Editing Tips

A reel-to-reel editing table. By Andrew Lih [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Editing can be one of the most difficult tasks in shooting a film.  Sure, it’s a pain to get to a location, get your shots, get multiple takes of your shots and then get them home, but imagine choosing exactly the right take and then making sure that take works within the framework of all the other takes and shots you’ve already chosen.  Do you have to go back and change those?  Maybe.  Those that shoot with a script in hand are usually luckier than broadcast reporters and others that shoot without a script, but there are some general tips that everyone can use to make things a little easier.

  • The best thing you can do is to get your clips organized.  It doesn’t matter how you organize them as long as it makes sense to you.  I’ve tried following organizational systems based on what other people have tried to teach me, but I found them confusing because they don’t mesh with the way I approach my editing program.  Find a system that makes it easy for you to find the clips you want.
  • Mark your clips.  If you know you’ve got some takes you like and some that you don’t, mark them appropriately if you can.  I know that Final Cut Pro allows you to label clips with tags like “good take,” “best take,” and “b roll,” so mark those clips in order of your preference.  You won’t have to dig through multiple takes because you can’t remember where the one you liked best is in the file folder.
  • Learn to use your editing program.  It is essential that you learn about the editing suite you use.  Editing goes a lot faster when you know your shortcuts and where all the fancier editing options are.  You can invest in a book about your program or just play around with it while consulting the internet for features you know you want to use.
  • Make sure the layout works for you.  I took a class where the professor said the best and most efficient layout was the one devised by Avid when it premiered.  I was miserable and slow when using an Avid-style layout because I cut my teeth on Final Cut Pro in high school.  Keep the standard if it works for you, but don’t be afraid to move keyboard shortcuts and windows around in the program if you don’t like the way it works.  Keep in mind that not all programs allow for a lot of customization.  Sometimes you’re just stuck with the layout the developers thought would work best.

Those are some of the basics to approaching the program, but what about editing itself?  I’ve found that approaching editing is like approaching any art; there’s no one way to do it.  I’ve had more experience with broadcast report editing than editing from a film script.  I found that the best thing to do in this situation is to cut down the raw footage to the parts that turned out best and then arrange it into a rough cut.  Then I write a script based off the rough cut for any narration that I need to add.  I’ll then spend the rest of my editing time tightening up the rough cut into the final project.

Generally it’s best to cut your video first and leave space between all the clips to see if you like the order and pace of your piece.  You can then go back and clean up your cuts exactly the way you want and tie them together.  Then it’s time to add transitions.  Don’t worry about the audio until your done working with the video portions.  It’s a waste of time to spend ten minutes working the levels just the way you want only to realize that the clip you’re working on doesn’t work and you cut it.  It’s rough to listen to audio that’s too loud or needs adjustment, but you can always turn the speakers down or mute the clip until you are ready to touch it up.

Good luck with editing and feel free to experiment.  Nobody becomes an expert editor overnight.  It takes patience and practice.

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