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How to Be a Better Video Editor

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Article by Mercedes Mehling

How to Be a Better Video Editor

I often find myself face to face with a mountain of unedited footage and a blank timeline not knowing where to even begin. And yet…there is something enticing about editing – the challenge of organizing and stringing together footage like pieces of a puzzle; watching a story unfold in front of you; putting the final touches on a piece you’ve been working on for weeks (or months). For me, the satisfaction of editing far outweighs the tedium. Here are some helpful tips for anyone just starting out in the industry!

Keep it Simple, Stupid.

When I first started editing (shoutout to iMovie), I was under the impression that the more fun transitions I used between shots, the better my edit would be (shoutout to star wipes). I thought that being a good editor meant that all of your shots needed to be EPIC and all your transitions needed to be COOL. While adding in flashy transitions to your edit can add some flair, they should be thought of as a seasoning rather than the meat of the video. Editing at its most basic level is storytelling. Great stories have a purpose, they appeal to universal emotions, they have tension and resolution, and they leave the audience with a new perspective at the end.

Kill your Darlings

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” Stephen King gave this advice in his book “On Writing”, but it applies to video editing as well. 

There have been many times in my editing process where I have become so attached to the piece I’m working on that the idea of cutting out any part of the story is actually painful. This is part of the editing process that has gotten easier for me with practice. In the end, you have to decide what will best serve the overall story, and oftentimes that means letting go of your attachment to the video you just spent hours working on.
Pro tip: If you’re not sure whether you want to cut a certain clip or not, rather than deleting it you can cut and drag it to the end of your timeline. That way you can see how the video feels without it, but it’s still there in your timeline for you to easily drag back into the edit if you need to:

“I’m Your Number One Fan…”

One of the best ways to get better at editing is to find other editors whose work you admire. Sometimes watching someone else’s film or TV Show is just what you need to get out of a creative rut and shift your perspective. Don’t limit yourself to finding inspiration in the same genre you happen to be working in – sometimes genre bending can work to your advantage. Take the example of Mad Max: Fury Road, edited by Margaret Sixel, wife of director George Miller. When asked why he chose his wife to edit his film, Miller observed that she had never cut an action movie before, and that if it were to be edited by “the usual kind of guys, it would look like every other action movie we see.”

Pay Attention to the Magic Moments

Once in a while your shots will seamlessly transition by accident or your music track will line up perfectly with your edits. This is one of the things that made me fall in love with editing. These serendipitous editing moments don’t always happen, but when they do – embrace it! As much as editing is about planning out and building a story, sometimes the story wants to tell itself in a different way. Director Ian Reid sums it up perfectly:

Just as a writer listens to her characters to make a truthful and compelling story, filmmakers have to listen to their projects in order to give them their maximum potential for success. More often than not, the project will tell you what it needs to be. And more often than not, what it tells you is way better than what your preconceived notions imagined.”
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