Ever get that feeling that your video edits take FOREVER. That you must be the slowest editor alive…that every deadline you’re set feels like doomsday?
While there’s no getting away from the fact that video editing is generally quite a brutal, time intensive process (just ask anyone that does it for a living – we salute you!), there ARE things that you can do to become more efficient and win back valuable time on each project. How do I know? Well it’s not because I’m some sort of super, duper video editor (I can’t edit for s***) or because I know of some magic video editing software. It’s because we recently spoke to almost 50 professional editors and asked them to share their secrets on “how to edit video faster?” This article is the result of those insightful conversations.
So whether you’re a professional editor yourself or you just enjoy putting together your own videos for fun, check out these tips, put them into practice and start winning back some of your time today!
Looking for Fast(er) Editing Techniques + Tips: Here’s 48 of Them
“How to make video editing faster?” A question that just about everyone that edits video regularly has had at some point. It’s a question that doesn’t have just a single answer, and not every answer will work for everyone. The following list is a great place to start. 48 time-saving tips from some really amazing professional editors. Have a read and then start implementing the ones that pique your interest. Before you know it, you’ll be well on your way to saving a bucket-load of that most precious of resources (Netflix time, obviously!).
- Use music as a tool when picking selects
- Better file organization – helps with finding what you need quicker
- Keyboard shortcut mapping/memorization
- Make multiple versions of timelines and projects
- Color label your clips
- Watch all of your footage before importing
- Learn how to create multi-camera sequences
- Subclipping – it’s like magic!
- Do the edit mentally first
- Use keyframeable audio “rubber bands”
- Make sure you understand what you’re trying to achieve
- Find your story
- Categorise your select sequences
- Use a proxy workflow
- Use the extend clip tool
- Make a radio cut first
- Organization, organization, organization
- Always come prepared
- Categorise all of your footage BEFORE you start
- Use the Match Frame feature
- Have patience
- Use the Hover Scrub feature
- Use workspaces
- Rematch all of the footage near the end of an edit
- Don’t work too hard
- Talk to other editors + crew/staff
- Create audio palettes by sub-clipping music and sfx tracks
- Split edit (AKA J Cuts & L Cuts)
- Create an assembly cut
- Sleep on it
- Make sure to think about backup and storage solutions
- Walk away (even if just for 10 minutes)
- Edit from sequences, not clips
- Story blocking
- Find your own, unique edit groove
- Create a soundbed and use it to guide your story
- Archive and library clips
- Skin tone as a basic step for color correction
- Pay attention to speech rhythm and mannerisms
- Map out your project on a whiteboard
- Use markers
- Use b-roll effectively
- Pull your selects the right way
- Sound syncing
- Start with sound first
- Nested sequence
- Name file by year-month-day
- Make sure you label your clips
What the Experts Said: Time-Saving Tips Explained
We asked each of the editors we spoke to share a single tip/trick/hack that they’ve personally used to become more time efficient with their video editing. Everything that was shared with us is shown below. If you’ve become a bit obsessed with how to edit videos faster, this will be priceless! I mean these folks combined have hundreds of years of editing experience, and must have edited like a bazillion hours of video. So what are you waiting for…go learn something.
Use the filters below to skip to a specific tip.
- Always Come Prepared
- Archive and Library Clips
- Backup & Storage Solutions
- Better File Organization
- Categorise All Your Footage
- Categorise Your Select Sequences
- Color Label Your Clips
- Create a Radio Cut
- Create a Soundbed & Use It to Guide Your Story
- Create an Assembly Cut
- Create Audio Palettes by Sub-clipping Music and SFX Tracks
- Do The Edit Mentally First
- Don’t Work Too Hard
- Edit from Sequences Not Clips
- Extend Clip Tool
- Find Your Edit Groove
- Find Your Story
- Have Patience
- Hover Scrub
- Keyboard Shortcut Mapping
- Keyframable Audio "Rubber Bands"
- Learn Multi-Camera Sequences
- Map Out Project on a Whiteboard
- Match Frame
- Multiple Versions of Timelines & Projects
- Music as a Tool When Picking Selects
- Name Files By Year-Month-Day
- Nested Sequences
- Proxy Workflows
- Pulling Selects
- Rewatch All Footage Near the End
- Skin Tone as a Basic Step for Colour Correction
- Sleep On It
- Sound Syncing
- Speech Rhythm and Mannerisms
- Split Edit AKA J Cut & L Cuts
- Start with Sound First
- Story Blocking
- Subclipping - It's Like Magic
- Talk to Other Editors
- The Importance of Clip Labeling
- Understand What You're Trying to Achieve
- Use B-roll Effectively
- Use Markers
- Use Workspaces
- Walk Away
- Watch All Footage Before Importing
Utilizing Music as a Tool When Picking Selects – “In editing, it’s important to be as efficient as possible, while still staying true to the feel of the project.
When editing a montage, for example, I start with the common first step of analyzing the footage and pulling selects of what I think will make the final cut. What I’ve found really helps this process is simultaneously playing the project’s score in the background while I search. This helps me get into the full mindset of the piece and pick out selects that I might have otherwise overlooked, but that fit with the music and vision. This small tip has helped immensely when cutting music videos, highlight reels, or sizzles.”
Better File Organization – “Although it takes some time, properly organizing your footage will help speed along the editing process. Before importing your footage and audio it’s very important to name everything. I have illustrated my personal technique below: (- is used to indicate a folder)
-Scene 1 (Scene’s Location)
1.A.1 [Scene 1A Take 1]
After importing the folders into your editing software, create a “Merged” folder inside of each Scene’s folder to put the clips into after you merge them with your audio. This will allow you to find exactly what you’re looking for much quicker.”
Keyboard Shortcut Mapping/Memorization – “When editing, any time you can turn a repetitive mouse-based task into one that is input via the keyboard you are shaving seconds off both the physical and mental work needed to do so, and furthermore are imbedding a reflex into your workflow.
The earlier you take note of an editing app’s keyboard shortcut equivalent to the mouse-based task(s) you initially (or habitually) are using the most during the midst of your cutting, the better. Whether that means customization or memorization on your part in order to incorporate that shortcut so that it becomes reflexive, unconscious and second-nature, this is the point where you will not only become faster at the task at hand, but smarter as well.
This has the added benefit of now being able to free up mental space for achieving a creative state where things begin to just flow.”
Make Multiple Versions of Timelines & Projects – “One key to speed is to be able to get back to a previous version of an edit quickly – without hitting undo 99 times. I duplicate my timeline every time I make a major change. Even a minor change might warrant a new version if it involves a lot of steps, like intensive trimming. Don’t depend on UNDO! I treat UNDO as a “Whoops, didn’t mean to hit that button” NOT as a “Well, that didn’t work. Let’s see if I can get back where I was. Command-z, Command-z, Command-z, etc.”
The method I use is personal, but it works for me. If I’m switching out a soundbite, or replacing a few shots, I go from “V01.1” to “V01.2”. If I’m re-arranging the flow of the narrative I go from “V01.1” to “V02.1”. Remember those leading zeroes; they are a must when sorting alphabetically. I don’t use them on the ‘dot’ version number because I don’t want to ever go more than 9 versions of ‘minor’ changes. By that time its become a very different timeline, so move on by a whole number.
AND LABEL IT! Every NLE has comments now, so use ’em. My “V01.1” timeline probably has a comment like “Before new footage” or “before Narration revisions”. “V02.1” is currently called “New Direction after Producer notes” or something.
Lastly, I keep a “Superseded” bin in my sequences bin. The older version goes in there. There is only one “current” sequence at any given time. Likewise, there is only one “current” project at the finder level.
I make a copy of my project at the end of every day, so I can always get back to “Where we left it last Tuesday, before what’s his name messed it up”. If I do serious re-organization of my project, or especially if I delete a lot of un-needed footage, I make a copy first. To leave a comment on a project in your finder, put it in a sub-folder named “Before_Bad_Things_Happened” or whatever.
