Making films is difficult. You spend hours and hours crafting and shaping this story only to finally hit play and be underwhelmed with how ‘average’ your film looks. Editing is hard. It takes time, it takes decision making, and if you’re not careful – can make or break your film.
How do you know if you have the best edit? It’s exhausting making editing decisions. A lot of times, once you’re finished – you are still unsure if it’s the best edit you could have made.
The dream is being able to edit with confidence. Imagine being able to sit down at your computer – pull up your footage and make decisions with confidence. Knowing that you have the best footage in your edit.
Consider the possibility that you don’t have to have an amazing editing bay to get this done. You can do this on a laptop. However, it’s going to take work. There is no quick fix. But if you’re willing to do the work when it comes to editing… you can craft something that feels. There’s no skipping the effort and time needed. But there are ways to maximize it. Let me share with you 5 phases of every good edit. Let’s dive in:
1.) Organize your footage.
This is key. If you have unorganized footage – your going to get overwhelmed and exhausted about 15 minutes into your edit.
Editing is essentially making hundreds of tiny micro decisions. It’s no small feat. You need to save your ‘willpower’ for making these edit decisions. Every time you have to search for that ‘one clip with the eye shot’ for 5 minutes – you’re leaking limited willpower.
Here’s a simple way to organize your footage in folders:
- Project Files
Plus this will save you tons of time in the end. All those small 30 second ‘searching for this clip’ add up. Not only that… but the distraction time afterwards adds up too. That leads us to our next point.
2.) Start Broad… then trim the fat.
Jumping into hours of footage can seem overwhelming. But you don’t have to make all those micro decisions right away. Initially while digging through your footage start broad. Pull anything you like or anything that might add to your edit. You should have more than enough footage to go around.
Once you have a timeline full of all that fatty meat – start trimming away the fat. Start cutting away things that don’t matter. Cut out unusable footage that you wouldn’t show your friends. All that crap that reveals you suck at filmmaking… you can cut that stuff out. I’ll never tell anybody…
All those embarrassing angles you tried towards the end of the scene. Trash them. Unless they look cool. This should be a very fast liberal process.
I repeat do not get hung up on this stage. This is not the time to waste your willpower. You’ve got actual important decisions to make. Don’t pause to think – “should I keep it?” Run with your gut. Keep more – we’ll cut later!
A note here: make sure you are saving constantly – and saving your longer versions along the way!
3.) Shape the story.
Now that we have all our usable footage within arms reach – you want to start shaping the story. If you’ve done a good job in pre-production, then you should already have an idea of what the story is going to look like. Otherwise, you can use a simple story structure to hash one out quickly to give you a basic idea of where to start placing footage.
Editing is partially science, partially art. This is when we begin to use our will power to make some creative decisions. Start shaping it. It’s ok if it’s ‘too long.’ As long as the story shape is there. Continue to massage those clips into the story that you are wanting to tell.
4.) Cut it tight, cut it right.
This is the section where you can really start to showcase your editing skills. This is where we start to really tighten up the edit and story elements. This is the toughest decision making part of editing. You’ll have to start throwing away some of your ‘amazing footage’ to make room for the best footage that serves the viewer. You may even have to sacrifice that crane shot because it doesn’t add to the story. Start being honest with yourself. This is the place where you become ruthlessly committed to the story and the audience.
It’s also a place you can start showing your editing skills. Start using ‘matched action’ cuts to push the story forward.
Matched action is an interesting cutting technique that we see constantly. Essentially – our eyes don’t work like cinematic shots. We don’t dolly with our eyeballs.
What we do is cut with our eyeballs. We cut, focus, blink, etc. Try it right now – try to smoothly move your eyes from one object to another. It doesn’t work. Your eyes will chopily cut to that object.
People believe this is why cutting works. Our eyes naturally cut from focus on one object to another. Use this in matched action cuts. When somebody goes to open a door – cut from a wide to a medium shot. You can really use these matched actions to speed up edits and move things along in a tight way!
5.) Export, Feedback, Repeat.
This is the final stage for me. Once you have a base version of your film – you’re going to want to tweak the heck out of for hours and hours and hours… Don’t.
Export that footage as quickly as possible. It’s time to get some outside eyeballs on it. You need to get feedback. The quicker you can get feedback, the quicker you can start attacking the bigger areas of need in your edit. You’ve spent hours looking over every inch of footage – you need somebody else’s eyes on it. I’ve also found that when I have somebody else watch it, I begin to see items in the edit I missed. “There isn’t tension there, those match cuts were off, etc.”
This is a loop that you want to get into. Your heart will tell you – “let me just fix edit a little more.” Don’t listen. Export it and let somebody else watch it and provide feedback. The quicker you can get feedback – the better you can avoid getting stuck down editing rabbit trails.
I did this on my film “CHALK” back in the day. I was so nervous to show my friend the first edit. Because honestly – it sucked. I knew it sucked. But I knew that I needed his feedback ASAP. My buddy got back to me – told me what he liked and what he didn’t. From that feedback I realized I was missing a ton of tension in my edit. It was beautiful – but there was no ‘feeling’ in it. From that feedback I added in a ‘tear drop’ scene that created way more emotion.
Don’t skip this step. And get multiple rounds of feedback from distant trusted folks. That’s what will give you an amazing looking edit.
That’s it folks. The 5 phases of every good edit. Feel free to practice step 5 with me. Send me a rough draft of your film… I promise, I’ll be gentle. 🙂
You can do this – you can craft some awesome films. I’m telling you. It’s possible. Continue editing, continue learning, continue shooting. You will slowly grow into an amazing filmmaker. I can’t get you there. But I can help you get there.