How to Edit Videos: A Step-by-Step Guide
At some point in their careers, most filmmakers wonder about how to edit videos. Some might learn the ropes while at college or university. Others may teach themselves through videos or by navigating their editing software. But the bottom line is that figuring out how to edit videos is a skill that everyone can do regardless of their previous editing knowledge or budget to spend on editing software, as some options are completely free!
Here’s how to edit a video that any filmmaker would be proud to put out into the world for others to enjoy:
- Evaluate the material
- Select the right software
- Assess computer needs
- Bring in the footage
- Edit files
- Address sound
- Export and enjoy
Evaluate the Material
The editing process begins even before a filmmaker takes a seat in front of a computer. Why? Because every type of media must be approached in a different way. For instance, the style chosen for editing a horror feature will differ from that for editing a comedic digital series. And editing for those two mediums will differ as well from that for a television drama or experimental short.
Even if a filmmaker decides to hire another person to edit their footage, it’s important to understand the different rhythms of various entertainment media, which will help to inform how the piece will eventually come together.
“I can get the same creative result from iMovie as I can from Avid system, but they definitely won’t work into the same workflow….Editing is like carpentry: I can make a straight cut with a hand saw or a circular saw (one is definitely faster). Knowing where to cut is where the profession kicks in.” — Sterling Scott, Trailer Editor
Select the Right Software
In learning how to edit videos, many filmmakers become devoted to one particular type of editing software. Editors, just like Directors of Photography or Sound Mixers, have preferences regarding the tools they like to use.
For someone just starting out as an Editor or a filmmaker wanting to gain editing skills, it’s essential to select an editing system that is easy to learn to mitigate the frustrations that naturally come up when picking up a new skill. For some, it might also mean first trying out free options, such as Blender, DaVinci Resolve or iMovie.
Mark Hoffmeister, Trailer Editor at Big Picture Entertainment, has this advice:
“For the ultra-beginner who has never touched any kind of editing, I suggest iMovie. It’s a good way to just cut clips together, set to music, to see what it feels like. Stepping up from that is Final Cut Pro X. It’s not great for professionals, but as with most Apple stuff, it’s pretty user-friendly. The best for someone who is serious about editing is Adobe Premiere. It’s quickly taking over in the professional field and can also be bought on a subscription basis so people can try it out and stop after a month if they don’t like it.”
Sterling Scott, Trailer Editor at Aspect Creative Marketing Agency, adds:
“Sounds like a copout but [the best beginning software is] whatever is most affordable! Being able to start is the most important thing. Once talking with your team, the best software will emerge. When learning, try a few demos for the software you can afford and get the less difficult. Software is specific to project or employer, based on needs. I can get the same creative result from iMovie as I can from the Avid system, but they definitely won’t work into the same workflow….Editing is like carpentry: I can make a straight cut with a hand saw or a circular saw (one is definitely faster). Knowing where to cut is where the profession kicks in.”
Assess Computer Needs
Hand in hand with choosing the right software is having a compatible computer that is up to the task. Storage space, in particular, will be important for editing more substantial projects such as a feature film, which will have footage in huge file sizes. Once these pieces of the puzzle are in place, it’s time to actually get into the edit!
Bring in the Footage
Many Editors cannot stress enough how important organization is to the editing process, and both Scott and Hoffmeister agree. A piece of organizing advice from Scott:
“Group by scene. Subcategories — establishing, wide, close up and inserts. On first pass of watching material, always highlight your favorite takes. Not what you think others might like, but something that makes you viscerally react. Building around these moments is what makes the magic.”
Hoffmeister emphasizes just how critical an organization system is when editing videos:
“I cannot overstate how important organization is to an Editor. As projects get huge, you don’t want to spend all your time looking for the footage or sound that you need to edit with. Every Editor has their own method, but I tend to separate things into master folders like ‘MUSIC’ or ‘SFX’ (sound effects) and then put things into more specific sub-folders after that. Also, naming and labeling can help you quickly find things. For example, when you’re breaking out footage, start the name of a clip with what type of shot it is, such as ‘WS’ for wide shot or ‘CU’ for close-up. That way when you’re in need of something, you can easily search the whole project for certain tag words that you’re looking for. Basically, organization helps you increase your speed greatly, which leaves you more time to tool around with being creative.”
