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A Beginner's Guide to the Technical Side of Film Editing

On November 4, 2017 we posted "The Most Comprehensive Editing Tutorial Ever" and after 17 months, I firmly stand by the claim that it remains the MOST comprehensive editing tutorial EVER. Although the tutorial focuses on Adobe Premiere in the video, rest assured that you don't necessarily need to use Adobe Premiere to benefit from its insights.


 

Setting up your edit


When it comes to workflows and organization, it's crucial not to be the person who stores everything on the desktop. Maintaining order is paramount. As an editor, collaboration becomes increasingly common as your skills progress. Personally, when I shoot a video, I promptly send the footage to my editor. After a few days, he returns the edit, complete with files, folders, and project files, enabling me to focus on color grading. Even when working solo, I prioritize organization for my own peace of mind. Consistency is key for me, so I adhere to a standardized folder structure for every video. To streamline this process, I rely on an app called Post Haste, which allows me to create empty folder structures with a simple click.

Effective organization is a fundamental aspect. Take a glance at one of my older folder structures on the right. Notably, I don't use a "Projects" folder, a common practice, because I primarily work with FCPX. The way Premiere saves project files differs significantly from FCPX. In instances where I use Adobe CC apps, I create an "Adobe CC" folder, organizing subfolders for each application. It's worth noting that editors often adopt unique structures. Find one that aligns with your preferences—there's no one-size-fits-all approach, as long as your organizational method resonates with your workflow.

In the realm of editing, the term "workflow" echoes frequently—it essentially encompasses the steps involved in editing a video, spanning from ingest to export. Ingesting is the simple act of importing footage from the camera's cards to your computer. Following ingest, you might encode your footage and audio using sync software, possibly one that re-encodes audio time code into actual time code. Depending on the video's requirements, you may work exclusively in one editing software or use multiple ones. For instance, I primarily edit in Final Cut, but for intensive color correction, I export my timeline (XML) to Davinci Resolve and handle color correction/grading there before exporting. Each of these steps constitutes a crucial part of my workflow, a topic I delve into more in my "Which Editing Software Should I Use?" video, along with some supplementary videos for further insight.



Another vital aspect is configuring your workspace—the "layout" of your editing software, determining where different windows reside on your screen. If you have two monitors, leverage them; if you only have one, fear not—I've edited on a single monitor for years.


Your workspace is customizable and need not adhere to any standard. With Adobe Creative Cloud and FCPX, you can even save your custom workspace for future use. Adobe goes a step further by allowing you to save to the cloud, enabling you to load your workspace on a friend's computer seamlessly. I've found this incredibly helpful in various situations.


Consider creating multiple workspaces for distinct tasks or editing phases. For example, a color correction workspace and an assembly workspace may have different window arrangements. For color correction, you'd want your scopes visible; for assembly, your bins or event browsers take precedence. Workspaces play a pivotal role in optimizing efficiency by allowing you to hide tools that are unnecessary for a particular task. Most editing software provides key binds for swift workspace switching.

While the video provides a solid overview of workspaces, there's a notable point of contention. The presenter claims the "clip mixer" is useless, but I beg to differ. Considering that audio comprises half of any video, paying attention to output levels is crucial. Disregarding the clip mixer might lead to overlooking essential aspects of audio quality in your video production process.

 

Editing


Now that we're organized and have ingested all our footage, we're ready to dive into the editing process.


At this point, your choice of editing software becomes pivotal. Unfortunately, I don't have insight into your specific software, so you'll need to embark on a bit of independent research. Familiarize yourself with each button on your workspace, as most editing software interfaces are filled with various buttons, each serving a distinct purpose.


Keybinds play a crucial role in speeding up your editing workflow. Common ones include the "B" key for the blade tool, "I" and "O" keys for setting "in" and "out" points, and "J," "K," and "L" keys for reverse/rewind, pause, and play/fast forward in your timeline. While I can't provide an exhaustive list of keybinds for every software, investing in an editing keyboard with color-coordinated icons can be immensely helpful.


