The Guillotine Splicer


One of the most critical steps in learning how to edit on a Steenbeck table is using a guillotine splicer. This guide highlights the best workflow for using a guillotine splicer for both picture and sound. 

Getting Started

What is a Guillotine Splicer

A guillotine splicer is a tool used for editing analog motion picture film. Each one is capable of cutting film using the knives on the far right, then joining the film back together using the specialized tape and press system in the middle (or "splicing"). 

Emerson's DFL has two different kinds of guillotine splicers: the M2 and the M3. The M2 models are older and do not have adjustable pins, but are still effective and do their job well. The M3s are newer and have pins on the bottom that can move the alignment pins, allowing you to splice shrunken or warped film together. 

Guillotine Splicing


The first step when cutting your film is marking your in and out points. Use a grease pencil to make a mark where you would like to make a cut, usually at the tail of a shot that you want to remove (either a select or outtake). You may want to consider drawing a line vertically from edge to edge between two frames, as this is where the splicer will cut.

Once you have made your mark, rewind your film until the mark is just on the left side of the gate, then grab it with two fingers and pull it down to your splicer, continuing to rewind so that the film does not break. At the same time, you will also be pulling film from the source reel, which will have more tension than the film coming out of the gate. The more slack you have, the easier it will be to maneuver the film. Be careful not to pull the film too high in the air, as it may cause your source reel to unravel! Keeping it level with the table is an easy way to mitigate this. 


Open the splicer so that the film bed is exposed, and keep the knife on the right up so that the film runs underneath it. Remember: the shorter, slanted knife is for mag stock, and the longer straight knife is for picture. 

Secure your film to the bed of the splicer using the sprockets coming up from the film bed, making sure that the grease mark you made is underneath the knife that you're using. Before making the cut line up the sprocket holes with the spikes on the inside of the splicer. Bring the knife down rather briskly and it will cut the film right in the middle of a sprocket hole between two frames. 

Next, rewind your film until you see the beginning of the shot you're removing from the reel. Do this slowly and keep the shot from falling to the ground by either hanging it over your shoulders or looping it in your hand, sort of like a rope. Don't be afraid to stop if necessary and get things situated! Once you see the head of your shot, make a similar mark and pull it down to the splicer in the same manner you did the other one. Line it up in the bed and cut it, then either discard it in the bin or hang it on a hook for future use, labeling if necessary. 

Splicing Together

To splice two pieces of film together, bring the head and tail of your incoming and outgoing shot to the splicer and have them meet in the middle of the film bed, being careful to line up the perforations with the sprockets on the splicer. The half-perforations on each piece of film should line up down the middle and create one complete sprocket hole. Pull your tape forward and over the film. Press firmly to secure it in place, then close the splicer on top of the film and push down firmly on the handle with a good amount of pressure and speed. Pressing too hard and fast can damage the splicer, while using too little pressure too slowly will not cut the tape on the top and bottom of your splice. It is suggested that you push three times to ensure the film spliced.

Open the splicer and check that a clean splice has been made. You will know if it is a clean splice if the two half sprockets have lined up correctly to create one sprocket and there is not an excessive amount of tape hanging over the top or bottom of the film. Do not, unless otherwise advised, place tape on both sides of your film until you are at picture lock.

A Note on Cutting Sound

The only difference between cutting picture and sound is the blade that you use. When splicing sound, follow the instructions for cutting film but instead of using the innermost long knife, you will use the outer short knife. A diagonal cut like this means that the splice will not make a *pop* sound when played back on a Steenbeck table or mag dubber!

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