Creating a Better Edit
CreativeCOW presents Creating a Better Edit -- Art of the Edit Tutorial

NASA Johnson Space Center
Houston Texas USA All rights reserved.

During the past few years, Timothy Allen has had the opportunity to work with some very gifted video producers and editors. In this article he spends just a little time sharing some of the things that he's picked up from them that should help spark your creativity and keep your edits fresh.

Creating a Better Edit

by Timothy J. Allen
Senior Non-linear Video Editor, NASA Langley Research Center

©2001 Timothy J. Allen. All Rights Reserved. Used at by kind permission of the author.

Article Focus:
During the past few years, Timothy Allen has had the opportunity to work with some very gifted video producers and editors. In this article he spends just a little time sharing some of the things that he's picked up from them that should help spark your creativity and keep your edits fresh.


Before you ever digitize your first frame of footage, you need to be aware of the big picture. You should already have a clear understanding and vision of the intended audience and what they are supposed to get from your presentation. When you have a clear mission of your project, it will help guide you through all of your edit decisions. If you are doing non-broadcast video you may even be able to know where your audience will be when they view your video. If you know this factor going in, it can help you get to a finished product that is as effective as it can be.


Pictures are worth a thousand words but it's the music that lets your audience know how they should feel about what they are watching. You can have the exact same shot of video with five different pieces of music under it and people will give you five different interpretations of what they saw. To borrow a phrase from Frank Capria, "Let your audio lead the edit." The audio is the one part of your video that people can't run away from. Even if they are taking a bathroom break, they can still hear your message (albeit from the next room). Your pacing is also more affected by audio than video, because people will tend to overlook a bad video cut, while a bad audio cut cannot be ignored. For this reason its important not only to choose your music carefully, but also to get it into your program as soon as possible.


It's so easy to get caught up trimming three frames here and one frame there, that we sometimes forget to view it from the audiences' perspective. Every once in a while, take the time to get your head more than 15 inches away from the monitor, lean back in your chair and watch your programs from their perspective. Even better, take a break and leave the edit suite for a few minutes. When you come back, start the program several minutes before the cut youre looking for, lean back and watch with fresh eyes. In this age of the non-linear edit suite, too often, we don't get the ideas that used to burst forth when you had to watch a tape pre-roll a dozen times in a row. Avoid the temptation to jump instantly to the clips that you are working with at the moment, and you will be rewarded with new ideas about how to do things.


While we're talking about getting out of the editor's chair, let me expand to say:


We spend so much time perfecting our skills in the edit suite; we sometimes forget that the things that can be learned outside of it can be even more valuable. I agree that most people don't dig deep enough with the tools that they already have in their suite (which video editor has the time to learn PhotoShop completely?) But...

My point is not to forget about learning those things, just don't limit yourself to only knowing about equipment that you already have. I would suggest that you get out of the suite and take some classes in anything but the equipment that you edit on. Any good liberal arts class will help ignite the fires of your creativity and add to your expertise in your edit sessions. A good drawing class will help you frame your composites better; a good history class could give you some insight into a project down the road. A good philosophy class... well, lets just say that I've seen the need for a good sense of the big picture more than a few times in my sessions.

I spend a lot of time studying and playing drums. It makes sense that the study of music appreciation can only help your sense of pacing during your sessions. (Especially when someone says that they want a sequence a little more Miles Davisish.)

Even if you don't see a direct correlation between the subjects you are interested in and video editing, just changing gears for a while will help recharge your creative batteries. It's been well documented that people tend to be more creative when they are relaxed, but still challenged. So, get off your butt and out of that rut!


Just as your work should start long before the actual edit session, it's not over when the client approves the edit. First of all, there are some projects that just never seem to die. That's all the more reason to archive and organize all the materials that you have used in you session. Give yourself time to clear your workspace before starting another project. This not only helps you find things, but also gives you a mental break between projects.

Last but not least, a couple days after the edit session call your client and thank him (or her) for the opportunity to work for them. Even if you had no choice in the matter, it helps to discuss what went right (or wrong) during the session. You may want to wait until the heat has cooled down from your session before you do this, but people like to be remembered for their work and are usually happy to know that you are planning to make the next session even better.

---Timothy Allen is a cowmunity leader in the Art of the Edit COW, the Corporate Video COW and the Business Practices & Procedures COW as well as an active member in many of the other cows. Feel free to pop in and comment about this article.

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