I’m always amazed how watching the same edit – a digitally replicated, identical output – can feel different depending on the circumstances under which it is watched. Watching with an audience and feeling the emotions in the room is one of the more powerful versions of that phenomenon. But it can also take shape alone in the editing room.
I almost always watch edits within the editing software. It's the standard way to do it, and on top of that it's where all the clips that make up a timeline are mutable, and there's plenty of opportunity for swift improvements. However there are also times, such as where I’m at now in my current feature length project, where I need to zoom out and watch down the entire film to get a sense of it as a whole without being distracted by making changes as I go.
I was intrigued to realize that if I export first – create a file that I don’t have the ability to change – watching down the film feels very different. My perception of the film feels much closer to watching as an audience member, feeling the flow of the edit, and watching the film for what it is. In some ways I accept the edit more watching this way, but in other ways it allows me to be a harsher critic in that anything not working stands out and reminds me that I can't keep saying "it's just a rough cut" forever.