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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Top 10 Tips for Editing Video

Now that you’ve learned the mechanics of using MovieMaker, it’s time to focus on the creative aspects of editing. This top 10 tips list will help you learn about structuring your movie.

1. Create a Beginning, a Middle, and an End

A movie can be as simple as a slideshow set to music or as complex as a story. In any case, you need to create a movie that has a beginning, a middle, and an end, so you need to think about how to set the scene, have things happen early in your movie, sustain the action, and then create a rousing finale or find a natural ending.

Sometimes you’ll want to use your clips in the order in which you shot them. Other times, you’ll want to rearrange clips. You should play with various scenarios and preview them in the monitor. You’ll begin to see what works.

You might be overwhelmed with too many choices. Don’t get bogged down trying to find the perfect order—just do the best you can!

2. Select the Clips You Like Best

Go for the emotion. Look for moments where there’s spontaneity or life! Great moments make great movies people will enjoy watching. You can import all your best bits, even if you don’t yet know how they will all fit together.

Is the lighting at a certain point so dark that the scene doesn’t maintain interest? Or is something so interesting happening that the lighting doesn’t really matter? Is the audio audible and loud enough? Or was the microphone not able to pick up the sound? Don’t be afraid to edit out anything that can’t be heard well.

You should import all your favorite moments so you’ll have the building blocks you need to make a great movie.

3. Make Sequences

Chapter 2, "Shooting Digital Movies," covers shooting sequences, using a mixture of long, medium, and close-up shots. If you shot a variety of shots, you can use 5 to 10 seconds of each one to create sequences.

When you get the hang of making sequences, you’ll be able to edit more easily. Think of sequences as sentences or paragraphs that provide a linear flow. You need to make sure each sequence moves your video along.

Sequences also prevent you from feeling overwhelmed. Remember: Words make sentences, sentences make paragraphs, and so on. You should make a sequence here and a sequence there, and build your movie step by step.

4. Less Is More

Don’t be afraid to cut, cut, cut. Learn the virtues of ruthlessness when it comes to editing. Remember that less is often more. Putting in only the best shots will make your movie more fun to watch.

In documentary filmmaking, in general, filmmakers expect to shoot at least 10 times more than they use in the final film. That means that 90% of what they shoot ends up on the editing room floor. Only the best 10% or less of their footage is in the finished movie. The secret to success is putting in only the shots that work best—and having the courage to cut what doesn’t work. Here are some tips for keeping only the best shots:

  • Use 5 to 15 seconds per shot—You should edit your shots to last 5 to 15 seconds per shot, as a general rule of thumb, unless there is some action that lasts longer and is compelling to watch. You can use shots that are less than 5 seconds, too; but you should try to maintain a rhythm. For example, if you use a lot of 10-second shots and only one 2-second shot, you should make sure the 2-second shot isn’t jarringly out of place.

  • Think like a sculptor—You should expect to cut more later, after you preview your movie. The editing process is iterative; over time, you see the places where your movie may be dragging a bit. Split clips, trim clips—whittle away!

5. Learn How to Edit Audio

Editing audio is probably one of the biggest new skills to learn in making movies. Most of us have made photo albums or slideshows, but few of us have ever edited audio. Understanding how to use audio will make you a better movie maker.

If you’re using the audio you shot with your movie, you can use it to structure your clips. The rhythms of people’s language will give you in and out points. Feel free to edit out parts of people’s sentences, as long as what you keep in your movie makes sense. You’ll start to hear language in a new way during the editing process.

Paying attention to how audio works will help you when you shoot your next movie, too. You’ll learn how important it is to get people to say things succinctly.

You need to learn how to be a nimble audio editor; you need to cut out the beginning or ending of someone’s sentence and getting right to the heart of the matter, while making sure everything still make sense.

6. Use Music

Star Wars creator George Lucas once said that 50% of the movie experience is sound, and you’ll quickly discover how powerfully music (or sound effects) can affect your movie.

Using music with your video or photos brings an emotional texture to your movie that wasn’t there when you shot it, giving you a powerful tool to experiment with.

Aside from the emotional texture, there’s the more practical consideration of how long the music track you want to use lasts. You may want to cut your video to fit the length of the music. If the music lasts longer than the movie, you need to find a good place in the music where you can fade it out.

If you don’t want to use music in a movie, you can still consider putting just a tiny bit of music under your titles and/or ending credits to add a touch of emotion or a flourish.

If you’re mixing music under your audio, you need to be careful to blend the audio levels well so your music doesn’t drown out words you want to hear in the audio.

7. Trim Your Clips

You should make your clips last just the right amount of time in your movie. Your audience will be grateful if you don’t make them watch anything boring or dull. Trimming 5 seconds here and 5 seconds there to tighten up your clips makes your movie more fun to watch in the end. It’s surprising what a big impact trimming clips has on improving the quality of a movie.

Don’t be shy about trimming or deleting clips—this is digital video! If you change your mind, you can always put the whole clip or any piece of it back in. That’s one of the great things about movie editing!

8. Refine and Tweak Until the Last Minute

After you’ve made your edits and added music, titles, and/or closing credits, you should review your program and see whether there’s anything that should be changed. Going from a rough cut to a fine cut is the heart of the editing process, so don’t shortchange yourself (or your audience) at this stage of the game. If you’re tired, take a break and come back to your project when you are fresher and more alert.

9. Get a Second Opinion

It’s a good idea to have someone else look at your movie, to give you important feedback about what’s working and what’s not. Plus, it’s fun to get some instant gratification from the parts your audience likes!

Of course, you don’t have to take the advice you get about changes, but it’s good to get a read on whether your movie makes sense or affected or inspired the viewer in the ways you intended.

Seeing your movie through the eyes of a viewer will help you discover things you probably didn’t notice while you were editing it.

10. Finalize Your Movie

If you’ve gotten feedback about your movie from your audience, you can make changes. You should consider the feedback you’ve gotten and decide whether there are ways you want to change your movie to make it clearer or have more impact.

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