June 23, 2016 at 9:04AM

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Editing my Short Film = Paralysis

Hi All!
Over the winter break I wrote my first short film script and directed it in May! We had a blast making it and I believe we got some really funny and amazing stuff! The only problem is I have about 40-60 minutes worth of coverage for each scene, and since this is the first time I'm editing my own narrative stuff (I edit corporate video by day), I'm feeling extremely paralyzed/anxious about it. I want to do justice to the performances and writing by cutting the best possible version of it.

Any go-to tips you guys follow when editing your scenes? Any special workflows or processes you follow to make cutting a scene more manageable? Feeling a bit overwhelmed so any thoughts would be appreciated, thanks!

7 Comments

For starters, if you didn't take notes on set, I would recommend taking the time to watch through your footage & make detailed notes. It is a lot of work on the front end but it will make the process of cutting that much easier.

Then refer back to your script for your first cut & go scene by scene. After that first cut, start finding the story in editing. Try moving things around. Also something I will do is to mark out my 3 act structure according to the time frame the film needs to fit in & try to hit certain emotional points at my act breaks, turning points, etc.

Also a BIG thing to think about as you finish up your edit is to think about pacing. Do not be afraid to cut something if it makes the story stronger, even if it is a scene or shot that you love & spent a lot of time on in production.

Hope that helps!

June 23, 2016 at 10:35AM

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Derek Armitage
Filmmaker & Vlogger
568

Derek was spot on. On the part on not being afraid to cut I would add that if you think a shot is taking too long cut it.

Search for some film editing articles and videos on youtube. I'll leave you this link: https://www.youtube.com/user/RJFilmSchool/search?query=editing

Poke around their videos. One of the best film making advice & content on youtube.

Herman Delgado

June 23, 2016 at 11:18AM

Hi Gustavo,

Congrats on getting your short film "in the can". So many projects don't ever make it that far.

When it comes to editing, I'm a big fan of editing in iterations. You can always improve an edit, select a better performance, or cut a shot out entirely, but all of those require that you have something to work from. How quickly that comes to be depends purely on your media management skills (notes from the set, clip organization, etc).

I usually start by throwing all of my footage into Adobe Prelude and make subclips out of all my valid takes and organize them by Scene/Shot/Take. Then I can bring them into Premiere and begin dropping the best takes in a row based on the script. If I have multiple really good options for a shot, I'll bring those in too. The key is to make this a purely mechanical process at first. Don't judge final quality, don't judge performances, just put clips on a timeline. Just pretend you're an assistant editor who's responsible for gathering these scenes together.

Second pass: Now I start looking carefully at the different takes for each scene and judging "is this the best performance of this part". I'm still not worrying too much about the "big picture" yet, I just want to get the best of each take together. By the end of this pass, I'll have a series of rough takes together on a timeline with exactly zero flow. We start working on the flow in the next pass.

Third pass: Now I start really editing. I go in and cut heads and tails down and bring the different shots together. This is where the first signs of polish and shine start to show up. It's a little premature to dig into your overall flow, for that you ideally want a second set of trusted, fresh eyes to help. But, for this pass, I only care about the flow within the scene itself.

Fourth pass: Now I take my rough scenes and start playing them together, looking for pacing and feel. As I go through, I should be able to depart from the script, and focus on the story that's actually been told.

If you want, you can check out a livestream I did where I worked on redoing one of my older short films. https://youtu.be/TlMTbkAsv_M

Hope that helps!
-Mike

June 23, 2016 at 1:05PM

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Mike Racine
Filmmaker
345

Gustavo, this is basically how narrative films "finish" the editing process: there's a deadline.

Either a contractual deadline or the editor is only booked through a certain date. Probably only a very small percentage of films beyond very healthily budgeted/scheduled studio features ever are considered 100% done, editing-wise, by the director and editor(s). You usually just get to the point that what it would cost to go in and rework those few imperfect scenes isn't worth it. The cost usually being via complications for the audio team who have probably already begun their work.

I'd recommend you arrange a small secret screening with a few people you greatly respect. Figure out how long it "should" take someone to finish the edit and then schedule the screening 90% of that time from now (ie. if it should take 30 days to edit, schedule the screening in 27 days). Pretty much everyone always does their best work when there is just slightly not enough time to achieve what they want... you'll feel less comfortable that way and way less likely to let yourself fall into lazy mode. I know it sounds weird but humans are weird.

Sitting watching the cut with other people will magically make it blaringly obvious what you did wrong, even before you get their input... because you will likely feel the pangs of shame and embarrassment during the moments that "don't work" in the edit. It'll all be strangely obvious all of a sudden. For the last 10% of teh schedule, it'll be incredibly easy to make those fixes like you have laser vision or something.

Editing with no deadline or "social consequence" is like playing chess against yourself — it can go on for infinity. Hope this somehow helps and best of luck.

June 23, 2016 at 5:25PM

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Jaan Shenberger
designer/animator & live-action director/DP
1291

Get someone else to edit your film, especially someone who has no previous connections to the footage - since this allows someone to edit your film with no strings attached to certain shots that may have took hours to take whilst laying in a puddle or random non important shots of birds in the sky, which too you may have some personal and sentimental value. However, to everyone else it probably won't have the same effect.

July 3, 2016 at 9:09PM

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Toby Garside
Writer, Director, Director of Photography, Indie Filmmaker
251

Read Walter Murch's In the Blink of an Eye book. I haven't had the chance yet, but every skilled YouTube short filmmaker suggests that as the best resource for learning to edit. The guy won oscars so it's a reputable source. Read first then edit. It'll make the process much clearer and less disgruntled. Congrats on the project!

July 20, 2016 at 3:05AM

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Lorenzo Ducai
Director/Cinematographer/Editor/Wedding Photographer
235

Thank you all so much. This was very helpful!! I've gotten going in the edit, more just focusing on getting a rough first cut together, then I'll try to go back and really be more vigilant about cuts, fine tuning, etc.

August 10, 2016 at 11:09AM

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