Video Answers. Episode 17.

If you’ve ever peeked into an edit suite, you’ve seen it. There’s someone surrounded by computer screens, completely lost to time. But, what are they really doing in there? That’s the question we’ll answer today in Episode 17 of Video Answers.

Video editing is a craft

Just like a craftsmen shapes raw materials into a beautiful piece of furniture, so an editor takes raw elements and crafts a compelling story.
Editors work with hours of raw materials, cutting away the rough edges to find the right story.
And like all craftsmen, the documentary film editor follows a unique process. In this episode, I want to give you an overview of that process.


But before we begin, it will help you to understand one term that you’ll hear throughout this episode and that term is cut. To cut just means to edit or splice. In the days of film, the editor would physically cut the film and splice it together. Even though editors don’t cut in the same way, the term is still used today.
With that background, let’s look at what a video editor really does.

Selecting the Story

Just like a craftsman carefully selects the right materials, editors always begin by getting acquainted with their material or content. For a documentary film editor, much of that content comes in the from of interviews.

All documentaries begin and end with the story. That’s why this stage of the edit is often called the Story Cut, because it’s here that the editor discovers and selects the stories that are cut into the the film.

Shaping the Story

One characteristic of a great editor is their ability to determine which stories work best, because there’s never just one story. So at this point in the process, the editor continues to shape and refine those stories with an eye towards timing, pace and feel.

Finding the right story can be difficult, maybe that why this stage is also called the Rough Cut because this is where the editor begins to rough in and shape the story.

Finalizing the Story

By now, the editor has spent days, weeks or even months with the film. He intimately knows the characters and their stories. It’s through that knowledge that he can now begin the finishing touches or the Final Cut.

Here the editor uses techniques like ripple, slip, slide or roll to make sure everything is where it needs to be. Here edits are measured not by hours, minutes or seconds, but by frames, (there are as many as 60 frames in every second). But to the editor – especially now – every frame matters, because at the end of this stage, the film will be “locked,” which means after this, nothing will move video or audio. Then and only can the story be finalized.

Polishing the Story

Now that the picture has been locked, the editor uses his last two tools, the nuance of color and sound to polish the story to perfection. The goal here is to eliminate anything that draws the viewers attention away from the story.

Here audio clips are mixed into a seamless soundtrack and color is used to enhance the tone and mood of a scene. This is where the film is polished to perfection so that the story shines.

So, what do video editors do?
From selecting and shaping to finalizing and polishing, that’s what a video editor does. And that’s why editors are a blend of craftsmen, storyteller and technician.
Editors are a unique breed of artist who work with pixels instead of wood, marble or stone. It takes more than a computer and software to be a editor. It takes a patient craftsmen to find, develop and polish your story.
That’s what editors do.

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