Master The Invisible Art

To edit video, you need footage, software,
an open mind and,
perhaps, a willingness to collaborate

Editing video can seem daunting, especially for rookies, but there are basic principles and skills that anyone can use to build a story that will engage an audience.

“You must ask yourself if every shot is really necessary to tell your story,” says Tobias Beul, an editor of feature films, shorts and commercials. “Every decision you make, every shot you choose, the main question should be, ‘Is this adding value to the point I want to make?’ If something defuses what you’re trying to say, or is redundant, it should go.”

Editing is known as the invisible art. “You don’t notice good editing when you’re watching something,” says Tobias. “Bad editing you see and feel right away. Unnecessary repetition; shots that are too long or short; jarring shots that spoil the flow of the story. Editing adds rhythm and context, and keeps attention. Whenever you feel that you’re being taken out of the story, that can be a sign of bad editing.

Tobias uses Avid Media Composer, the pro editor’s go-to software, but both its learning curve and price are steep. For the lesser-experienced, he recommends Final Cut (free 90-day trial, then £299 Pro version) and DaVinci Resolve (free limited version or £269 Studio version). “Final Cut is intuitive for beginners,” he says. “The limited version of Resolve is phenomenal, about 90 per cent of the full application and a really good choice if you want to explore editing.”

Ray Demski, a photographer and filmmaker who has graduated from shooting video with his Nikon D850 to a Nikon Z 6, uses Final Cut Pro. He says it’s “fast and simple” but he also tries to work with an editor wherever possible. “The obvious minus of doing that is the price,” he says, half-joking, “but there are so many plusses that working with an editor, if you can, is a smart move.”

With low or no budget, paying for an editor might be impossible. No-one should work for free, but reaching out to your network, or even to someone you don’t know, to ask advice or help, could reap rewards. In the absence of money, try an exchange of services – half a day of your skilled labour in return for half a day of an editor’s, for example – or swap a print from your archive for feedback.

“If you see work that you like and it fits with the style of the film you want to make,” says Tobias, “then just get in touch with the editor. Instagram is a good place to find talent in all areas of film production and post-production, including editors.”

An editor brings an unbiased, fresh eye to your footage. “He or she only thinks about the story and the end result,” says Ray, “and thinks nothing about how hard it was to get a shot. Every stills photographer knows the feeling of making a 10-image final selection from thousands of images. With film, you’re doing the same thing and trying to tell a story. That story might not need a shot you spent half a day of hard work to get. Also, something obvious to you as the person who shot the footage may not be obvious to outsiders – or it’s too obvious. A new, different approach is always welcome.”

Ray and Tobias have worked together on two short films, including Bukom, a boxing documentary which Ray shot in Accra, Ghana in autumn 2017. Both men say that working in collaboration requires diplomacy, with egos left at the door.

“When you feel the work is taking a wrong turn,” says Tobias, “it’s important first to explore properly the direction that has been put forward, but then to also speak openly, with good humour, about other options and why they might be better.”

Also key to successful editing is never forgetting who will make the final judgement on your film: its audience. “It’s important to remember how you want the audience to feel, and whether the edit is doing that,” says Tobias. “An editor is in many ways the first audience member you’ll have.” Satisfy that viewer, and many more will surely follow.

Tobias Beul
Tobias Beul
Ray Demski
Ray Demski

Ray Demski shoots boxing film Bukom in Accra, Ghana
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Demski readies a close-up making Bukom

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Ray Demski and editor Tobias Beul

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