Ten Tips to Improve Your Editing

My name is Rachel, and I've been editing video for the past seven years. In that time, I worked as an editor and producer in a media department within a large non-profit, and I worked for companies and individuals as an independent video editor.

Along the way, I learned a few things that helped make my projects go smoother. Here are my top ten tips to help improve your editing workflow (hint: they're not keyboard shortcuts).

Before You Accept the Job

1). Know who you are as an editor. Part of why you will be asked to work on a particular project is because that person likes your style. That doesn't mean you must always stick to the same thing. But there are elements that make your editing style unique and it's related to how you see the world. Style includes the way you orchestrate the music in your videos, how you cut on the movement in the frame, and the way you tend to pace things. The more you're aware of your style, the more you will know if your services are right for a prospective client.

2). Practice editing. Really? Practice? Aren't you practicing with every project you cut? No, not really. When you're cutting on the clock, you use tools and skills you already mastered. Sure, you might do a quick Google search to remind yourself how to create a vignette in Premiere Pro, but that's not practicing. Practicing happens when you're working on something just for fun, experimenting. It's in off-the-clock practice that you can attempt a technique you've never used before, without it potentially costing you a project. It's in practice that you can also go back to a old project and try re-cutting it in a different way, just to see if you can tell the story differently. I promise, you'll be better prepared for your next project by spending time practicing.

Before You Start Cutting:

3). Plan your edit. This might go without saying, but seriously, break down your editing tasks into smaller chunks and estimate how much time you'll need to do each one. Using milestones like this is particularly helpful on large or complex projects. And it can help you estimate a more accurate deadline. Not only can you track where you should be, you will know what tasks to tackle next, and you'll know when you fall behind. If you're working as a part of larger team, this will help you meet group deadlines as well.

4). In your discussions about your client's needs, identify the point of the finished piece. This is important to any kind of video you might edit, from a commercial where the point is to get the viewer to buy the product, to a documentary where you want to leave the audience educated about the topic. There's always an over-arching theme that defines why you're cutting something together, and every edit needs to help bring that point into focus. With a clear understanding, you can avoid the time wasted spent re-cutting.

5). In these same meetings, discuss what your client wants to feel when they watch the video. Some clients don't care what kind of music you choose or what effects you use, but if they have opinions, it's best to know before you start dragging stuff to your timelines. Be willing to listen when you think you got it right, and yet your client still isn't satisfied. It might take some creative problem-solving to identify what exactly they're not pleased with, but it will be worth the effort. By showing a willingness to create the mood and feeling they're looking for, you'll have a happy client and better repeat business opportunities.

While You Cut:

6). A transition can certainly smooth over a weird spot in a video, but that's a cheap use of that tool. Instead, save the fancy transitions to signal major changes in your story. Think of Star Wars using the side swipes. Not every cut happens with one of these, but every time the focus of the narrative shifts to a different character, side swipe! Rather than throwing on a fade-to-black to get between every cut, reframe your shot by adjusting the scale of the frame, use b-roll, or use a creative filter effect to change the marriage of the two shots and avoid the dreaded jump cut. Please don't use transitions to hide bad cuts.

7). If you must show a client a video in a rough cut stage, make sure you communicate what is not finished. Ideally, you want to show your client your rough cut while you are present, so you can explain the unfinished work and soothe any uneasiness personally. Sometimes however, this is not possible, so you have to do it through an email or a phone call. Remember, a client does not know what is finished, and what is not finished in a rough cut. Do what you can to fill gaps with temporary items. For example, use place-holder footage or demo music, or even cartoon doodles and your own voice over, to give a better idea of what will go where. Then explain what you still have to finish. Don't let a client gauge your ability as an editor by showing them a rough cut with no explanations.

8). Sometimes the best thing you can do for your edit does not happen in your NLE. It happens in your email inbox. Communicate regularly with your client about where you're at. I keep mine up-to-date with weekly emails. Regular communication ensures that they know when you're working on their project, whether or not you will finish on time, and if any issue come up that might change or delay the process. Don't go a month between communications during an edit. Your client will wonder if you forgot about them and their project, raising the question if you are reliable as an editor. Don't leave your client wondering.

9). Edit as much as you can when you can! The old saying states that "the devil is in the details" and it will be the final details that will take up the most of your editing schedule. If you can cut the bulk of your work together earlier in the schedule, you'll leave yourself time to spend in the final tweaks without having to do all-nighters. That said, this is not a guarantee. You might still have to do all-nighters anyway.

Before You Finish Cutting:

10). Let your edits "sit" for before calling it "done". Close the project, working on something else, take a nap, something. Ideally, make this a full day. After, come back to your project. Chances are, you'll notice something that could be tightened further or a piece of footage that's un-necessary. This technique is particularly useful if you're trying to get something cut for time or if you have a complicated story to tell. In the middle of the edit, it's possible to be too close to what you're working on and you stop noticing what actually makes sense and what doesn't. Sometimes, a full 24 hour break is not possible, but even a short fifteen minutes spent away from the timeline can help. Giving your brain the rest allows you to approach the project with fresh eyes and spot things you were too tired to notice before.