Last tidbit: Leave breadcrumbs. I do a lot of photo treatments. At the end of the project the producer will need to know what each source is. I always leave the photo (disabled) on the layer underneath the rendered graphic. That way I always have a quick way back to the original source. Do this with anything you mix down, music, SFX, titles, overlays, etc.
It always takes less time to call up an old sequence than it does to re-build!”
Color Label Your Clips – “We all know at least 1 to 60 people who have a really messy room, car, workspace etc. But they know exactly where everything is. We know this as organized chaos. Sometimes we let our minds escape us and we can’t quite remember where we put things. We look and look and the moment we take the time to actually get up to find where it is, it’s usually right under us.
The same can be said with video editing. One of the biggest problems I had when I first started editing was finding exactly where a particular clip was. I would spend minutes looking for the correct clip only to find out that it was exactly where my marker was. This played a huge part in why it would take me forever to finish a simple project. So if you are a beginner editor or have been in the game for a while now, hopefully my tips will help your workflow become a much faster one. Or just make you enjoy editing a little more than you have been.
I think one of the most helpful things any editor can do is COLOR LABEL their clips. Whenever I begin a project one of the first things I do is identify my media by color. For instance, I would import whatever media it is that I need to import and any other type of assets such as SFX, LOWER THIRDS, MUSIC, etc and label them each by a specific color. So my Music will be green, my SFX yellow, Drone footage blue and so on.
There are two things that come out of this. 1) It makes your timeline look freaking boss! 2) It makes life enjoyable looking at your timeline and knowing exactly what and where your clips are. This will definitely shave off a bunch of time when working. So if you are looking to replace a particular clip/sound with a better one, just look at your timeline and voilà.
What goes hand in hand with COLOR LABELING is putting your clips on different tracks and keeping your audio staggered (if any) – this way it makes your project a lot more pleasing to your eye and you actually know when a song is coming to an end. To a random person it will look very chaotic and unorganized. But to you it will be your messy room, car, or workspace where you will know exactly where everything is and have to ability the find the shot you wanted to swap out a lot faster.”
Watch All Footage Before Importing – “One useful strategy that helped me become a more efficient editor was watching all footage before importing it into the editing software. When I was taught this technique in my early days of editing, I instantly saw the difference of how much time was saved. Before I would tire myself out when opening a new project, but by doing this I already have an idea of what clips need to be in the intro, designated B-roll, and deleted scenes. Also, quickly skim through footage, and don’t get stuck nit-picking when you don’t need to. It helps the stress levels ?”
Sound Syncing – “I would say what has sped up my process most when editing for video is sound syncing. Add two audio clips together, select both, right click, and click synchronize!”
Learn How to Create Multi-Camera Sequences – “If you’re editing footage from a shoot where multiple cameras captured the same scene, creating a multi-camera sequence is an absolute must. This syncs all video and audio into one clip, which you can then use to edit. It saves a ton of time. You can easily switch camera angles on a clip without having to dig back through footage, and you can even perform cuts, as the footage plays out in real time. Multi-camera editing is great for interviews, live events, films, weddings, etc.
Most often, I use it on interview footage, because I work on a lot of narrative content. One fun example sticks out in my mind. A couple years ago, I edited an ad for Skittles, that was featured on ESPN. In the beginning of the video, you can see the camera angle change:
There’s a few ways to accomplish creating a multi-camera sequence, depending on your software. Here are some guides for setting it up:
I can talk a little more about setting this up in Premiere, since that is the edit software I use most often. First, select multiple files or folders in the project window you want to synchronize, right click and select “create multi-camera source sequence.” There are several options for synchronizing those assets: In Points, Out Points, Timecode, Sound Timecode and Audio.
In Points and Out Points will synchronize based on the points you mark on the clip. Timecode and Sound Timecode will synchronize the clips based on the timecode of course, which should be time of day timecode if it was recorded with the intention of syncing up. Audio will synchronize by evaluating the audio waveform of the files and matching them. It’s nice if you can’t use any of the other methods, but it takes longer to process.
Once you’ve chosen how to synchronize, you have the option to move the synchronized assets into a new folder and enumerate the different camera angles. You can also adjust audio assignments and offset preferences. When finished, the new multi-camera clip should now appear in the project window. Double-click on it and you can view it in the source window, with all the different camera angles.
If you put the multi-camera clip in the timeline, you can easily change its camera angle by selecting the camera you’d like in the source window. You can also set up keyboard shortcuts to cut to cameras. I have my shortcuts set to numbers, so if I play the multi-camera clip on the timeline and tap 1 or 2 while it’s playing, the clip will cut to camera angle 1 or 2 in real time.
Once you learn this technique, it’s a huge time-saver!”
Subclipping – It’s Like Magic – “When dealing with large amounts of footage, such as hours of B-roll or long interviews without a transcription, I find subclipping to be the absolute best way not to get lost!
For interviews, I single out specific soundbites or a longer statement on a specific topic, make the subclip, and label it with either the exact phrase or the topic that was discussed. For B-roll, I will create separate folders/bins based on things like location or actions, then label what happens and if any subjects were in the shot (with their names). This way, further down the line, I can do a global search based on any of these keywords and I’ll see all the shots pertaining to exactly what I want – it’s like magic! You can even label them up front with words like “Good” or “Okay” to make it easy to find the best quality footage for the project, especially if the same thing was shot multiple times.
Yes, this process is tedious and takes some time, but it’s so worth it…and if another editor has to take over the project from you later, they will thank you a hundred times for not having to watch all the footage again!”
Do The Edit Mentally First – “hmmm…how to edit faster? Intriguing question for which everyone will have a different answer. For me, its “Use your brain”! In other words, it’s all down to having a non-linear mindset and being able to do the edit in your head before you even reach for the mouse/pen/jog wheel.
Its a technique I taught myself decades ago whilst editing broadcast news shows where time was a very precious commodity. I developed the ability to watch the fast rewind images coming off the betacam tape deck, having been handed it by the cameraman straight off a job. By the time the tape was back at the head, I already knew what shots I had to work with and had assembled a rough cut in my head. It worked too – never missed a deadline in over 5 years cutting news!
Nowadays it’s so easy, as digital tapes tend to break up more and it’s more difficult to view in fffw/rwnd….and most stuff is recorded to hard drives, which makes rewind redundant.
Still, the basic idea remains.
Load the images into your mind, do the edit mentally, and importantly, trust your mental gut. You should have a rough edit in your head pretty damn quick.
Then start to do the edit for real. If it’s working you’ll know very quickly, if it’s not, then change it. Don’t waste time agonising over the exact frame…you should know it when you see it, and if you need to tweak things, you can come back later to finesse them.
Get the rough cut finished quickly, then you can use the remaining time to make it brilliant. Spend too much time on the rough and you get less for polishing time.”
Keyframable Audio “Rubber Bands” – “I’ve found that many networks prefer as much of a polished audio mix as possible. Before a professional mix that is. I’ve learned to love the keyframable audio “rubber bands” for raising and lowering shifts in volume. i.e. lower the music during this poorly recorded bite. Also, map a 1 key shortcut to make the audio tracks larger and smaller, so you have more control over smaller adjustments. Also map a waveform shortcut in order to have a quick visual of the peaks and valleys of your audio.”
Understand What You’re Trying to Achieve – “Imagine that you are editing a project, it can be a big commercial or something you have shot. After you watch a rough cut of what you have made, you realise that you are way off course and the video does not match your vision. Somewhere on the way you got lost.
On my first big project for a music video, I was editing for two days and the video was supposed to be cheery and show that everyone is having a good time. After watching a rough cut of the video, the director and I realised that the original cheery feel that we aimed for, was completely missing. I ended up right where I started and had to completely re-edit the whole video.
The important thing to remember is that, whenever you start a project, make sure that you have all the necessary tools to keep you on track towards your vision without any bumps. Reference videos, mood boards, scripts, storyboards and even music can be powerful navigators through the jungle of footage during editing.”
Find Your Story – “I think that the most important thing to do in any edit, whether it is a 30″ commercial or 60′ documentary, is find your story. Forget about music, making it looks pretty, effects, everything else – this all comes later.
