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Ellipsis is both a narrative device and the most basic idea in film editing. Ellipsis concerns the omission of a section of the story that is either obvious enough for the public to fill in or concealed for a narrative purpose, such as suspense or mystery.

Dictionary Definition: ELLIPSIS
The omission from speech or writing of a word or words that are superfluous or able to be understood from contextual clues.

Alfred Hitchcock famously said: “What is drama but life with the dull bits cut out.”

Filmmaking is the representation of life but with the boring parts eliminated. With the goal to enlighten, move, and excite a demanding crowd, films must be stripped from all the “dull bits” that could annoy the spectator.

Screenwriters, with the enter-late-leave-early maxim, are always pressed to pen scripts that don’t include minutia. If a scene opens with a college professor writing on the whiteboard, the audience will assume that earlier that the day, the instructor got up, had breakfast, brushed his teeth, drove to work, parked the car, greeted his colleagues, went to his classroom, greeted the students, rummaged through his briefcase, and grabbed a marker… There is no need to show the obvious and the tedious. And unless the professor is going to write something important on the whiteboard, starting the scene later in his office during a fit with one the students would be a better, more exciting opening.

The Film Critic's Insight

One of the most used and boring clichés in cinema is to start a movie with the main character waking up. This has been done in many movies and even books. It might seem natural to show the early moments of a character's routine, but this is actually a deal breaker for the audience. Eyes shut, an strident alarm, a lazy character late for work have all been done too often.

Instead of going for something classic, try hooking the audience with a more exciting, relevant moment of the character's day. What if you open your film with a mean boss shouting, “Damn you, Charlie. You are fired!”? This might even be a cliché as well, but it's definitely less boring. Most viewers don't know what the concept of an ellipsis is, but they sure appreciate them. Use ellipses to your advantage.

In Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), the movie opens with the protagonist, Cecilia (Mia Farrow), admiring a movie poster. Her morning routine is completely excluded from the narrative. Breakfast and hygiene are habits practically shared by every character in the movie. But stopping to appreciate a movie poster is pertinent only to Cecilia.

There may be instances in which writers and directors overlook the norm. The editor, then, will have to exert final judgment and decide if a potentially boring scene works or doesn’t.

Related Readings:

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