Mastering these tools and keybinds is fundamental to efficient editing. Whenever possible, avoid relying solely on your mouse; keyboard shortcuts make you a faster editor.


In my experience, dedicating time to honing my keyboard skills drastically improved my editing speed. I customized shortcuts, keybinds, and macros, creating presets for commonly used effects and transitions. Even rearranging my workspace to suit the specific needs of my projects contributed to increased efficiency.


For a more advanced exploration of editing techniques, the next video I recommend might not be suitable for beginners. However, as mentioned earlier, it stands out as one of the best videos I've come across on editing. Ensure you're familiar with your software before diving into it. If you're still in the early stages, consider starting with a daily vlog as a practice ground for camera use and editing skills.


While the recommended video focuses on Adobe Premiere, the principles apply across various software. Take the time to absorb the insights shared—it's an investment in refining your editing craft.

 

Exporting


Exporting! The best part! The last step! The part you do once thinking that you're done, naming the file something like, "MattressCommercial_Final" but then you spot a problem while watching it back, so you go back and fix it, creating a second export that you name, "MattressCommercial_Final_V2", and so you send that version to the client but the client wants you to change something, so you go back and fix it and you export it again, thinking that the video is finalized, so you name it "MattressCommercial_Final_V2 FINAL", but then you realize you made a mistake (again) and so you go back and fix it and export the video (again!) as "MattressCommercial_Final_V2 FINAL1" but you accidentally export it to some random folder and you can't find it when you search for it on your computer and so you export the same version of the video AGAIN to the right spot, naming it "MattressCommercial_Final_V2 FINAL1" (again) and when you send it to the client, you realize you sent the wrong file, "MattressCommercial_Final_V2 FINAL" instead of, "MattressCommercial_Final_V2 FINAL1", so you rename the correct version to, "MattressCommercial_Final_V2_Final1_THIS ONE" just to be safe. And you resend it to the client.


But hey, let's learn from this chaotic journey! I've adopted a new naming convention to bring order to the madness. Given that my work spans TV, YouTube, and Instagram, necessitating multiple exports with various codecs and aspect ratios, I've settled on the following naming format.


PRODUCTION COMPANY NAME_CLIENT NAME_CAMPAIGN NAME_ASPECT RATIO_RESOLUTION_VERSION_DATE

An example would look like:


Slacker_Mattress R Us_Get Comfy_16x9_1920x1080_V3.2_20210131

The absence of "" or ":" in the date and aspect ratio is a conscious choice, as explained in Frame.IO's insightful blog post on naming conventions. Another noteworthy detail is the backward arrangement of the date from biggest to smallest, ensuring a neat folder sort when organizing files.

In terms of version history, the journey typically begins at V0.1 for a rough cut, sent to the client for feedback. Successive improvements lead to V0.2, V0.3, and so forth. Once content, it ascends to V1.0, marking the creation of a new project. Duplicating and renaming the project ensures a safety net for the old version in case of unexpected hiccups.


This structured format proves advantageous for sending auditions of different music, graphics, or color grades. V1.1 and V1.2 might feature distinct songs for the client's selection, maintaining clarity in their choices. Upon finalizing the music, the timeline elevates to V2.0, symbolizing a more finalized state. Duplicating the project keeps both the old and new timelines intact.


The system also facilitates easy tracking of revisions provided to clients. Typically capping major revisions at 3-5, the system allows for flexibility in handling minor changes, such as correcting an accidentally sent wrong logo. However, if a significant alteration like changing the music occurs after multiple versions, a new version is initiated. This approach acknowledges that music can influence cutting points and pacing, fundamentally altering the edit. Version 3.0 often aligns with the client's 3rd major revision, simplifying the tracking process.


Now, let's talk about codecs – those essential elements of editing and filmmaking. Rather than delving into an extensive essay on codecs, I've included some informative videos on the topic below!




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