This post was originally published to KitSplit’s Viewfinder Blog.

Whether you’re just getting started as a videographer, or you’re a seasoned filmmaker looking to add editing to your skillset, video editing has never been more accessible. Still, learning how to edit video can be daunting. Video editing, like so many skills in filmmaking, requires a balance of technical skill with artistic vision. 

To help those of you looking to dive into video editing, we’ve assembled this comprehensive guide. It’s geared towards beginners and addresses not just the basics on what you need to get started and resources to help you expand your skills, but also a little bit of the theory on the why and the how of what makes editing work. We’ll start with how to get started editing video, followed by how to think like an editor, then we’ll look at how to edit video, and finally we’ll look at how to finish video.

How to Get Started Editing Video

Before we focus on video editing programs, you’ll need to consider these questions:

What’s Your Project?

Have you shot a project you need to edit, or are you planning a project that you’re going to need to edit? Before you can edit video, you need video to edit. So, if you haven’t already, go shoot something. Anything. (I’d say we’ll wait, but that’s not really how text works.) 

 Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Different projects may require different video editing software and hardware. A video shot on your phone of your friends pulling off some rad skater moves that you want to add text to and upload to Facebook doesn’t require the same kind of software or hardware as a feature-length science fiction epic. We’re going focus on the middle ground, but, we’ll touch briefly on low-end opportunities and high-end requirements, too. 

If you haven’t started your project just yet, we recommend visiting our Ultimate Guide to Pre-Production to help you get it off to a smooth start.

What’s Your Editing Platform? 

Presumably, you own or have access to some form of computing device (otherwise, you’re probably having a hard time reading this blog). Rather than start your editing journey by shelling out for the highest end computer that can handle the top of the line editing software, we’ll take a look at what can be done with what you own. 

The minimum requirements for the most basic of video editing software available for free for Windows or Mac based systems is 2GB of RAM, a 2GHz single core processor, and about 3GB of storage. If your desktop or laptop was released in the last five years, it likely has better specifications than these. These, again, are the minimum requirements for basic video editing software and even for that software, it’s not going to get you far. High-end video editing minimum requirements, for a 4K feature film for example, will likely need a system that has at least 32GB of RAM, a 4GHz quad core i7 processor, 8GB of storage, and a GPU with 8GB of VRAM. 

What’s a safe middle ground?. You should be able to edit your short films, wedding videos, and soon to be award-winning documentaries comfortably on a machine with at least 8GB of RAM, a 2GHz dual core processor, 8GB of storage, and a GPU with 1GB of VRAM. You won’t have lightning fast editing, but you’ll get by just fine on this configuration for a lot of projects. 

Of these specs the ones that really matter for you for having a smooth editing workflow are the RAM and the GPU’s VRAM. Editing software increasingly relies on these, and increasingly the GPU, to process the video you’re editing. The processor speed is important as well but doesn’t really factor in much until you’re exporting or transcoding video. The higher your RAM/VRAM the smoother your editing will go. The faster or more cores your processor has the faster your exports will go. 

Shoot on your smartphone and want to edit on your phone too? If it was released in the last five years it’s likely it can run one of many free or inexpensive video editing apps available. The newer the smartphone, the better version of the app it can run and more smoothly.

What’s Your Video Editing Software? 

You know what machine you’re editing on. So, what software should you choose to edit with? Our middle of the road minimum requirements cover your bases for very simple 4K video editing on a professional grade video editing software. That is to say, if you try to edit 4K video on a machine with those specs, it will be slow and frustrating, but possible. 

So, on our middle-of-the-road machine, what editing software can we use? Here’s a breakdown of the options:

Software/AppPlatform Compatibility & Minimum System RequirementsPrice
iMovie for iOSiOS 11.2Free
Adobe Premiere ClipiOS 8.1 / Android 4.4Free
iMovieMac – Minimum RequirementsFree
Windows Movie Maker/Photos AppPC – Minimum RequirementsFree
Davinci ResolveMac/PC/Linux – Middle-of-the-Road RequirementsFree
Avid Media Composer | FirstMac/PC – Middle-of-the-Road RequirementsFree
Final Cut Pro XMac – Middle-of-the-Road Requirements$299 + tax
Adobe Premiere RushiOS 11, Mac/PC – Middle-of-the-Road Requirements Starting at $9.99/month + tax
Adobe Premiere Pro (includes Premiere Rush)Mac/PC – Middle-of-the-Road RequirementsStarting at $20.99/month + tax
Avid Media Composer Mac/PC – Middle-of-the-Road RequirementsStarting at $19.99/month +tax
Davinci Resolve Studio Mac/PC/Linux – Middle-of-the-Road Requirements$299 + tax