You have to make sure you have the best story from your footage, even if this is different to what the story was meant to be, or scripted to be. You need to use your creativity and skill to find what you have within the footage you have. You may need to watch your footage again and again before starting. I normally put everything on my timeline, then keep shortening it and shortening it until I get to roughly the right length. Oftentimes I go back to what I have discarded and bring bits back in. But because I have watched my footage so many times, it becomes catalogued in my head.
The story normally comes from the synch. Many times I have had to edit one minute synch videos where a person tells you about themselves. Even in this one minute, you need a beginning, a middle and an end. Your person needs to have an arc, something needs to happen, something needs to be revealed, whether that is shocking, emotional or endearing, your audience must feel that connection with them, and believe in them. When your story comes to life, try and think of one sentence that defines it. This will help you when moving onto the next steps, which is adding colour and music. For instance “What happens when expectation becomes reality” or “No matter what the inhabitants do, the town remains cold and empty.”
Once you have your story, then you can start using music and pasting. Now the story makes sense to you, you know what you are trying to tell and why you are doing what you are doing. You will be able to pick music and colour that enhances your story. For instance, if we took example number two above, our music would be sparse and ethereal, our cutaways would reflect the emptiness too. We would slow our pace right down and have lots of breathing room between synch points. If you do not think you have the footage to paint your story, then you need to use archive or similar, but you will always find a way to make it work once you have a powerful story.
This method will stop you wasting time, because everything is clear to you. You will feel passionate too about your edit and be able to defend why you are doing what you are doing if silly changes should arise.”
Categorise Your Select Sequences – “If you have a large project which you’re working on, I tend to find it really beneficial to not only sit down with all the rushes and make selects, but to also make multiple sequences into categories in relation to the rushes.
Most clients, directors or producers will eventually sit with you to give feedback on the edit. Majority of the time they will ask to swap shots to something else. For example they might say things like “Is there a shot of moving traffic”. Rather than scrubbing through a long timeline of selects. It’s super helpful to have a sequence of just shots of traffic for example. If you do this with your rushes at the beginning, it will not only save yourself time, it will save everyone else’s time. Really helps for those tight deadlines.”
Richard Amor Allan
Utilising a Proxy Workflow – “Large files can really slow your workstation down, regardless of the application that you’re using, so familiarising yourself with the proxy workflow for your software is a big step to speeding up your editing. If you’re ever finding that your machine is struggling to keep up, then using proxies is for you!
Proxy files are lower resolution ‘stand-in’ files for you to construct your edit with, and because they are lower resolution they require less processor power. Most NLE applications will feature a function to create proxy files from your high-res original footage, and to seamlessly connect the two.
Do your assembly editing and rough cutting using the proxy files, get yourself as close to picture lock as you’re comfortable, and then reconnect your timeline to your original files and voila, you’ve saved yourself a lot of time and frustration!”
Alvaro del Val
Use the Extend Clip Tool – “The editing technique I want to talk about is the Extend Clip tool, that you have in both Avid and Premiere editing software. This tool is one of the most underused functions by editors and one I use the most; I would say I use it constantly and helps me save a lot of time and also be really precise when I want to change the length of a clip. When added to your keyboard settings and once you incorporate it mentally as a way to extend and cut clips, it becomes a key tool forever.
Basically, this function allows you to extend the tail or the head of a clip to wherever your playhead (blue timeline position indicator) is. So instead of going back to the edge of the clip and pull (In Premiere) or open the trim mode (In Avid), you just use a hit of the extend button and boom, the length changes! The beautiful thing is that you can extend as many tracks as you want at the same time. So if you are at the end of an edit, and you have multiple video tracks and audio tracks and you need an extra second, you can select all those tracks and set an OUT point and hit extend. All of them will be extended at the same time; if they have enough footage, of course. If not, they will just go as long as they can.
And the same thing if you want to make all those tracks shorter. You will set an IN point and you’ll “extend” the void at the end of the sequence. You’ll extend the black area without footage, and therefore cutting the end of those tracks to the desired point.
I really recommend trying this, as it’s easier to understand how it works when you do it yourself.
I feel this function is better developed for Avid, as the same tool is used for extending head or tail. It just depends if you mark an IN point or an OUT point. If you set the in point it will extend the clip towards the in point, if you set the out point it will extend the clip to the out point. But you can use the extend also to trim between clips and to cut them, extending the void you have around the clips.
You can find the shortcut in the Command Palette under the Trim menu. I put the extend edit on “F4” but you can put it anywhere it works best for you. If you have never used it, it may take a little bit of time to incorporate into your daily editing, but once you do it, you won’t be able to live without it.
In Premiere, you’ll have a function to extend the head, and another for the tail, which will require having 2 buttons on your keyboard to work around it. Or you have the just general extend one, but it makes you select the edge of the clip to use it, so it doesn’t save you much time.
So this function is more recommended for Avid users, and I encourage everybody to try it. Because once you understand how it fully works, it will make you a much, much faster (and precise) editor.”
Create a Radio Cut – “My advice is predominantly for newer editors as this is a mistake I made a lot in my earlier years. When I would work on my first pass, I would always try and make the edit as perfect as possible, which is fine, but the method I used to do so was slow and impractical for a fast paced work environment. I would spend hours trying to make sure each cut, shot, and cue was as perfect as I could make it, with the stress of the rest of my unfinished timeline looming over me. But as my career progressed and my deadlines got tighter, I needed to pick up my work pace.
The best advice I was given was to just get the first cut done, make your decisions fast and don’t worry about perfection. It sounds obvious to professionals, but when you’re starting off and trying to make an impression, it’s so easy to get caught up in this. But the reality is, once the full timeline is laid out, it’s so much easier to swap out for better shots, or fix your pacing, or change the music. Without the stress of trying to finish the cut, you’ll be able to make better decisions. As you practice faster decision making, you’ll also notice your instincts sharpen and a lot of times the first thing you do is the best, because you weren’t victim to overthinking (It’ll change a thousand times, ultimately ending up close to your first cut after notes anyways).
One of the best techniques for learning how to sharpen your instincts (especially in doc editing) is creating a radio cut. Meaning, focus on the timing of the audio in the timeline more then the picture, if you can’t find the right shot or the right sound up, or the right piece of connective interview, slate it and move on. Once you have a solid edit with most of the audio lined up, it’s much easier to go back through it, adding shots and graphics to make the piece all come together. In the end it’s called a rough cut for a reason, and you’ll notice your speed at which you can get edits done increase dramatically.”
Organization, Organization, Organization – My biggest thing in an edit is organisation. I’m a big believer that a tidy project is half the battle especially on tight turn around edits. There’s a couple of reasons why this is my go to tip.
1. It’s something that applies to any NLE so no matter what side you’re on, whether it’s Avid, Premiere or even Da Vinci it’s super handy, plus most NLE’s allow you to bin, which means if you’re someone that goes between programs often, having the same structure can really help to hold some uniformity.
2. Speaking of uniformity, I like to bin all my projects the same, which means I always start working from the same template. So whether you’re a beginner to industry pro, you could navigate your way around the project. It should be foolproof and cater for all types of projects; there’s nothing worse than opening up someone else’s project and spending half the day trying to work out where everything is.
3. A client attend can get pretty embarrassing and time-consuming when the client wants you to pull up that specific take of that small section that they’re not sure when in the day it was shot. Their vague guidelines along with a messy project can be a nightmare for trying to track down specifics. With a well-organised project you’ll know where everything is without hesitation making it much easier to appear slick and smooth in front of anyone watching.
4. You’re on the 6th version of an edit, you’re unsure what has and hasn’t been done and the first three versions have become a distant memory, you’re scouring hundred of emails on the same chain and you’re out of luck. Part of an organised project is sequences, having a clear naming convention and knowing when to duplicate is key. Personally anytime feedback is given I like to duplicate my sequence add a version number, that way when the client wants to revert back to a previous edit you know precisely where it is.
5. Lastly, it takes no time. I keep my own template on my Google Drive so I can download it whenever and start working with it. Saving me time and settling my OCD tendencies to rest when it comes to work.”