“Always keep in mind that whatever you’re editing, and by nature watching 1,000 times before the final product, the viewer is seeing that piece for the first time. So, getting a second set of eyes during the process from an unbiased viewer can be greatly beneficial.” — Mark Hoffmeister, Trailer Editor
As both Hoffmeister and Scott explain, a smooth editing process depends upon having all intended pieces in order. Once that’s done, a filmmaker can explore their creativity during the actual cutting and arranging of files.
It’s important to keep in mind that how to edit videos is likely not a single-session experience. Many Editors will cut together rather rough pieces and come back to it later not only to see if they still like the flow of the footage but also to clean it up and help along the timing of it.
Because a filmmaker is watching the same footage over and over again, they can become blind to certain quirks in the cuts that may be hindering the storytelling process. That’s why Hoffmeister recommends getting feedback from a trusted friend or colleague:
“Always keep in mind that whatever you’re editing, and by nature watching 1,000 times before the final product, the viewer is seeing that piece for the first time. So, getting a second set of eyes during the process from an unbiased viewer can be greatly beneficial.”
Is the picture locked? Meaning, is the filmmaker or editing team in agreement that no more changes will be made to the video clips that have been cut together? Great! But the editing process is far from over.
Next, it’s time to tackle sound. And while most people would probably agree that film and television are considered visual mediums, it’s crucial not to underestimate the impact of good — or bad — sound. Says Hoffmeister:
“Audio tends to be the most important thing in what would seem to be a very visual field. Mistakes or unclean audio in an edit have way more of an effect on a viewer than what they’re watching. If the viewer misses a line or an important piece of story, they will be confused for the rest of the cut, but when the dialogue is clean and easy to track, the comprehension of your piece is much greater.”
As a filmmaker, it’s key to understand what to undertake without outside help and when to bring in another creative to help along the editing process. Sound is considered an entirely separate field of expertise — even the Oscars gives out separate awards for editing and sound design — so it might be in a filmmaker’s best interest to collaborate with another creative who has a background in this specific field, or at the very least have a sound consultant. Either way, at the heart of the editing process, though, is the desire to make an impact on the audience, as Scott so eloquently states:
“Creating an edit or cut is not your only tool. You are a creator of moments — use that to affect emotion. Instead of cutting from a wide to a closeup to capture a character’s reaction, let the wide push in and choose music that swells to a crescendo as the ticking of a clock in the background…. Barely audible at first, but then it comes careening to the forefront, warping out of tempo to push the emotion and enhance the shot. Create moments, not cuts. Be confident.”
Export and Enjoy
Outside of the editing and sound design process, attention may need to be given as well to color correction, opening and closing credits and any potential VFX needs. That being said, once the picture is locked and sound is added, it’s time to celebrate because the editing process is done! The next step is to export the file with the finished project. From there, where it goes and how it is enjoyed largely depends on the interests of the filmmaker.
For some people, the project might be meant to be enjoyed solely in the privacy of their home. But for many aspiring filmmakers, the goal is to see their edited film, short, television show or digital series put on a platform where others can enjoy their efforts.
Wherever that project is meant to live, it can’t be shared and enjoyed by anyone until it goes through the editing process. How to edit videos may seem to be a daunting task for someone new to the experience, but that’s exactly why it helps to break up the process into smaller steps such as those listed above to make it manageable and doable. And with many different editing software programs from which to choose, as well as tutorials on those systems that can be viewed through platforms such as YouTube, it’s never been easier to become a hyphenate of Writer-Editor, Director-Editor or even Writer-Director-Editor and add that all-important editing skill to a filmmaking resume.
- “How to Edit Video for Beginners: An Introduction.” BorrowLenses Blog. Retrieved 1 August 2019.
- Wells, Tom (31 July 2019). ”22 Best Free Video Editing Software Programs in 2019.” Oberlo. Retrieved 1 August 2019.
- “6 Best PCs for Video Editing in 2019 (31 May 2019).” The Tech Lounge. Retrieved 1 August 2019.
- “Top 5 Things to Know About Editing Audio (1 March 2016).” MotionElements. Retrieved 1 August 2019.
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