A quick look at the above table should show you that our middle-of-the-road hardware configuration should run even industry standard high-end video editing software. If we’re editing on our phones, we don’t even need the newest phone to do it. You don’t need a top of the line machine to get started on your journey as an editor.

Once we start talking about editing software the questions inevitably come up: “which one is the best?” The answer to this is always: it depends on what you’re doing and what system you’re running the software on. Before you choose your software, it also matters what future you see for yourself as an editor. If you want to go work in a post-production house or on the editing team for a cable news show or become the favorite editor of your favorite director, find out which software they use and learn that. Many professionals favor Premiere (our personal favorite, and the most popular option for indie films and short form web videos) or Avid (a popular pick for higher-end productions and TV shows), but they are not the only video editing software being used. Final Cut Pro X is also popular. Others may be using Davinci Resolve, a newer entry into the field, which was previously just a color correction platform but BlackMagic Design is working to make it an all-in-one post production solution for editing, color, sound, motion graphics, and visual effects. 

Not sure that is your path and just want to work on your own for now? Pick the software that fits your platform and financial capabilities. 

The editing software that is the best is the same as the camera that is the best: the one you have with you. As we approach how to edit video here we’re going to avoid specifics of how any one software works and focus on the broader skills of editing that are applicable across the different software. Every one of them does these same things, but how they do them can be different. We won’t be looking at which button to press but which action you’re looking to take. User guides for the individual software you choose will help you find the exact button or keystroke to use. 

How to Think Like an Editor

You’ve got your project and you are amped to jump in and edit this video. You are ready to start cutting and overlaying and inserting and crossfading and all of that other stuff, but do you know why you’re doing it? The biggest mistake that people make when they first start to edit is they don’t take the time to understand why they might cut or overlay or insert or crossfade now and not in ten frames or two minutes. 

The first thing you have to do in learning how to edit video is learn how to think like an editor. Understand how editing works on the psychology of the audience so you understand why you’re making an edit when you do. 

The Kuleshov Effect: How Editing Works At All

If I hold up for you a photo of a bowl of soup and then I hold up for you a close-up photo of a man’s face, what does that mean? Probably that I’ve cornered you and I’m showing you my vacation photos. I like soup. Well, what if in a film you see a bowl of soup and then a man’s face? Naturally, you assume these are connected. Perhaps it is his soup or at least soup he wants. Why should we think that at all, though? There’s no reason to draw a conclusion that these two things are related except that we saw them in sequence. This is known as The Kuleshov Effect. 

The Kuleshov Effect was demonstrated by Soviet Filmmaker Lev Kuleshov in the 1910s. He showed the following reel to audiences, and they claimed that the actor’s expression changed with each pairing:

In fact, the actor’s expression never changes. It’s the same shot repeated. We assume not just relationships between shots but also emotional content based on the pairings of the shots. The idea here is that editing works because it plays on the basic psychology of human beings, we infer relationships between things that are presented to us in sequence. We see patterns and connections whether they exist or not. Editing relies on this basic feature of human psychology. Without it, no movie you watch would ever make sense. 

The Kuleshov Effect can be summed up with 1+1=2. 

For an additional fun example, please enjoy “The Keanu Effect.”

Eisenstein’s Five Methods of Montage: Telling the Story with Editing

So we now understand the basic principle of how editing works in the first place, but how do we use this to tell a story? This is where we turn to another Soviet filmmaker, Sergei Eisenstein, and his “Five Methods of Montage.” Eisenstein is known for creating stunning, classic silent films like Battleship Potemkin, Strike, and October. He also wrote extensively on the editing process, or as he referred to it: montage. 

One of Eisenstein’s many useful observations as a film theorist was his description of five methods of montage. He broke down five different ways that editing can be used to tell the story and the impact these methods have on the audience. These methods are known as metric, rhythmic, tonal, overtonal, and intellectual.

