Silent takes speak volumes

Acting without sound provides choices for editors

In the editing room, there’s no substitute to having options (and plenty of them) for reaction shots.

“We love choice,” says Lee Smith, who edited Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.”

To get some choices for the edit, some directors opt for a take without dialogue — a k a “silent take” or “editor’s free take.”

In a silent take, the actors move through their blocking and can react with their bodies and faces, but not their voices. Sometimes a director talks them through the character’s interior monologue, creating an ad hoc dialogue to draw out threads of expression and emotion. In other cases, a director might “steal” shots, shooting actors on set before they know the camera is rolling.

In Smith’s experience, “silent takes” have been a product of both day-of decisions in which lines get dropped, and overall filming strategy, in which “they’ll put the line in, and then give me a version without it, which is always a smart way of filmmaking,” he says.

For Joe Klotz, “free takes” are unofficial tricks of the trade that allowed him to “build subtle gradations” of intensity in John Cameron Mitchell’s “Rabbit Hole.” While Mitchell didn’t explicitly shoot silent takes, he moved from scene to scene with fluidity, often leaving the cameras rolling between takes. The technique offered more choice to reach specific emotional valleys and peaks more naturally, such as in a fight scene, in which “Rabbit Hole” star Nicole Kidman hits herself.

“We built from that to make it work,” he says. “That’s what having that range does. You’ve got 10 takes, you can cherry pick and build things.”

More from Eye on the Oscars: VFX, Sounds & Editing:
How to spot the vfx pro’s signature | Editors say the eyes have it | ‘Unstoppable’s’ track trek | Music shapes sound effects | Echoes of the Old West | Silent takes speak volumes

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