Always Come Prepared – “Editing in various locations for diverse media companies can be demanding, especially when the environment does not have the typical set up for an editor. The last thing you want to worry about on the first day of a long project is having to reorganize the system made available to you in haste, all while under a tight deadline.
In my ten years of editing, I have been in spacious editing bays, cramped up in green rooms and lastly the ever popular open air office. None of these had the comfort and security of my editing suite I used personally. Many clients who use freelance editors do not keep their editing machines up to date, so before I could even start cutting i would have to learn unfamiliar FTP, reset my hotkeys, install updated software and acquaint myself with dozens of new codecs all on the fly. This usually took place while a director or producer is rattling off project specs and expecting you to give a first round by 2pm.
In order to prevent future nightmares on site I began to remember one of my favorite motto’s I learned from my time in boy scouts “BE PREPARED.” I decided to make a check list of provisions to streamline my editing to be effective and fool proof under any circumstance.
Firstly I arrive with my own high speed external hard drive, not only to back-up the days work, but also to edit the project off of. More often than not you are handed a slim drive of raw footage and told to get started, and as non-cumbersome as “pocket” drives are, they can easily crash and may have unrelated files taking up space. You also do not want to unload raw footage on your desktop, as this will eat up valuable computer processing power. Bringing your own empty drive with your personal storage settings allows you to log project footage, access backups and create an archive you are accustomed to accessing on a daily basis. I have several thunderbolt 3 G-Drives on call for any given project, ranging from 4 to 12 terabytes, I stick to this brand but there are plenty of other quality drives to choose from.
Secondly, I bring my my own customized hotkey settings to upload onto the editing program I will be using that day. Whether it is FCPX or Premier, I have a command set for both and keep the data handy on my hard drive. This helps shave off time setting the keyboard to your liking. Don’t forgot to remove your key set at the end of your session, especially if you are sharing the machine with other editors. Another option is to bring a portable control panel. I recommend X-Keys from P.I. engineering, with 68 programmable keys complete with jog and shuttle wheel, the Xk-68 allows portable plug and play into the editing program and makes you feel right at home with your custom commands.
Lastly, I make sure to bring along my editing software plug-ins. These span from fonts, 3d LUTS, transitions, titles, generators, audio and video codecs. You may show up to a project and find that the software only has the basics, this can feel limiting when you are working on promos and high energy pieces that require a large library of effects at hand. I play with these tools on a trial and error basis beforehand, finding which effects, color grade, typography etc would be best suited for each particular project’s needs. I stress again that the trial and error with these effects is of the utmost importance, because if memorized, they can provide instant solutions in the editing process rather than cycling through effects until one seems right.
Once your project is completed, the last hurdle is rendering. This can become an issue if the client’s specifications include obscure video formatting. This is not a problem you want to deal with when you’re at the end of the day looking to export your master. To counter this, I bring a variety of video codecs to load onto adobe’s media encoder, never relying on what I may believe is already loaded onto the machine. I keep tabs on what are the popular codecs for broadcast, sports, digital etc, and download them to my collection.
With the above at my disposal, i edit coolheaded and confident. Not even the most absurd request could derail my workflow, as I have all the tools necessary to handle it.”
Categorise All Your Footage Before You Start – “Most inexperienced editors will want to get to cutting straight away, but if you want to go fast you are much better spending the time to not only view ALL your footage but categorise it as well. Not just clips either. You can with NLEs like AVID, DaVinci Resolve or Premiere Pro create sub-clips or with Final Cut Pro use Keywords. (more powerful)
Once finished you will have a greater understanding of the palette you have to paint your story, plus everything you need should be at your fingertips. As the old saying goes: Editing 10% cutting 90% looking for stuff. The more you can reduce that 90%, the faster you’ll be. Plus you will be spending more time in the “edit zone” which is critically important to telling a good story.
For me this is why I always choose Final Cut Pro X to edit. It has the best tools to keep you in the edit zone while getting out of the way when all you want to do is cut.”
Use the Match Frame Feature – “The moment a friend told me all about “Match Frame”, my life as an editor improved. Match frame, which should be a function on every major video editing platform out there, simply brings the frame you have your playhead on into the preview monitor, so you can easily search around that area.
It’s great for, perhaps, finding audio you have lost sync on, or, to listen to what your interview subject or actor says after, or before that line.
Match frame. Learn about it, and use it. It’s awesome.”
Have Patience – “Out of all of the editors I’ve worked with during my career, the best were the ones that knew how to effectively manage their temperament and emotions during a stressful job that had a tight deadline. Let’s face it, if you’re going to make a career out of video editing, you’re going to work on some projects that are going to be very stressful and not very fun. These jobs will test you in ways that you won’t see coming, so remind yourself of a few things that you know will happen before you start.
For example, there will always be a deadline, there will always be changes, there will always be changes that you don’t agree with and there will always be last minute changes. These are things that are out of your control and are part of the job. If you think you’re going to edit something, send out the first cut and instantly receive praise on your great work, ending the job in one round, you are mistaken.
If you remember that the first cut is always the cut that gets changed the most, regardless of how much time and effort you put into it, you’ll be ready to tackle the next round. If you remember that a last minute change could come in 10 minutes before a deadline, you’ll be ready to make that deadline. To be a fast and efficient video editor, you have to have the temperament to focus on doing just that. Patience and editing go hand in hand.”
Hover Scrub – “In most editing software, you can scrub through the thumbnails in your clip browser, sometimes called “hover scrub” or “skim media.” As you scrub a preview of the clip, use shortcuts to set your ‘in’ and ‘out’ points and then use the ‘insert’ shortcut to automatically place in your timeline. This allows you to very rapidly look through your footage, make selects, and then drop them to your timeline without opening each clip in your source monitor. This technique is similar to “three-point editing,” but is especially good for making b-roll selects.”
Use Workspaces – “Using workspaces is my most valued technique for editing faster. I’m constantly amazed that all editors don’t do this.
Workspaces are different window arrangements and timeline views configured for different tasks. So, for basic cut and dissolve editing, you’d have a workspace with the standard source and record windows and a medium size timeline. When you were doing complex video effects, you’d have a workspace with a large single record window and a small timeline. When doing your audio mix, you’d have a workspace with the timeline tracks really big to see the waveforms and a small record window. For even more speed, these workspaces can be matched to different buttons.
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It takes a little time to set up the workspaces initially, but the increase in efficiency is enormous. You’re no longer consuming time clicking on menus, dragging window corners to make them larger or smaller, or pulling on tiny track panels trying to resize them. Now, that’s all done with the push of a button.
I value the psychological as much as the technical benefit of this tip. When you’re editing on a deadline, those bins, tools and effect panels are opening and closing at breakneck speed. Sometimes you look up from the keyboard and find a big abstract painting looking back at you. You’re at a loss as to where anything is anymore, which can be quite disconcerting, especially with a client four feet behind you. It’s very reassuring to hit that one button and have everything look familiar again. I liken it to that nice feeling of coming home to a clean house and knowing everything is in its proper place, easy to find and ready to use.”
Rewatching All Footage Near the End of the Edit – “While its obviously important to thoroughly view every bit of footage at the beginning of a project, I find that rewatching all the footage near the very end is also helpful. It may sound tedious and time-consuming, but many times I end up finding a great piece of footage after rewatching my video clips.
Sometimes my feelings about a particular shot or scene has changed over the course of editing a video. Maybe a few things in the edit aren’t totally working. Instead of moving all the clips around again, I can solve a problem by bringing in a shot that I initially overlooked or dismissed. I have occasionally found some of my best video footage near the end of a project. That means I can quickly improve a shot or scene by using something I already have, instead of looking for archival or newly shot footage.
However, even if that newly discovered footage doesn’t work with my edit, then maybe it has forced me to think about the project in a new way that leads to an even better solution.”
Talk to Other Editors + Crew/Staff – “Editing can be lonely work sometimes, in the sense that we don’t tend to work with other editors whilst we are working. We may be on our own or with an edit producer, but one of the best things you can do to help speed up your workflow is to talk to other editors about how they work and share tips and tricks.
