Classical Cutting

This iMovie exercise teaches:

● How to crosscut action to build tension and suspense
● How to select shots for their emotional significance
● How to compress minutes of action into seconds

(Instructions for Windows Movie Maker are here).
  1. Download these one-rider shots (2), these two-rider shots (8), these small group shots (16), and these massed horsemen shots (15) from The Birth of a Nation. Combined, the shots run a little less than five minutes. Preview them on your desktop.  
  Including the 41 shots you downloaded, Griffith used 161 shots to crosscut between three parallel actions in this section of the movie.  
The Birth of A Nation Lillian Gish The Birth of a Nation
Shot 1
Shot 2
Henry B. Walthall and Lillian Gish
Shot 3
Shot 4
intertitle, "And meanwhile, other fates—"
  Compress, select, and crosscut some of the horsemen shots to "work with Griffith" at the cutting table. As little as a minute or two of re-cut movie will get you going. Your narrative will obviously differ from Griffith's. But join and cut shots to maximize their emotional significance, as Griffith did.  
  2. Create a new standard project in Movie Maker. Call it "Classical Cutting."  
  The shots you downloaded could serve numerous purposes. Imagine that you determined to employ them to express successive stages of the mythic hero's journey:  
a few men gathering a multitude advancing
small and distant large and close
immobilized empowered

  3. To suggest that kind of transformation, for instance, try importing into iMovie and dragging into the project this initial sequence of eight shots:
b33 two riders
b6 two riders
b15 two riders
b10 one rider
b11 small group
b4 small group
b7 small group
b13 small group
  4. At the very least, classically cut action should flow rightward to rightward, leftward to leftward, across the splice. Does this assembly do that? (It generally does, but note where it doesn't.)  
  5. Editors who classically cut scenes usually try to match cut shots, too. (Griffith himself match cut imperfectly). Wherever you can, find where in each shot a significant action has advanced enough to match its position in the prior shot. Trim to end the first shot and begin the second shot there.
  6. If a shot seems too long, terminate it at "the top of the content curve" (where the viewer has entirely absorbed it). If a shot passes too quickly, extend it or replace it. [No handbook can tell you. It's a matter of feeling. Artists cut movies, not engineers.]  
  7. Continue in this vein. Add in some of the massed horsemen shots until your small band swells into a multitude.  
  8. You're done. Want to play more?
  9. Add emotive elements—as Griffith would and did.  
  10. Cross-dissolve between b6 and b15 (where the two riders appear to reverse direction). The cross-dissolve bridges the gap and says, in effect, "time passed here."  
  11. To darken the image, apply the "brightness, decrease" effect to each shot.  
  12. To "tint" a shot to amber, apply the "sepia" effect. Experiment‚ as Griffith would‚ to find effects that please you.  
  13. Add music and effects tracks that seems right to you. Your segment begins to look and sound something like this.