The difference between a professional video editor and an amateur ultimately comes down to trusting one’s instincts and taking the time to do things right. Over the past five years, I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the best video editors in the business. I’ve had a hand in live production, documentaries, news, and even machinima.
During my time here at LockerGnome, I’ve edited around 1,000 videos with varying degrees of technical detail using a wide variety of editing applications. In almost every instance, the same handful of tips made the difference between a good edit and a sloppy one.
Trust Your Instincts
In many cases, the difference between a good video editor and a great one comes down to instincts. Knowing exactly when to make a cut or how to piece together a story from segments of footage isn’t something that can be readily taught. It’s a sense of timing and an instinct for knowing what fits that makes the difference here.
Many video editors have a hard time following their intuition. Knowing how to create that perfect effect is only useful if you know exactly where and when to place it.
Craig Sadler, an audio engineer I worked with in radio, was able to pick out the frequency of a hum or hiss in an audio track just by hearing it. Nine times out of ten, he would reach over and adjust the equalizer in just the right way to solve whatever audio problem we were experiencing. That’s an instinct that can’t be trained, and it makes him a valuable asset in the recording studio.
Play with the Software
It pays to know your non-linear editing software, and there’s really nothing you can do to break it as long as you remember where the reset to defaults option is. Knowing the ins and outs of your software is like learning the streets of your home town. Getting from point A to point B is much easier when you know the fastest route off the top of your head.
In video editing, there’s often five or more different ways to do something. Color correction may work just fine with one tool, but another could achieve the same effect in half the time. Take an hour or so each week to fiddle around with your software. You never know when a discovery you make will come in handy while you’re editing.
A professional video editor can spend hours working on a scene that lasts a single minute. Quick and dirty editing can get you 70% of the way there in terms of quality, but a true master can bring the clip exactly where it needs to be for commercial use.
This is one reason professional video editing costs so much. It’s not a matter of spending an hour in iMovie and piecing together scenes. You have to worry about lighting, color correction, audio mastering, keying, visual effects, and rendering. All of these issues take time to perfect, so make time to get it right during planning.
I sat for hours with a video editor working on a documentary and marveled as he played the same five seconds over and over again until it looked and sounded absolutely perfect. A productive eight hour day may yield a minute or two of actual footage, but the difference can be like night and day.
“Good enough” should never be good enough for a professional editor.
Pay Your Dues
If you’re reading this and you haven’t edited a commercial video as of yet, you may want to consider doing some volunteer work to build a portfolio. I spent two years editing together television shows for a virtual television station for free before I had my first paying gig. The gig itself was nothing glamorous. I was paid to record an event that took place inside of a virtual world. I spent an hour recording before passing that footage (taken from two PCs) to a team that pieced it together for a marketing company. It was a great learning experience, but nothing compared to those two years I spent learning video production.
It was from there I landed a gig doing radio/television for a company that also did documentaries. I dipped my hand into video editing while I was there, but mostly I learned from more experienced editors with IMDB profiles a mile long and thousands of hours under their belt.
Today, I’m still not at the level I’d like to be. My weekends are often spent trying to learn new techniques for making videos look and sound better. The vast majority of my work never sees the light of day. The stuff that does is largely simple edits. People spend their entire lives editing video on a number of different programs. Editors with 15-20 years of experience will tell you that the learning never stops. There’s a lot more to it than just cutting, pasting, and printing.
What would your video editing tips be? Do you have a program or tutorial in particular you’d recommend someone check out if they’re interested in stepping up to the professional realm?
Lens by Petr Kratochvil