For instance, I edited in a certain way for years until I worked with a producer who was an editor. He pointed out that I could do something a lot fast using a short cut I had no idea about. I have used it ever since and can’t even remember how I used to do it!
The same goes for speaking to other staff or team members, from edit assistants to online editors and tech guys who check your edits. They can teach you so much! You will have a more thorough knowledge of the entire process and it will save confusion.
So, as they say, it’s good to talk!”
Don’t Work Too Hard! – “I don’t think many people would argue with the fact that working in production isn’t very good for your health. As an editor, you’re often expected to work very long days, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s done quite a few all-nighters just to get something finished. This is not only very bad for your eyes and your back (get a standing desk – it really does help), it’s also bad for your brain.
Editing is very cerebral, but when you’re tired, your brain stops working and everything just becomes impossibly hard. That’s why I think one of the most important things you need to learn to not only remain efficient as an editor, but also to avoid burn out and survive in the industry, is how to control your hours, get sufficient rest, and basically not work too hard!
So, make sure you take a proper lunch break and go home on time at the end of the day. And make sure you go on holiday at least once a year. I know this isn’t always possible and you may not be able to do this until you’re well established, but fight for it before you dig yourself into a hole. Don’t let “them” bully you into staying until 10pm every night, because it really doesn’t do anyone any favours!”
Create Audio Palettes by Sub-clipping Music and SFX Tracks – “Even to the most seasoned editor, searching for music and sound effects on a new library can be a time-consuming task that’s rarely accounted for when deadlines are tight.
A habit that has saved me precious time is, creating a full sequence sub-clip of the entire music and sound effects tracks of the first 3 or 4 episodes of a series, with tracks that have been already approved by producers and network execs.
It’s also very convenient for when you’re working with a producer in the room, as you can quickly offer them track options by just scrolling through these sequences, and if they like it and music recycling is allowed, you can just copy and paste the already mixed track to your new scene, or use that track to quickly access the bin where that style of music is stored.
Same goes for sound effect combos you’ve created early and want to use again (ex. reverse cymbal to boom, rise to splash, etc…). Instead of searching again for the individual elements to compose the same combo, you can just keep them already edited and mixed in your handy dandy “s.f.x. palette” sequence and just copy and paste it to your new scene. It’s not only a time efficient habit, but it also allows to keep a continuity of sound across all episodes.
Once you’ve gotten the groove of it, you can save yourself at least 2 to 3 hours a day of music and s.f.x. searching.”
Nigel G Honey
Split Edit AKA J Cut & L Cuts – “When editing a Documentary or Drama, many 1st time editors cut both pictures and sound at the same point. This technique is very boring and doesn’t create drama or impact.
So what editors do is split the Video and Audio, so either the Audio precedes the Video, for example a Train coming, we hear the train pick up speed in the audio and then we see the train, thus giving the viewer the intensity or hearing a train but until the editor or director decides, we do not cut to it in picture. Thus creating a L Cut or Split Edit.
Or we continue the Audio or an Interview, but see what the person is talking about rather than seeing the person being interviewed in vision we can therefore split the edit and roll back the next shot into the previous shot.
How is this done? Well in Avid and Premiere, which is what I usually use, we can lock the audio tracks and then DE Link the Video from the audio, thus allowing the editor to do a dual roller trim with the video either extending into the previous shot or extending the audio into the next shot.”
Create an Assembly Cut – “Some stories are created on the page by the writers, others are created afterwards in the edit room. Assembly cuts can help you craft a better story out of both.
The assembly cut is a sequence of all the major clips of your project, normally limited to 150% of the final projects total length. Building and watching this sequence can help you find the natural story and pacing of your project. This cut is an editors tool, not something that needs to be shared with the folks outside the editorial team.
Creating the assembly cut should be a tool and not a painstaking process. If you have an outline use it, if not, build it chronologically based on the order it was shot. Don’t include every take, but make sure to include the best visuals and dialog that you hope make it in the final film. Don’t get fancy with music or effects, straight cuts and jump cuts are fine at this stage.
After creating the assembly cut, watch it and take notes. Does a natural story exist, does the order of events make sense, what additions or cuts or rearrangements could have the biggest impact? Now that you have built the foundation, let the edit begin.”
Sleep On It – “It’s one thing to be handed a video storyboard or EDL from client and to piece together a timeline using that as a guide. But in my experience editing in a marketing agency, about half the time you’re handed projects where you’re not so lucky. Ultimately, that means you have to fallback on your own creative cognition to form some idea of a narrative using the 5 minutes of interview footage and 3+ hours of B-roll footage they handed off to you for editing (or something like that).
So that means you get to play the role of creative director and editor at once! Oh, and they expect a finished product from you by the end of the week too. Fun fun fun!
Ideally, you’d want to plan out your edit before you execute. But inevitably, when time is of the essence, you’ll get started on jamming all that footage onto your sequence at once in the hopes that a story will reveal itself in due time. Before you know it, 9AM has turned to 6PM (or later) and you’re still stressed that you haven’t found that cohesive storyline, so you try and force one out.
Step back from your desk, pack your things, head home, and sleep on it. Seriously.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked longer than I should have trying to painstakingly bust a rough cut out, only to come back to work the next morning and realize that what I spent working 3 additional hours on looks less than stellar. It’s so important to let your mind have the time to relax and recharge so you can return to your desk fully energized and with a clear head. If your mind feels like mush staring at your screen, it’s a safe bet that your video is going to come out the same way. Take yourself home, or any place outside of your office, and that will allot you the headspace to better reflect on what you can add to your video and what you can do without. You’ll be thinking and working far more proficiently the next morning, ready to bring your new ideas to the table to produce a final video of a much higher quality.”
Backup & Storage Solutions are Important Too – “As important as any edit is, key things to take into account prior to even accepting the job is how you plan to manage, backup and deliver your end result, as these cost time and money. You need to factor this into whatever you quote for the job or have in your overall project.
Key Questions to Ask Yourself/Client Before the Job Starts
- What format of footage are you working with?
- How much space will this take up? (Then add 25% as you know it will go over and you need to leave plenty of free space on the drive while working)
- How demanding is this footage on your computer, can your system handle it?
- Who is responsible for backing up the raw footage and trans-coded footage?
- How long do you need to keep the footage for after the project is done?
All of the above are important to ask, as it can have huge cost and time implications to your project.
For Lower Budget Projects
Having two copies^ of a project on separate drives is usually enough to keep you safe from disaster.
^ 2 copies means separate locations of the same data backed up daily in the event one drive fails or is lost/stolen. Don’t be fooled having one on your desk in a basic RAID 1 setup, as this will often not fix all your problems in the event of failure.
For Larger Budget Projects
You need to consider drive speed, like a 4 bay or larger RAID Box running in RAID 5 for both speed of accessing media, as well as well redundancy in the event of a failure. You will still also need to consider having 2 or more copies of this, with one off site at all times. This can be a requirement for insurance on a project and can be quite costly if you need to purchase additional space and a cheap WD Mybook drive just isn’t going to cut it. Depending on the size of the project this can run into the 1000’s or even 10’s of 1000’s if its a big project when you add up all the drive needs suitable to the project.
When It Comes Time to Deliver the Project
Take into account how they want this and all the time it takes to create these deliverables as this can often add upto days of time. Then get it off your system and back into the clients responsibility to look after longer term.
Basically, just cover yourself and make sure you’re not out of pocket for your time or having to buy additional gear to get one project done.”
Walk Away – “So, now you that you have quickly edited your piece, here is my one final bit of advice. When you are editing a piece that you watched 50, 100 or maybe 1000 times from concept to completion. It can really start to become an annoying blur.
You heard the music over and over, you seen the scenes and the graphic packages too many times to count and now you just want it gone. Or you have a quick turnaround and need it gone right now.
Even if you have had a producer watch though it and give it the okay. Before you finally hit that export button one final time, get up, walk away. Even if you can only allow for ten mins. Mentally prepare yourself to really give it your clearest set of eyes. Just one last time.