These methods progress from more concrete with metric to more abstract with intellectual, but don’t make the mistake of assuming that this is a hierarchy of best to worst. Also important to note is that often you are not using merely one of these methods but combinations of them. 

Metric Montage

Metric is the most concrete and for many the simplest method of editing to understand. It is essentially cutting based on timing. How long is a shot? Three seconds? Fifteen frames? The idea behind metric montage is that the cut is based on a determined length of time whether it’s a few frames or a few minutes. Each clip used may be the same length or progress to shorter or longer clips. With this method you can build a rhythm for your audience. You can also use it to build or release tension depending on if clips get shorter or longer. 

Rhythmic Montage

Rhythmic montage is likely the most recognizable to the casual film viewer. Rhythmic montage is letting the movement and content of the shot determine when to cut. We most often see this in continuity editing in narrative film. If, for example, a person throws a ball in one shot and a second person catches it in a second shot, then when and how you cut from one shot to the next is determined by the rhythm of the content of the shots and the rhythm you’re establishing for the scene. 

We know, because of the principle Kuleshov described, that the audience will interpret the ball as thrown from one person to the next. They will see it as the same ball. Whether the audience perceives the throw as fast, slow, short, or long will be determined by if we cut before the ball leaves the first frame or how long we wait after the ball leaves the frame. It will be determined by whether we cut to the second shot with the actual catch, as the ball is in the shot, or well before the ball enters the shot. This rhythm is determined by the content and our choice of when to cut with both shots. 

Tonal Montage

Tonal montage is also driven by the content of the shots you’re cutting between. Rather than using the content to drive continuity showing action from multiple angles, tonal montage is matching the visual or auditory content of shots to connect two separate locations, people, or ideas. This is most often seen in match cuts. 

Match cuts are matching the contents or movement in shots to visually connect them for the audience. In match cuts we may cut from a person leaping in one shot to landing in the next. An often cited match cut comes from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. In 2001 the film skips thousands of years by cutting from the first tool of early man, a bone thrown into the air, to a satellite circling earth. The cut is connecting the past and the film’s present visually. It is also connecting the bone and satellite as tools. 

Overtonal Montage

Overtonal montage is the use of metric, rhythmic, and/or tonal montage over a sequence to convey story. Rather than being about cutting just from one shot to the next overtonal is how multiple cuts are put together to convey meaning. Overtonal is the impression that is given by a scene, film, or sequence, by combining multiple cuts. 

Overtonal is not a specific method but a how the different methods are combined. The way a sequence may shift from metric cuts to rhythmic or tonal or any other combination thereof has meaning for the audience. Using multiple fast metric cuts and then switching to rhythmic cuts can convey a fast paced start–or perhaps a routine start–which then slows down. Edgar Wright has used combinations of cuts like this in films like Shaun of the Dead to convey routine. 

Intellectual Montage

Intellectual montage is the most abstract of Eisenstein’s methods. It is essentially cutting between two very different shots to convey a relationship that otherwise might not typically be directly inferred. Sometimes intellectual montage might still utilize the features of tonal montage but in a way that the relationship might be less immediately obvious. 

Intellectual montage is drawing connections between the otherwise unconnected. One example is Willard’s execution of Kurtz as the scene cuts to the animal sacrifice in Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Visually connecting these two separate but similar actions connects them conceptually also. Kurtz’s death is a sacrifice. In Roeg’s Walkabout the young aboriginal man slaughtering the animal found in the outback for himself and the lost children to eat intercut with footage from a city butcher shop is another example. The young aboriginal man may be seen as uncivilized by some for slaughtering the animal but he’s not doing anything different than what is done in an average butcher shop. 

The five methods of montage could be summed up as 1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1=pants.

The literal sum of the parts is not necessarily the idea that the audience will walk away with. The methods of montage should be viewed less in how to cut from one shot to the next but how each of these methods of cutting from one shot to the next can be used together to convey a greater meaning.

