How to: Video Editing for Beginners

Somehow you got your first gig editing a video. You’re in the hot seat now, tucked away in that dark room with blindingly bright screens and a whole lot of footage to sift through. You’re worried. What if I mess up? Better do a search for some tips. Editing is a complex task that requires a decent amount of skill, but sometimes all you need is a little advice. Here are some things to look out for when you are beginning your edit.

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1. Pay Attention to the Director and Script Supervisor’s Notes

C5ANFS4K5J.jpgDepending on the kind of production you are working on, you should either have notes from a script supervisor or director. These notes typically will inform you of which take of a shot they prefer, as well as if there were any hiccups or glitches during a take that you need to be made aware of. Sometimes a director might give you their storyboards to give you an idea of how it should look.

Go over these notes carefully. You never know when some detail that you didn't notice can impact the whole project. A set is a chaotic place, and when you are looking through footage, you might not notice that someone sneezed behind the camera if it isn’t in the notes.

These notes are also important to make sure you have a grasp on the director’s intent. You’ll find that meeting especially uncomfortable if you pieced together all of the footage only to be informed that you got the whole thing wrong. Any and all information is your ally, so take it.

2. Keeping An Eye on Continuity

As mentioned previously, whether or not a script supervisor was present on set greatly depends on the kind of production you’re working on. But if there was one, and you looked over their notes, one thing you will see is a lot of attention to continuity in what they gave you.

PT8C3EOE19.jpgSo, what do I mean by continuity? Continuity mistakes are so common you can even find them in major movies. Have you ever seen a movie where in one shot an actor has his sleeve rolled up, and in the very next shot of the same scene, it’s rolled down? That’s a continuity error, and they are a plague on sets where everyone is running around, and sometimes the finer details of what is being caught on camera are overlooked. As the editor, it is your job to mitigate these errors as much as you can.

If it’s at all possible, try to sift out the shots with misplaced props, where actors are positioned incorrectly, or the costumes have inexplicably shifted. Sometimes, ,you’ll find that there is no alternative, and you’ll have to get creative. Other times this will mean dimming the edges of the frame to draw attention away from it, or adding a subtle sound effect to offer explanation. If in a worst-case scenario you find that there is no way around it, you will have to talk to the director about what to do next. Sometimes they will have an idea you hadn’t considered, or they might give you the go ahead to move forward with the error in hopes that it is minor enough for no one to notice. Either way, if you find yourself in this bind, it is best to check through every option available.

3. Lingering Shots and Timing

There’s a saying that’s become a bit of a cliché amongst people in the business of production that a script is written three times: first by the writer, second on set during production, and third in the edit room. Part of your job as an editor is to make sure that the story (whether you are working on an industrial, commercial, or film project) is told in the best way possible with what materials you have.

6DID58WECI.jpgOne thing to look out for to make sure you are telling the story as well as you can is how long a shot runs. Mood can shift in a matter of frames if you linger too long on a shot. For example, if there is too much space between dialogue, or even between separate thoughts in a monologue, the video’s tone can drag and quickly become boring. Alternatively, if you clip off the end of someone’s words, it can seem choppy and unprofessional.

Using closer shots or punching in on a shot can give you more intimacy or intensity, while using wide shots gives distance and can feel dispassionate or cold. Depending on how the video is supposed to feel, this can greatly impact or betray the intended mood of a project.

4. Cutting Too Much or Too Little

Cutting in editing doesn’t always refer to removing footage. It can also mean cutting between a shot or cutting back to a shot. Cutting to different shots is how an editor shows the viewer more of what is going on. This can be as simple as cutting back and forth between an interviewer and interviewee. Cutting too much can make action unclear and hard to follow.

Cutting too little, on the other hand, can be boring and flat. Unless you’ve got some especially compelling footage, often people will grow bored staring at the same thing for too long.

5. Saving Different Versions

H0O97B44CT.jpgThis might be the MOST IMPORTANT THING in this whole blog! So, don’t forget it. Save each version as a separate file to go back to. You never know when there will be something back there you need to find, and save often. You never know when something is going to happen to your computer, and suddenly you’ve lost all of your work. If you save often and keep each edit version, you will protect yourself from catastrophe.

 So, between the technical, stylistic, and fundamental tips written out here, you should be able to crawl out of that cave—I mean edit suite with some major crises averted, and some serious successes waiting for you in the light of day. But if you want more information about the production process in general, peruse our blog page where you can find, amongst other things, blogs on topics from storyboarding, script writing, and production on set!


CATMEDIA is an award-winning Inc. 500 company based in Atlanta, Georgia. Founded in 1997, the company specializes in advertising, creative services, media production, program management, training, and human resource management. As a Women Owned Small Business (WOSB), CATMEDIA provides world-class customer service and innovative solutions to government and commercial clients. Current CATMEDIA clients include Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

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William Warren

About William Warren

William Warren works at CATMEDIA as the Staff Writer while also working as a theatre artist, playwright, and director in Atlanta, GA. He received his undergraduate from Georgia College & State University with a BA in Theatre.

View all posts by William Warren

Video Production, Video, Editing

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