I have had many edits where the fatigue sets in and then when I look back at it, after it’s gone live, I will find something that seemed out of place or an obvious oversight that should have been fixed.”
Edit from Sequences Not Clips – “This may seem like a no-brainer and obvious (especially now that waveform syncing is the norm), but I’m surprised how often I come across editors who don’t use sequencing as their first and most essential way to organize footage and edit from. When you’re staring down thousands of nameless files straight off of camera cards, this is the very first thing you should do. Once these string-outs are built, you can split them down into smaller sub-sequences with a bit more organization (like by scene or content) in bins. An editor can churn through and get an overview of footage a million times faster with these string outs than he/she could ever do hunting and pecking clip by clip. If it’s a series of clips of performances, I’ll frequently make even shorter sequences from ‘action’ to ‘cut’ so that I can watch (or show my clients) the performances back-to-back to help pick the best takes. Works great with b-roll, too!”
Story Blocking – “This practice is a major part of the screenwriting process, where writers will “block” the story on index cards by writing out the main beats of the script. There are lots of ways to block a story, but it’s a great start to simply know your beginning, middle, and end. My editing work is primarily short documentary, and I find that a version of this works great for me. I use the text tool to create visual “blocks,” my version of index cards, right on my timeline. These text blocks will contain the major story beats of the piece. It helps me to keep track of certain character’s story arcs, and helps me to visualize projects that have to be cut to a certain length.
Much like an animatic from a storyboard, story blocks can give you a foundation to build from on complex projects. I find it particularly useful in doc settings where the production team may have wandered down some paths with no main story objective.”
Find Your Edit Groove – “What I mean by this is find out what edit technique works for you. Is it editing with just your keyboard, never really utilizing the mouse? Or is it vice versa? Or a mix of both? For me it’s a mix of both with left hand consistently on the keyboard, while my right drives the project forward with the mouse. This is what makes me the most efficient editor in my career. It’s important to not let anyone tell you that you should only use the keyboard because it’s faster. You have to use what works for you. SPEED IS NOT EVERYTHING. Efficiency and thoroughness matters much more.
I’ve never been the quickest editor, however, that has never hampered my career. I’ve done international and national TV spots, minidocs and viral videos, all with the mentality of being thorough and efficient. All of which I can attribute to my edit groove. Once you find that, you’ll find the rest of the techniques and story telling ability will start to come, but first you have to be comfortable with your edit style. ”
Create a Soundbed & Use It to Guide Your Story – “What makes a solid edit has everything to do with its finesse and pacing, and this is all seen in an editor’s use of shot selection, transitional elements and musicality. What I have learned, although all of these things are important, is that proper use of sound design can be the difference between a good cut and a great cut. The first thing I always do when starting to build out a sequence is create a soundbed, and I have found that this, at times, has directly impacted my storyline before even piecing it together. Everyone knows that starting off with any kind of audio sets the overall tone for a piece, but it’s also about not letting that audio just fade into the background. Knowing how to utilize the beat and fluctuation of a song can bring your edit to life and impact your story as a whole.
My background is mainly in short-form projects, like commercials and sizzle reels, so what I have been taught is to emphasize the intricacies of a song that would otherwise go unnoticed. In this case, a strong sense of musicality drives the message home. However, when working on a longer piece with a larger storyline, I still choose to map out the first minute to minute and a half with music when first jumping into a sequence. If I use more than one song, I focus on making seamless transitions between them while keeping both the build and crescendo in. Even if a particular song choice doesn’t end up making it into the final product, I believe this first step is imperative to the storytelling process. Especially when working on projects that rely heavily on dialogue and interviews, your soundbed can be an amazing guide for the pace of your story and can actually speed up your workflow.
For example, if you are making a documentary and are building your story through a series of interviews, you might reach a point where you are stuck figuring out how to transition between topics. Some great inspiration for that transition can happen if soundbites are used during the build of a song, and then cut out at its lull or peak. Because it’s harder for the viewer to process information that is fed through a constant stream, utilizing these moments in your soundbed creates an opportunity for the audience to reset and prepare for the next bit of information. It also might help the editor reconsider the order of their story, because the soundbite before a music break always comes off that much more powerful.
You’re probably wondering how this can possibly speed up your workflow. For me, it truly does help to see a mixed musicbed laid out on a sequence before any cutting begins. It gives me an idea of how much time there is to fill, and where big moments or reveals should be brought in. Sometimes, starting with those big moments and then working around them can eliminate excess information and tailor your story right from the get-go. But regardless of how you choose to build your edit, never underestimate the power of sound design! Every story has a soundtrack, and focusing on that from the start has definitely worked to my benefit when on tight deadlines, and hopefully it can for you as well.”
Archive and Library Clips – “As a factual video editor, I have worked a lot with film archives and user-generated content, and that’s how I fell in love with archives. In fact, despite often presenting an extra layer of difficulty in post-production and clearance, archives are a great tool to navigate other times and places, offering a variety of perspectives and feelings that we cannot always find in production footage. So here a few basic tips to help you organise your film archives in your edit.
Research and Watch Your Archives Before You Start
From a creative perspective, my best advice is to look at film archives as a key element for your film; go beyond the temptation of using them just as b-roll or coverage, and always to try to use their full potential in terms of narration. Give the archive the possibility to expand, or to move the story forward on its own. To do that, I often research and watch as much archive as possible before I start the edit, so that I am able to identify and create the right opportunities for it while I structure the story.
Keep a Record of All Your Sources
Keeping track of all the archive clips that have been imported into your editing project is of paramount importance, not just for clearance, but for the edit too. It’s awful to realise after picture lock that a clip can’t be used – and it’s even worse if that clip has a central role in one of your sequences. On feature docs, and generally on more structured projects, you will be working with an archive producer in charge of research and clearance – a key figure in managing all the archives – but even in this case, it is up to the editor / edit assistant to make sure that all the new archive in the project has been flagged to the archive producer (who often works across a multitude of productions, and is not sitting with you 24/7).
To keep track of all sources, it’s very useful to have each clip identified with a unique number (which should obviously be embedded in the clip’s name or metadata, therefore accessible from your editing system), pointing to a database where all the source / clearance / technical information are stored. Through this unique number, you should be able to identify clip name, clip provider, clearance status (and sometimes clearance costs, if relevant to you), resolution, framerate, other tech specs, master/screener. In this way, not only you, but every new person approaching the timeline should be able to know the exact status of each archive clip of the film. This can be done on an excel document, or any other sort of database. Most structured workflows use database systems such as Filemaker Pro, but that’s not the case of most of smaller productions.
Make a List of What is in the Timeline
As your timeline is taking shape and getting closer to picture lock, it’s time to review and make a list of all the archive clips that have been used. I usually do that on an excel sheet, but you can also use EDLs or XMLs, and some specific software to generate the spreadsheets from there. You can then hand the list over to your archive producer, who will take care of clearance and costs at his end. I think it’s good practice to update the list at each new significant cut; as you get closer to picture lock, you’ll also need to allow enough time for your masters to be digitalised (sometimes) and delivered to your office – and be aware that might take from a few minutes to several weeks.
If you want to simplify your archive workflow (or to optimise your costs), it’s common practice to use archive footage from one single source or provider – but obviously that will limit your choice, and you’ll have to do with what’s available there.
Also, be aware that many clips that are available on the internet, and seem to be royalty free, might still require clearance. It’s always a good idea to investigate each single clip you are using, especially if your project is for broadcast, commercial, or theatrical distribution.”
Skin Tone as a Basic Step for Colour Correction – “Maybe many of you already knew, but I was quite amazed when I discovered that – surprise, surprise – there are no “white skin” or “black skin” people, but only “mid-tone grey” people! The thing is that gives skin its colour is actually the blood that flows underneath it. This simplifies a lot our job when we want to give a decent, human, consistent look to our subjects’ faces. All you have to do is use the skin tone line on your Vectorscope as a reference.
This isn’t a tutorial on how to do this, as there are plenty of them online, some of which very interesting: they will teach you how a Caucasian male skin falls within around 70% of Luma, a bit more for women, around 45% for Hispanic and so on; that they all have a different amount of saturation; that cropping your area of interest (a face for example) could make your life easy – even though life is not always easy, as we know, and that’s when you will go into masking, tracking and refining.