Here is another explanation of Eisenstein’s methods with some examples: 

Walter Murch’s Six Rules

Walter Murch is an American editor and sound designer whose book In the Blink of an Eye has become a very popular volume on video editing. Murch presented in his book six rules for cutting. They are six priorities to consider when making a cut. Essentially a good cut takes under consideration: emotion, story, rhythm, eye trace, 2D plane of screen, and 3D space. The order and the weight Murch says should be given to each is: 

  1. Emotion 51% – Is it true to the emotion of the moment?
  2. Story 23% – Does it advanced the story?
  3. Rhythm 10% – Does it occur at a moment that is rhythmically interesting and “right”?
  4. Eye trace 7% – Does it acknowledge eye-trace (the concern with the location and movement of the audience’s focus of interest within the frame?
  5. 2D plane of screen 5% – Does it respect “planarity” (the grammar of three dimensions transposed by photography to two)?
  6. 3D space 4% – Does it respect three-dimensional continuity of the actual space of where people are in the room and in relation to one another?

Ideally, every cut in a scene should serve all six of those criteria. Every cut should serve the emotions of the scene or that you’re seeking to inspire in the audience. Every cut should push the story forward. Every cut should maintain the rhythm of the scene. Every cut should follow the “eye trace,” where in the frame the eye is moving to, of the audience. Every cut should maintain the integrity of the 2D plane of the scene. If a car leaves out of the left side of the frame it should enter at the right side of the next frame. Every cut should maintain the integrity of the 3D space of the scene. The 180 degree rule should be adhered to and characters should maintain their positions relative to one another. 

While every cut ideally should serve all six rules, when a cut doesn’t there is a hierarchy to deciding what to favor. Ideally, every cut will satisfy most of these six criteria.  But that’s not always the case. So, in short, this list gives priority to the subjective over the objective. Emotion should be the first and most important consideration. When choosing when and how to cut are you maintaining the emotion of the scene? Are you building the emotion you want to elicit in the audience? If not, reconsider the cut. 

For another explanation of Murch’s Six Rules try: No Film School’s “6 ‘Rules’ for Good Cutting According to Oscar-Winning Editor Walter Murch”

How to Edit Video

Now that you have video editing software and a basic understanding of how to think like an editor when you approach your video let’s look at actually editing a video. In the broad scope there are five stages of post-production: 

  1. Media Management – Organizing the media for your project.
  2. Assembly – The start of your edit, a loose initial construction of your video.
  3. Rough Cut – The first full version of your edit, still very loose.
  4. Fine Cut – A refined version of your edit, close to finished but still needing some polish.
  5. Final Cut –The final version of the edit, 

Media Management: Before You Edit Video

We’re not going to get started editing just yet. I know. You’re excited. You have this amazing project and you want to dive into editing. Before we get to the fun part of editing we have to take care of a little more business: media management. 

Media management is a process of organizing your materials to make it easier to work with and easier to find when you need to bring it into your project. There are multiple methods for media management. Different teams may have different methods. Different individuals can have different methods. There are different ways to get organized. The important part isn’t so much how you organize, but that you are organized.

Since we’re just getting started with editing, let’s establish a couple of simple practices for you for your media management. First, your project should be on an external hard drive. On that drive you should have a folder for your project. Name the folder the name of the project. Within that folder I recommend a minimum of two sub-folders: video and audio. 

Within the video folder you may further organize your videos depending on the type of project you have and how you shot. If you’re working on a documentary, you might organize footage by date or by subject. If you’re working on a narrative, you may organize by scene or again by date. What matter most is that you have a consistent method. I prefer to then review each video and rename each file based on the contents. For a documentary I might change the name of BRoll of a birthday party to BROLL_Birthday_Party.[file extension]. For a narrative project I am likely to rename based on the scene shot and take. So, scene 1 shot B take 5 I would rename 1B-5.[file extension]. This allows for you to find any of your footage at a glance.

Within the audio folder you may further organize your audio files. You may organize them the same as your video files. I again prefer to go through each file and rename it based on contents. With audio you may also be bringing in music, sound effects, or ambient sounds. I find it helpful to create sub-folders in the audio folder for that audio as well. 

In addition to the video and audio folders you may find it useful to have folders for additional media needed for your project. Some projects you may use still images for and an images folder may be helpful. You may want a folder just for your project files for your video editing software. Some projects need more organization than others. 

Now that you have everything organized on your drive, it’s time to import your footage into your chosen video editing software. With some platforms like Premiere, the software will only reference the footage in its location on your drive. Other platforms like Final Cut Pro X will import your footage into an archive or library file. Regardless of which platform you import your footage into you should take the time to replicate your folder structure in the software so it’s easy to find your media while you work. 

