How to Film Thought: A Close Look at the Masterful Editing of Sherlock, Starring Benedict Cumberbatch

What has drawn Sherlock, the BBC television series starring a modern-day version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved consulting detective, such great acclaim? Some of it, of course, has to do with the formidable acting skills of Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role. But if you believe Evan Puschak, better known as the video essayist the Nerdwriter, much of the genius of this “intoxicatingly inventive TV show” lies in the editing.

The plot of each episode runs on how Sherlock “gets from point A to point B, from problem to solution, mystery to clarity,” and just as Cumberbatch must convincingly portray the figuring-out process with his performance, so must the editors with their cuts. Puschak illustrates Sherlock‘s creative, idea-dense way of doing this with just one sequence of three minutes and 42 seconds. It comes triggered by a bout of withdrawal from cocaine, a choice that stays true to the nature of the character Conan Doyle created, brilliant but also a drug addict.

During this sequence, Sherlock arrives at just what every good detective story needs: a revelation, a moment when both he and we see the pieces of information the story has previously presented from a new angle, in a way that reveals the crucial relationship between them. And as essentially a cinematic work, Sherlock literally shows it from not just one but many new angles, even from perspectives impossible in real life. As with any well-crafted piece of editing, you can only feel this sequence’s power when you watch it, not when you read it described. Puschak takes full advantage of his own form, the video essay, to not just show it to us but break it down to its constituent elements.

Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes stories won their wide and avid readership by offering a glimpse into the workings of an unusual mind, making them legible in text. Sherlock goes a dimension further by making them legible in image and sound. The relationship between the two parallels the relationship between the traditional essay and the video essay: the latter, in this case, allows us to follow the process of Puschak’s thoughts about Sherlock not just textually but audiovisually as well. And with his channel’s just having passed one million subscribers, he seems well on the way to achieving a Sherlockian level of popularity himself.

Related Content:

Download the Complete Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Masterpiece

Hear the Vintage Sherlock Holmes Radio Drama, Starring John Gielgud, Orson Welles & Ralph Richardson

The Alchemy of Film Editing, Explored in a New Video Essay That Breaks Down Hannah and Her Sisters, The Empire Strikes Back & Other Films

How Filmmakers Tell Their Stories: Three Insightful Video Essays Demystify the Craft of Editing, Composition & Color

How Seinfeld, the Sitcom Famously “About Nothing,” Is Like Gustave Flaubert’s Novels About Nothing

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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