Brooklyn Based Filmmaker

How to Edit Video: Managing the Existential Dread of Editing

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

There’s a lot of advice and tutorials online about how to handle the technical challenges of being a video editor. We published our own “How to Edit Video: A Guide for Beginners” last year. What is less often addressed is how a video editor handles the mental, and at times emotional, challenges of video editing. Or as one of our own team members asked recently: “how do you manage the existential dread of editing?”

Whether you’re working on a passion project or a client video, starting the edit can be an overwhelming prospect. In production we gather hours—sometimes dozens of hours—of material. When it comes to the edit, this can feel like an embarrassment of riches, or scary dense forest. 

So how do you scape the forest? In a word, the way we deal with the “existential dread of editing” is: process. 

Video Editor Process: Media Management

One of the first things you can do to work through the challenge of getting started with your edit is media management. We reviewed media management from a technical standpoint in our beginning editing guide

When it comes to managing the stress of video editing, media management allows you as the video editor to get a stronger sense of what you have. Reviewing and organizing everything before you even open up your video editing software will also allow you to start thinking about how your video may be able to come together. And it will help you feel less overwhelmed, and more organized!  

Andy Grieve, editor of Going Clear, points out you should “Start small. Don’t think, ‘This is the first scene, this is the first clip, this is how I start or end the film,’ just watch the footage and make small things and gradually connect things together.”

If you have the resources, you may also consider bringing on an Assistant Editor to help with managing your edit. 


Video Editor Process: Trust the Revisions Process

Once you have a sense of what material you have and you’ve setup your project, the next thing to do to manage the dread of editing is:trust the revisions process. Your first cut does NOT have to be perfect. In fact, you should fully expect that your first cut will be bad. Remember this quote from Ernest Hemingway: “The first draft of anything is shit.” This is as true for video editors as it is for writers. Your first cut will be bad, and that’s ok.

A bad first cut is required to make a better second cut. The second cut will get better with the third cut…and so on.. This is the process of revisions, and you need to trust that it will lead you to an excellent final cut. If you get too preoccupied with perfection, especially as you’re starting the edit, finishing your cut can feel like an insurmountable peak. Take it one step, one revision, at a time…and you’ll get where you want to go.

The revision process doesn’t have to be something you handle alone. While you may not want to show your first cut to anyone else, feedback at an early stage is valuable. Being a video editor can be isolating at times. It’s a solitary job. This can make the job even more stressful. Brining in trusted voices to give you feedback. New eyes can help you see new possibilities for the edit. 

While video editing is often regarded as a technical process, it is also a creative endeavor. Like any creative endeavor, getting started and following through can overwhelm—especially when you’re new to it. The famous Ira Glass quote on “the gap” between your creative ambitions and capabilities comes to mind:

But does it get easier? To some extent, it does! But it’s always hard. We like this quote from editor Eric Maierson over at the MediaStorm blog

“If you’re concerned about your work and you’re obsessed with craft, I think you will constantly struggle against limitations, particularly your own. And that painful feeling of being exposed for one’s shortcomings is also an acknowledgment of where our focus belongs next time. It’s the pain of a muscle being torn so that it can be built up stronger.” 

Leaning into the process and taking the edit one step at a time can help make even the most daunting edit jobs manageable.