that average movie must be worth 122,400,000 words.

One hundred twenty-two million.

In the wrong hands, that's too much. Too much information, too much possibility. No one can find a signal in all that noise. You might as well eat a library. You might as well drink a dictionary. You might as well ask an actor how they're feeling.

That's why they come to me. The editor.

Give me enough time. Give me enough space. Give me a dark room and a roll of film, a Steenbeck, a Moviola, an Avid NLE, a director with a vision and an actor with some craft.

Give me an X-Acto knife and a guide.

Give me this, and I'll do all the things with pictures I can never do with words. I'll slice and stitch and lace and weave and cut and wipe and fade. I'll crack open the body of the beast and slip my hands beneath its beating heart.

Give me a movie and I'll find the meaning; I'll find the truth; I'll find the story.

Sometimes, if I'm very lucky, I'll find all three.

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