Creative Commons License

The Editing Process

Editing is more than just placing one clip after another; it is a process with several distinct stages. Understanding this process will help you streamline your projects and arrive at a finished product which is polished and professional.


So you've finished shooting and you now have 2 hours of footage which you need to cut down to a five minute video. Due to storage limitations, you can't just put the whole 2 hours on your computer and start cutting it down, and there's not really any need to. It's likely you only need to capture 15-20 minutes of the best clips from your source footage. So the first step is logging your source footage. This means going through it, identifying the best shots, and writing down the beginning and ending timecode for each shot. Because this can involve a lot of fast-forward, rewinding, and pause, it is often not a good idea to do this with your master tapes because you may wear them out. The best way to do this is to make a dub of your original tapes onto VHS. However, when you do this the timecode isn't preserved. The trick is to turn on the viewfinder display from your camera so that it gets recorded on the VHS tape. Usually this is achieved with the camera's remote - it should have a button labled "display" which turns the external display on. Once you have made your VHS dubs use them to log the timecode of just your best shots. When you have finished logging, add up the duration of all your selected shots - if the total duration is too long, you may need to further refine your selection list.


The next step is to get your selected shots into the computer. This is called capturing your video. With a good log, the capture process can be largely automated. You just type in the beginning and ending timecodes for each shot, give the shot a title and a brief description if desired, and you end up with a "batch capture list". Your editing program (Adobe Premier, in this case) will then take that list, search through your master tapes, and capture just the clips you have selected. When it is done you will have a project which contains all your clips and you are ready to begin cutting.

The Rough Cut

The rough cut is the first edited version of your video and is usually longer than the final version will be. You may have more than one rough cut as you go back and refine your edits several times.

The first level of rough cutting is to place your clips in order on the timeline(this is where the editing takes place in Premier). At this point you don't worry about rhythm or getting clean cuts, you are just laying your shots out from beginning to end. This lets you see how the story plays out. You may want to drop in any music you plan to use, but don't worry about the levels at this point.

Once everything is in order, watch the video through a few times. Think about the pacing, look for shots that seem out of place, think about what changes could be made to improve it. Take notes while you do this. When you have identified all the changes, go through your shots one by one and make all the changes you noted. This will give you a much more refined video. At this point you may want to show the video to friends or fellow classmates and get their input. Repeat the process as necessary until you feel your visuals are fairly polished.

Audio Mix

Once your rough cut of the video is finished, it is time to mix your audio. Add in any music you haven't added yet. Identify any important sound effects and place them at the appropriate times. Adjust the levels until you have a consistent and comfortable balance between your dialogue and music/background sound. If you find any of your dialogue is too low or otherwise bad, you may need to dub in the actor's voices. Go over the sound several times until you feel it is well polished, then check it by watching your video on several different televisions/sound systems. You may find that things which sound right on headphones sound very different on a television speaker. Make any neccessary adjustments.

Titles and/or Graphics

Now that your visuals and audio are close to completion, create any necessary titles or graphics and add them into your timeline. If you are doing any special effects, now is the time to create the final versions and add them into the project.

Final Cut

With everything in place, watch your video over and over. Take notes, show others, get their input, etc. Put the video aside for a day or two and don't think about it. Come back and make any final tweaks or refinements you feel are necessary. When this is done, you have your final cut. Your video is finished.


The final step is to output your video in the appropriate format. This may be as simple as making a VHS copy to show people, or it may involve compression for delivery on CD, DVD, or the internet.

As you can see, the editing process has a lot of different steps. While it is possible to complete them all in a very short time, your video will be immensly better if you allow yourself extra time to review and refine your video at each step. Plan your projects accordingly!