I’m not going to dive into logging your footage just to keep it simple for this how to, but professional video editing software includes options for detailed tagging of your footage in the program. Check the link in the resources below for more on that. 

Resources

Why You Should Master the Under-Appreciate Art of a Good Pre-Edit – Premium Beat

Media Management in Adobe Premiere

Media Management in Final Cut Pro X

Davinci Resolve’s Media Page

Starting a Project in Avid Media Composer 

Media Management in Avid Media Composer

Assembly: How to Get an Idea of What You Have

Now that you’ve taken the time to do your media management and get all of your project media organized (which you totally didn’t skip, right? Right?) we can dive into the first steps of putting your edit together—the assembly. An assembly is the most rough and loosest version of the project. The assembly is a very messy stage. It doesn’t represent at all your final project. This is often when you’re still trying to figure out what it’s going to be and what works and what doesn’t.

As you start your assembly you should make sure you’re very familiar with your footage. You probably got somewhat familiar with it during the media management stage. During the assembly, a typical process is to watch all of footage, and add clips to a timeline that you like in roughly an order that might work for telling your story. 

To add clips to a timeline you first need to create a timeline. A timeline is the canvas on which you are going to work on for telling your story. Depending on the software you chose a timeline might have a different name like sequence or project. The timeline has two important common settings you must pay attention to: frame size and frame rate.

Frame size is the height and width of the video. High definition video, for example, has a frame size of 1920 pixels wide by 1080 pixels tall. Your frame size should match the majority of the footage you shot for the best results. High definition 1920 by 1080 is the most common frame size today. 

Frame rate is how many individual frames of footage are shown per second. It’s important in editing to keep in mind that video and film is not actually continuous motion but a series of individual images (frames) shown to us at a speed that our brain reads as continuous motion. The standard frame rate for film is 23.98 frames per second. This is sometimes rounded up to 24 frames per second. The standard frame rate for television in the United States is 29.97 frames per second. The reason for the difference has to do with that AC electricity in the United States cycles 60 times per second. Your timeline frame rate should match the majority of the footage you shot for the best results. 

Once you have created a timeline matching the majority of the settings for your footage you can start adding clips you like to the timeline. You can create a clip from one of your videos in the timeline using a method referred to as three-point editing. This process involves selecting one of your videos in your project, and selecting a segment of it to add to your timeline using what are known as in-points and out-points. It’s important to keep in mind that with video editing you are manipulating time. With your in-point and out-point you are defining a selection of time from the video. The in-point is the start of the selection. The out-point is the end of the selection. 

Once you’ve set an in-point and out-point for a part of the video you would like to use you can then add it to your timeline. To add to your timeline you need to be aware of when the playhead is on your timeline. That playhead when you’re editing defines at what point in the timeline you will be adding a clip. The typical method for adding once you’ve defined the start and end of the clip is to use the insert function of the video editing software. 

Insert clips into your timeline in a loose order of how you think they’ll fit together. Don’t worry about it making sense. Don’t worry about having redundancies or repeated moments. The assembly is all about figuring out what you have and the rough shape of how it goes together.

Resources

How Three-Point Editing Can Help You Edit Faster – No Film School

Explore Adobe Premiere Pro Panels

Learn Editing Skills for Adobe Premiere Pro

Final Cut Pro X Editing Overview

DaVinci Resolve’s Edit Page

Editing a Sequence in Avid Media Composer

Rough Cut: Finding the Shape of Your Video Edit

Once you have an assembly, you can start to refine it. One good practice to get into is make a copy of the timeline you used to create your assembly. This preserves the work of putting together your assembly in case you need to go back to something you might remove during the rough cut process. The rough cut is about getting closer to the feel of your final product. It still will be very loose at this point.

Once you’ve added the clips you expect to use to your timeline you’ll start to reorganize and trim your clips. Within the timeline you can move a clip to any point. You can click and drag a clip and reorder all of them. Different software have different functions for this. Trim tools are available in various editing software. There are some variations to trim tools but in the end they all accomplish the same thing: shortening or lengthening a clip in the timeline. 

