While edits don’t always perfectly fit into a clean process, below are the nine stages of our simplified post production workflow for a documentary film.
1. Post Prep
Before we start editing we have to lay the foundation for the project.

  • New folders, or projects, are created in 3 different areas
    • Digital Asset Management system, (D.A.M.) – Think of it as a giant iTunes library.
    • Online Asset Management Portal
    • Video Editing Software

2. Asset Process

  • Any assets that are used in a project are processed to speed up our handling of media during the entire project.
  • Before we do anything else, RAW video footage is imported into our system and archived to 2 redundant LTO 5 tapes. This gives us access to the original files, in their original form, before we begin the log and transfer process. Tapes are then stored in 2 different locations; 1 onsite and 1 offsite.
  • Footage is now logged and transferred (broken up) into individual clips or assets. Each asset is given a unique file name to make finding it later on fast and easy.
  • The renamed assets are archived to 2 more LTO 5 tapes and as above, are stored in 2 different locations for safe keeping. This gives us a clean copy of the asset before the editing process begins, in case we need access to that file later on.
  • Assets are uploaded to the D.A.M. where proxies are automatically created to speed up file access.
  • Interview assets are uploaded to our online portal and transcribed
  • Assets are placed in folders (bins) of our video editing software by category; type of footage, date, scene, etc.

3. Edit Prep
Before the editor dives into editing, they have to get familiar with the project. This is where that preparation happens.

  • Our editor reads the Creative Brief & Script for the project
  • The editor and producer discuss the project’s direction, look and feel
  • Editor begins the, sometimes long, process of reviewing all project assets. This includes interviews to get an idea of the story and b-roll to get an idea of coverage. Depending on the size of your project and the amount of content shot, this can take a few hours or a few weeks.

4. Story Cut
The purpose of the Story Cut is to find the right elements of the right story to tell it in the right order.

  • Editor takes their notes from the Edit Prep and begins to a Story Cut edit.
  • Once the editor has a Story Cut they feel good about, they’ll review it with the producer.
  • Editor revises Story Cut as needed
  • Editor and producer review revised Story Cut
  • Editor exports revised Story Cut, renames and uploads for client review
  • Client reviews Story Cut and suggests changes
  • Producer and client discuss the changes
  • Editor makes client changes as needed
  • Editor exports client revised Story Cut, renames and uploads for client approval
  • Client approves Story Cut

5. Rough Cut
The Rough Cut is where the video begins to take shape with an overall timing and feel.

  • Editor begins to time out sections of the program in the Rough Cut.
  • Music is auditioned, selected and placed in the program
  • Editor and producer review an early version of the Rough Cut
  • Editor makes revisions as needed
  • Editor adds b-roll to program
  • Editor adds placeholder graphics
  • Editor identifies additional needed assets for the film
  • Editor and producer review
  • Editor exports, renames and uploads for client review
  • Client reviews, make suggested changes and discusses with the producer
  • Editor makes client changes as needed
  • Editor exports, renames and uploads for client approval
  • Client approves Rough Cut which includes everything said and seen: narrative, music, timing, titles, spelling, b-roll, graphic placement and text

6. Graphic Build
This is the stage where all the graphics, animations and special effects are designed and built. The design portion of this stage can also happen much earlier in the process.

  • Our graphic artists and animators design all graphic elements to match the look & feel of the project.
  • Timing for the elements is based on the approved
  • Rough Cut Graphic artist and producer reviews each element
  • Artist exports, renames and uploads for client review
  • Client approves

7. Final Cut
The hard work is done. Now we’re polishing and tweaking before calling it “done”.

  • Editor makes very minor, clean up changes to the film.
  • These may include shaving a frame (1/30th of a second) off here or there or having a shot begin a few frames earlier. At this point, no substantive changes are made.
  • Editor replace placeholder graphics with approved graphics from above
  • Editor exports, renames and uploads for client review
  • Client reviews and approves
  • At this point the video is locked.

8. Finishing
Finishing is where the last finishing touches are added to the program.

  • The film is color corrected. Also called color grading, each clip is adjusted for proper exposure and balance of light.
  • Audio is mixed
  • Editor exports approved video and audio files for mix
  • Send to audio for mix
  • Audio is mixed in a separate program dedicated to audio post production
  • Mixed audio is placed back into program

9. Final Approval
As the name implies, this is where the rubber meets the road.

  • We call this the “speak now or forever more hold your peace” stage. Our client typically come into our suite and watch the program, top to bottom, with the editor and producer to make sure everyone is happy.
  • On approval, program is exported for distribution

Now you know what it takes to edit a documentary film.



Proxies – small low-resolution copies of large HD video files
D.A.M. – Digital Asset Management system.
B-Roll – secondary footage that adds visual meaning to a storyline and/or covers up unwanted content.
Layback – The stage where the new mixed audio in brought back into the video program, replacing the old unmixed audio.