But that’s my point and advice. Before masking, tracking or using very complex pre-made effects or LUTs, we shouldn’t forget to make the simple, basic steps that can improve both your workflow and your final results. What I mean is that we live in a time where so much knowledge and information is available, that we get carried away by the enormous amount of creative tools at hand, and we forget the humility of going back and starting to learn the basics again.
Go and look for those tutorials. Before wandering through the Web in the search for the perfect cinematic LUT, I encourage you to start by exercising your eye through skin tone colour correction. It achieves unexpectedly astonishing results and it’s the perfect gym for our eyes, which are so easily tricked by all those colours and lights on our screens.”
Speech Rhythm and Mannerisms – “Everyone has a rhythm to their speech, and editing different parts of an interview together can sometimes interrupt that. The majority of the interview will probably be behind b-roll. When you’ve got them saying just what you need, go back and take some time to just listen to (don’t watch) some of the raw footage of their interview. Pay attention to how they speak. You’ll pick up rhythms they use that make them sound different from others. Notice any verbal mannerisms that are unique to them. Now you can go back to your audio edits and get the spacing between their words (or lack thereof) right without any guesswork.”
Map Out Your Project on a Whiteboard – “We’ve all been there before – a blank page, a void canvas… an empty timeline with a thousand hours of raw footage and little instruction from your boss other than “Make it good, I’ll know what I hate when I see your first cut.” The sweat drips with every tick, there are infinite possibilities good, bad and nowhere in between, so where to begin? Here’s the secret, turn off your computer. That’s right, i’m telling you that the best way to begin an edit is outside of your timeline and away from your fancy equipment. Crazy, right? Does this sound like a provocative LinkedIn article written by someone that wants attention? Great, because that’s what I wanted and I made it so by mapping out the blueprints for this article on a whiteboard and guess what? You can apply this same method to your editing projects to save time, stress and add a little dash of fun.
I love white boards. Several of them take up a significant chunk of real estate in my home and it’s my go to tool when starting a project. Using a whiteboard is a therapeutic way to organize your thoughts and a creative route to figuring out what you want. The best part? There’s no right or wrong way of doing it. The act of physically drawing out your thoughts on a big open space is beneficial enough to ease the stress that will accompany sub clip orientation later on. Remember to stay as simple as possible, you’re only building a skeleton to support your creative process. Begin by drawing a line on the whiteboard that represents your timeline from beginning to end. Off to the side write down your goals, the specific beats and essential ingredients you must include. Next, fill that timeline with those delicious essentials. For example, if you feel like a section of your timeline should involve a voice over make a mark and label “VO”. You don’t have to know what the VO is going to be and you can add further details at later time. Continue to add marks on this physical timeline for music, sub clips or whatever your project entails with goals in mind. The purpose of a map is to guide you and by creating a loose visual, you’ll make the editing process smoother, faster and more efficient. Elementary, my dear Watson.
A brain is a lot like a computer and when you’re bogged down with stress and racing thoughts in the midst of a heavy project you’ll be able to turn to a simplistic guide outside of your editing software. Pictures came long before words and in many ways the method that i’m promoting was one of the first forms of storytelling. Neanderthals didn’t have Adobe Premiere, they had a cave wall and that worked for them just fine.”
Use Markers – “So much of being an effective video editor stems from organization. You have to begin with organized files. Then, you organize your content and your clips in your project. And then once you’ve organized your thoughts three times over, you can finally organize all the components into a story.
One of my favorite organization techniques is using markers. They’re versatile and colorful to boot! Here are a few ways I’ve used them in my own work.
To label content and quotes (Markers on a video track)
Did someone say something that resonated with the focus of the story? Add a marker to the clip and make note of a quote or the topic they’re discussing. I use this all the time when I’m cutting down interviews; it helps me categorize and sort similar content before I jump into crafting the story.
To time music (Markers on an audio track)
Sometimes I’m tasked to cut together a sizzle reel, or something with a lot of energy and little dialogue. In these instances, I like to mark out my music. I have my marker tied to a hotkey, so I can listen to my audio track and tap the markers to the beat. Doing this gives me several options where an edit may be more impactful because it’s timed with a sonic event.
To note feedback and to-dos (Markers on a timeline)
I also like to use markers to make notes for editing tasks on a sequence. Does this clip need color correction? Mark it. Do I need to tighten up that section about how quantum physics is actually a lot simpler than most people think? Mark it. I’ll wait to use these markers when my video is close to completion. It’s especially helpful when I’ve received feedback, it’s a good way to keep track of what still needs to be done.
To navigate a complex project (Markers on a timeline and using the marker panel)
If I’m working on a longer project, I’ll sometimes use markers to indicate the beginning of a new scene, or topic (in addition to all my notes on content). Then I use the markers panel to see all my markers at a glance. Clicking on one of the markers in the panel will take me to where it exists on my timeline. This can be a life saver in complex projects.
To categorize and filter (More with the marker panel)
I try to think a few steps ahead and assign each marker color to a specific purpose. Once my project is all marked up, I can sort by color label in the markers panel. So all my feedback notes are red, I can filter only the red markers to review those notes. If all my favorite interview quotes are teal, then I can sort to see only those.”
Use B-roll Effectively – “Video is a visual medium, and while that might seem like a painfully obvious statement it is one that far too many people forget when they get into the grind of actually making videos. The key thing with any video is to show as much as possible and then tell what you need to.
When you’ve got a “talking head” interview the best way to make the project more dynamic is to add B-roll. My general approach is to make a rough cut of the interview with just the interview footage first. Once you’re comfortable that the sequence says what you need said in the most concise possible way, save it and then start laying in your B-roll. If you start working with b-roll footage before this point, you could be wasting your time. Until you have a good grasp on the entire segment, matching b-roll to interview doesn’t really make sense from a productivity standpoint. If that section of the interview ends up getting cut, then any time matching b-roll was pointless. If you’re thinking, “Well, it only took me 5 seconds, so I didn’t lose that much time” remember over the course of a project those 5 seconds add up. If I waste 5 seconds out of every minute, that’s 5 minutes wasted in an hour and 40 minutes in an 8 hour day. When you’re chasing a deadline, it’s things like this can make or break your project.
Once you do start laying in b-roll, I encourage you to put it on its own video track. If the interview footage is on Video Track 1, put it on Video Track 2. Being able to look at your timeline and knowing what’s b-roll without having to play it back is handy, so make it a habit. From there, you now have the fun task of finding/placing all the b-roll shots. I tend to start with the key moments. If I know the interviewee said X and I have footage of X, I pop it in place so that I don’t mistakenly use it elsewhere. Of course, the beauty of non-linear editing means you can shift shots easily later, but it becomes a pain if you or worse, your producer decides they really like it where it is and now you’re stuck trying to find something that works that you may or may not have.
With the key bits now done, next up are the cut points you need to cover. Unless it’s a stylistic choice, you’re gonna want to cover all your jump cuts. When you are placing the b-roll, make sure you’ve got a least a couple of frames before or after any cut. You want to avoid picture cuts on the same frame as the audio, as it can draw attention to itself which defeats your goal of smoothing things out.
Once that’s done, you’re gonna want to fill in the rest of the sequence. Your content is going to dictate things, a particularly emotional statement might be better served by staying on the interviewee but generally, you want the same amount of b-roll throughout. As a viewer, I don’t like to see all the b-roll in the first 15 seconds of a two-minute interview. This also helps make the shots that are covering edit points seem less like they are shots that are they just to cover edit points. Part of editing is doing stuff you have to do to make the project work, but another part is making it look like it was all creative choices.
When you are choosing b-roll, the ideal stuff has movement in it. Either something within the frame is moving or the shot itself is moving. This goes back to the idea that video is a visual medium, so as much as you can, use the medium. If your b-roll is completely static, consider adding movement to it by having it scale up or down in size. By that I mean, add a keyframe to the first frame of the shot and the last frame, then adjust the scale and position of it at least one. Photos are the most common item that requires this treatment, and a simple five percent change in size over a few seconds can make a world of difference in the production value of your piece.
