I’ve been editing video for a long time. I started in journalism school in college editing on linear tape-to-tape machines (tape? what’s that? – I hear you my millennial friends). Here it is.
Not a ton of room for creativity with these babies – you pick the beginning and end of the tape segment you want to use on the left, hit “assemble” then it records that section on to the tape on the right – it was a messy, analogue process. Oh, and it cost thousands of dollars.
Today the technical and creative process of editing video is much more accessible, elaborate and creative. No doubt everyone who has edited a video has started out with a degree of optimism and a smidge of naivety. Twenty seven hours later you emerge from staring at your laptop with a huge sense of accomplishment but also a complete loss of time, senses, hygiene and dog walks. Editing can easily take you down a million rabbit holes you never imagined (Royalty-free music anyone?).
My process for editing footage isn’t revolutionary, and yours could be completely different, but for newbies (and oldies) out there, here are a few editing process tips that provide valuable insight into my brain and are guaranteed to leave you right-brain folks shaking your heads with pursed lips in disgust 😉
EDIT BEFORE THE SHOOT : In order to have everything you need for editing, you need to have an idea of what your video will look like before the production shoot. If you are the shooter, you’ll most likely have shot lists / locations / subjects lined up (right?…RIGHT??). However, what’s the intent of the video? The tone? The style? A funny text-driven social media video will edit together very differently than an inspirational dramatic non-fiction piece. You will also need shots that work around text if your video is destined for social media. If you aren’t the shooter or producer, make sure you connect with them before you start the job so that you can get your own head together and have a tone in mind before you start editing.
OMG SO MUCH FOOTAGE! START WITH THE INTERVIEWS: Depending on the project you could have three hours or 300 hours of footage, You need to find a way to go through this without losing your mind. I start with the interviews. Those sound bites drive and create the framework for my videos. Even if I use a transcription program like Rev.com. I also need to listen to tone, inflection, pauses, etc. For a long interview, I recommend getting it transcribed, then listen along and highlight the parts of the interview that stick out to you or hit the points you need to make to tell your story effectively. That way you can tell if what looks amazing on paper is actually filled with stutters, coughs or just sounds like a mouth of marbles.
CREATE BINS: When I was producing a 5-part series on UW’s Ocean Intern program, I had to create a ton of bins to keep everything straight – you can organize by subject, location, great soundbites, beauty shots, but make sure it’s something that you understand and can easily find. Don’t create a bin for your subject and name it “Bob” , but then add in every great broll beauty shot that has Bob in it. Make sure you are specific enough, but also resist the urge to create 100 bins of everything from trees to people standing (I’m looking at you right-brainers). Some people color-code their bins and that can be helpful too if you organize visually. Oh, and this goes without saying….but yes you have to log all your footage. Now that said…..
NO, YOU DON’T HAVE TO LOG ALL YOUR FOOTAGE: Hear me out. Sometimes you interview someone and 5 minutes in you are thinking (OMG, this person’s not who they represented themselves to be…I can’t use any of this). You do not have to log that interview. Same goes with footage that’s soft (out of focus), Beirut-cam (forgot to stop rolling), or a location shoot that you decide doesn’t fit with your tone after you get back. Save yourself the time and leave it. Now, if it’s a “maybe”, log it. Guaranteed you’ll be using a few “maybe’s” as you run out of your a-game video clips.
LET IT SIT WITH YOU: I log and transcribe after I get back from a shoot while it’s still fresh. Then I let myself sit with it. I think about it in the shower, while I run, pretend to listen to my husband’s day (kidding!!). I think about what stood out to me, how I would describe the story to others, I pretend to bring it up on Netflix and visualize the final product (a girl can dream right?). The brain needs time to process information and sort it out – chew on it for a bit and after time you’ll come up the best way to tell your story.
EDIT YOUR ROUGH…THEN SIT WITH IT AGAIN. After you dive in and spend days upon days editing, you’ll have your story. You’ll think it’s: A: Great, B: God-awful, or C: hmm….could use a little “something”. Walk away again (literally walk – you probably need some fresh air at this point), and come back the next day to watch it with fresh eyes. You’ll see some obvious edit flaws that you can fix (My default is” “what was I thinking with that music track?“). Now, be brave and show it to others. You can make your friends and family watch because they have no choice, or you can upload it to a program like Frame io and let collaborators comment on your video in real time.
SEND IT TO YOUR EDITOR: upload it to the cloud-based program of your choice, add your assets, copy and say a little prayer. Hopefully this will not be their reaction.