For the rough cut, re-organize clips in the timeline to fit the story you’re trying to tell. Go back and review the hierarchy defined by Walter Murch. Start thinking about that hierarchy at this point as the video starts to take shape. The rough cut won’t quite feel like what you want your final video to look like yet, but you’ll start to see some glimmer of the final product now.

You may want to show this rough cut to a few trusted colleagues or friends to get some thoughts about the direction of the video. As this is the rough cut, try to ignore issues of sound or color. You won’t deal with those until much much later in the process. 

Resources

Precision Editing with Adobe Premiere’s Trim Mode – Premium Beat

Trimming Clips in Adobe Premiere Pro

Overview of Trimming Clips in Final Cut Pro X

Working with Trim Edits in Avid Media Composer

Davinci Resolve’s Edit Page

Fine Cut: Getting Closer to a Finished Video Edit

Once you settle on your rough cut and settle on the general approach to the video you can start to refine it into a fine cut. As with the assembly, duplicate the rough cut timeline and rename the duplicate to fine cut. The fine cut will be a much more solid version of your video. The broad strokes of the story will be set, but some individual moments may still need a lot of work. 

With the fine cut you may start to add more detail elements to the timeline. As you refine your cut and settle on getting the edit closer to the final product with the trim tools you may want to start adding elements like titles, lower-thirds, or other graphics. These are elements that start to come into play with the fine cut. 

While you still shouldn’t be very concerned about the sound and color with the fine cut, if you’re going to show the fine cut to people to get their input you may want to do a little light work on those. Adjust volume levels so dialogue is audible. Add some temporary music. Add maybe a simple color preset to footage, if it’s available in the software you use. You’ll polish these later, but they can help people watching and giving you feedback a better sense of what your vision for the final product is.

Resources

Adding Titles and Graphics in Adobe Premiere Pro

Overview of Adding Titles in Final Cut Pro X

Title Tools in Avid Media Composer

Adding Titles in Davinci Resolve

Adjusting Gain and Volume in Adobe Premiere Pro

View and Correct Audio Levels in Final Cut Pro X

Working with Audio in Avid Media Composer

Using Davinci Resolve’s Fairlight Page for Audio Editing and Mixing

Final Cut: Let’s Just Be Done Editing This Video Already

The final cut is well, what it sounds like. When it comes to the process of video editing, it’s not always a straight line from assembly to your final cut, however. In fact, sometimes you get all the way to a fine cut and then realize you need to take a step back and rethink the edit. As you consider the process of how to edit video you should understand that, generally, there are three triggers that define the cut as the “final cut:”

  • Running out of time – There’s a deadline that has to be met.
  • Running out of money – Whoever is spending money on the project doesn’t want to anymore.
  • Running out of patience – You just can’t with this video anymore. You just can’t. 

Again, create a duplicate timeline to work on your final cut. 

Depending on how big or complex your project is you may finish your video on your own in your video editing software, or you may need to coordinate with a sound editor and/or a color grader to finish the project. 

If you need to coordinate with the sound editor and/or color grader this final cut is what we call “picture lock.” Picture lock is when you’ve committed that you have completed editing the video of the project and won’t be making further edits. The picture is locked. This is done because color and sound are dependent on timing of the project and you can’t coordinate that properly if the times keep changing. Even if you’re doing your sound and color in the software yourself you should stick to the concept of “picture lock.” It will save you time and frustration later. 

More on sound editing and color correction and grading below. 

Once you’ve finalized your edit you can export your video and share it through whatever means you like. Common settings for an export is to export an h.264 MP4 with a variable bitrate with a target of 10-15Mbps. Use the same frame size and frame rate as your timeline for the best results. 

Resources

How to Export and Share from Adobe Premiere Pro

Sharing Your Projects from Final Cut Pro X

Outputting a Sequence From Avid

Using the Davinci Resolve Deliver Page

How to Finish Video

Sound Editing: How to Edit Video Sound

Sound editing is a whole discipline on its own beyond video editing. There are significant number of skills wrapped up in sound editing. At its most basic, sound editing involves refining audio recorded on shoot days and adding new audio, whether that’s music, ambience, or sound effects, to the project. Here are a few tips for accomplishing a simple sound edit. 

One of the first things you should do as you prepare for your sound edit is go through your timeline and reduce the amount of audio used from the shoot days. 