Once you’ve gotten all the b-roll in place, go back over the entire interview and cut the dialogue down. If the person talking isn’t on camera for an “Umm” or an “ahh”, or they’ve paused for a couple of seconds mid-sentence, take it out. You want to be aware of their speech patterns and respect those, but generally, if the viewer is looking at b-roll, any dialogue they hear should be free of any verbal missteps.
When you’re editing, part of your job is to make every person seen and heard look good. That means using the medium you’re working in, keeping things as visually interesting as possible and using whatever footage you have to enhance the points they’re making.”
Pull Your Selects the Right Way – “Every editor has their own preferences, their own way of working. Some ways that work well for some don’t always work well for others. Some people will find this tip useful which is great, others may just think it’s gibberish. Workflows will always differ depending on the style and format of edit you’re working on, i.e broadcast, web & social media, advertising, DOOH, live events, short-form or long-form etc. For me I don’t think there’s one right way of doing something; it’s what ever works for you and makes you a better, faster editor. There are so many different ways of doing things that ultimately give you the same result, you just need to find what works for you and mould it into your workflow.
One of the most important parts of my workflow is pulling selects – this is something that can speed up your edit dramatically. I work on a lot of different short form content for big brands and agencies including commercials, brand films, social films, sizzle reels, mini docs, live events and much more. Live events are where my selects reels are crucial.
The live event jobs I work on result in receiving the rushes immediately after the event has taken place (when I say live events I’m not literally cutting live, that’s another skill altogether). I am required to be onsite to ingest and turn around an edit in a ridiculously short amount of time. This obviously varies on each job depending on the format you’re working on, but an average would be approx a 2 hour turnaround for a 2-3 minute film. That would be to ingest maybe up to 4-5 hours of rushes, choose your selects, create your narrative and build your edit all ready for client review in 2 hours. I do like a challenge, but I also like to create a film worthy of an audience and 2 hours simply isn’t enough time to craft a masterpiece, but with my selects reel at my side I will do the best I can and deliver a film within that deadline.
So here’s my simple workflow. Once I’ve ingested all the rushes I drag each folder in number order onto a timeline. This is my raw rushes timeline. It’s important for me to keep the raw timeline in the same order of when it’s been shot, obviously time of day timecoded footage is a big help here. The raw timeline is somewhere you can keep going back to throughout your editing process, it’s somewhere you can go to if say the director or client suddenly appears and demands to see a specific shot. Having a raw timeline with all the rushes is a huge life saver. As long as it’s organised you should be able to find the requested shot quickly and pull it up in the monitor to playback. Although on the odd occasion you will need a little direction from the director or cameraman to give you a rough time of when this specific shot was captured.
So I now have my raw timeline, I begin to scrub through and begin pulling my A-roll selects. A-roll selects is the main footage, usually interviews that will make up the narrative for the film. With my raw clips on video layer 1 I pull my selects up onto video layer 2, here I can now clearly see where I’ve pulled selects from my raw timeline, I can clearly see if I’ve missed anything and easily go between each select. Once I’ve been through all the A-roll, I will copy all of the clips which are now on video layer 2 to a new timeline named ‘A-Roll Selects reel’. I then move on to pulling the B-roll selects. B-roll is the alternative footage, GVs, shots of the event that I will use to intercut with the main footage from my A-Roll selects reel. Same thing again, but instead I pull my clips up onto video layer 3 this time to keep the B-roll separate from the A-roll on Layer 2. Once I’ve been through all the rushes I’ll copy all the B-roll selects on to a new timeline named ‘B-roll selects reel’. It’s important for me to go through the A-roll first so you can start to piece the narrative together in your head. This makes it much easier when you’re pulling selects from your B-roll, as you’ll have a better idea of what B-roll clips will fit with the A-roll that you’ve selected.
Now I have my selects, it’s time to start building the edit. I have 2 ways of working here, depending on the editing software I am using. One way is something called ‘Pancake Editing’ which is one of my favourites. It’s very simple, you just stack your timelines on top of each other. I’m a visual person, and like to be able to see all my clips clearly on the timeline. But not only that, stacking timelines gives you instant access to your select reels you’ve created. Just drag and drop. Alternatively I can just paste all the selects onto my main edit, keeping them toward the end of the timeline. If you’re working on a laptop with limited screen space this would be your best option. From there I can quickly access and place the selects into the edit. I only have a 2 hour window for creating this edit so I need to be quick, first putting together the narrative or a sound bed as some call it, then choosing the B-roll, so I need my selects within easy reach. Shots don’t always work as well as you’d imagined when you first pulled your selects, so I may be constantly dragging and dropping different B-roll shots in and out of the edit. I find a lot of the time you don’t really know how your edit’s going to go until you start editing something. Best thing to do is just start picking out shots from your selects and throw them onto your main edit. Play around with the shots, see what works, what doesn’t and the creative juices eventually begin to flow. Or if you’re super lucky, just follow the script if you have one! 🙂
Using this simple workflow of pulling selects and keeping them within easy access enables me to create a decent 2-3 minute edit in the average 2 hour time frame.
So my three top tips for a fast edit would be:
- Have an organised raw timeline of all your footage
- Pull your A-roll selects before your B-roll
- Have your selects within easy access, then just start editing and trust that the shots will come together”
Start with Sound First – “If your idea is editing a musically driven piece, then starting with sound (music) is ideal. If your idea is editing a narrative piece that tells a story (i.e. trailer) then best approach is to first make a road map of all compelling soundbites and scenes that help shape that story. Meanwhile, help craft the story along with music and sound design. Once you have a solid map, you have a solid running time, then it makes it a lot more productive and enjoyable to add the “icing on the cake” and paint it with visuals. Sound is, after all, a major component to any promo, trailer, show, film.”
Nested Sequences – “Have you ever had so many layers on your timeline that you have to keep scrolling all the way to the top and have to keep minimizing and maximizing your screen? Well fear no more, Nesting is here! The power of nesting your sequences is a great tool to use when wanting to cut down visual on how your projects look and sometimes can improve performance on your editing system. Let’s walk through this with a few steps.
1) Make a new sequence. Put the following elements you want to have on your timeline.
2) Let’s say you want to add a graphic with a few layers. Do your edit as you would (add dissolves, crops, etc)
3) Once finished right click on sequence (#protip always good to label sequences) and add to bin. Some edit systems may see different commands.
4) Drag in the sequence labeled and put it on your timeline. Just like that you cut down on having to have multiple layers. You can add movement to your nested sequence!
Using nested sequences you can minimize the amount layers and have a less cluttered timeline, saving you lots of time!”
Name Files By Year-Month-Day – “Nothing slows down editing more than not being able to find a file! Make sure you come up with a consistent system for organizing client files that works for you. Here is a tip: most folders list files alphabetically. So, if you want to organize you files by date, use the method of naming files by Year-Month-Day. Example: 2019-03-09. This is alphabetical, but chronological at the same time. Struggling to find a particular file when you are in the editing suite while the client is watching the time tick away can give you a real panic attack. Don’t be that guy.”
The Importance of Clip Labeling – “Let me just start by mentioning that one of my films, Shockwaves, was created from over 25,000 out of about 300,000 separate unrelated shots, clips and samples – most of them public domain – all kept in a gargantuan folder in my raided 20TB Drobo. I use and reuse these materials in different ways for different projects, and constantly add new ones. Therefore, the biggest challenge for me is actually finding the clip I want for a specific purpose without killing my flow state.
Needless to say, it was always a nightmare to find what I needed in that colossal junk drawer of media until I became more vigilant about labeling, and that means using key words, meta data, and simply naming the clip itself with words or phrases. Whether it’s a color, an object, an action, an emotion, a symbol, a line of dialog, etc., unless you have a photographic memory or are a master at free-association, clip labeling is essential.”
About Chris Herbert
Founder & Chief Question Asker @Whatsaytheexperts.com. I'm seriously passionate about publishing content that helps. I also love a good coffee!