Once you’ve cut up your audio from the shoot, add roomtone recorded on the day to replace the silent moments and ease us from one dialogue clip to the next. If you neglected to record roomtone, lay down an appropriate ambient audio track under the whole scene or sequence. 

After you add roomtone, if needed, you can start to add in sound effects and foley. This can be a fun part. Finding and timing just the right sound for a door closing, a foot step, a beer can, a slap, or a faucet can be satisfying and as these sounds come into play the scenes and sequences of your video will start to come more alive. 

Once your scenes and sequences start to have that more natural feelm you can start to underscore the emotional content with music. A score written specifically for a project is always going to sound best, but if you can’t afford that, there are many sources for existing music that you can use for cheap or free. (See our guide to free or inexpensive resources). 

In general, you’ll be manipulating the volume of these different types of audio to mix them to sound natural. Your dialogue audio should be reading at between -3db and -18db on the audio meters in your editor. -3db should be as loud as it gets with a shout and -18db should be as quiet as it gets with a whisper. You’re aiming for your dialogue audio to be right around -10db most of the time. This isn’t exact but it’s a good range and rule of thumb to keep in mind for dialogue that will be intelligible across multiple viewing platforms. Adjust sound effects and ambience to be much quieter and make sure they never compete with the dialogue.

Two notes of caution on audio. First, your sound should only ever reach 0db on the scale for the loudest sounds like a door slam or a laugh. Even then try to keep it below 0db or “peaking.” Second, you should not trust your ears with the audio levels. Just because you can hear it on your fancy editing headphones doesn’t mean a viewer will hear it on their laptop speakers or earbuds. Trust the audio levels meter. The range for dialogue above is safe across most devices. 

Resources

FreeSound.org

Incompetech

FreeMusicArchive

Foley Artists: How Movie Sound Effects are Made

50 Free or Cheap Resources KitSplit Blog Article

Editing Audio in the Adobe Premiere Pro Timeline

Overview of Audio Editing in Final Cut Pro X

Working with Audio in Avid Media Composer

Using Davinci Resolve’s Fairlight Page for Audio Editing and Mixing

Color Correction and Color Grading: How to Refine the Look of Your Video

When it comes to the look of the video, manipulating the color can do a lot to help with the tone and how viewers react to a video. Emphasizing cooler colors like blues and greens can bring a sense of calm. Emphasizing warmer colors like orange and red can imbue a sense of danger. Desaturating color can give a sense that you’ve made a Batman film. 

There is a distinction between color correction and color grading, though they are often used interchangeably. Color correction is adjusting the color settings to get the picture to look natural and consistent from shot to shot within a scene or sequence. Color grading is adding a look to the footage to set the tone of a scene or suggest an emotion to the audience. 

When working with color for your video, the first thing you should do is color correction. Make sure all the footage looks natural and consistent from shot to shot. Then go through and think about how the audience should feel in the scene. Should it be a dark and dramatic scene or a bright and fun scene? The color is going to help cue the audience for that.

A word of caution on color: you can very quickly find yourself pushing color too far and ending up with a scene that seems normal because of the time you’ve been spending looking at it, but that later will look very strange. It’s important as you work to consistently compare what you’ve done to the original footage. Take regular breaks. Otherwise you can end up with something that looks very strange

Resources

C.M. De La Vega’s Adobe Premiere Lumetri Color Tutorial

Video Editing Techniques for Color Correcting Skin Tones

Color Correction and Color Grading in Davinci Resolve

Overview of Color Correction in Final Cut Pro X

Color Correction in Avid Media Composer

A Final Word on How to Edit Video

This is just a primer on how to edit video. The topic is very broad and complicated. Every project has different needs and challenges. From what’s here hopefully you can get started regardless of the platform you’ve chosen. 

If you have an editing project that needs more computing power than you own right now, KitSplitters have post-production gear available including computers, external GPUs, RED Rockets, and more. 

More Resources to Explore and Build Your Skills

In the Blink of an Eye by Walter Murch

Film Form: Essays in Film Theory by Sergei Eisenstein

Every Frame a Painting Video Series on Editing 

The Satoshi Kon Video in particular has been an inspiration to me

An Explanation of the 180 degree rule

The Ultimate Guide to Film Credits Order Hierarchy (with Template) – Studio Binder

3 Film Editing Techniques You Can Learn From Star Wars – Studio Binder

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