The Academy Award-nominated film editor of 12 Years a Slave, Arrival, Shame, and Blade Runner 2049, Joe Walker, shares his insights and some great tips on how to edit video.
By Joe Walker
This article about how to edit video is part of our VIDEO series, proudly brought to you in association with Canon.
Here’s how to edit video:
Be bold. If footage hasn’t grabbed you in 30 seconds, you don’t stand a chance. You have to arrest people right away. From there, think economically. Give yourself the freedom to use only what’s most effective and ignore the rest. Don’t be frightened to cut big chunks out. When the audience knows where it’s going, they don’t mind skipping over something. Sim-plicity and elegance: that’s what you’re aiming for.
My style, if I have one, is to try to do the maximum with the least amount of actions. It’s kind of slow, to be honest. Not boring. To me it’s a balance between tension and speed. If it’s tense, then it’s never going to feel slow. If I’m cutting a dramatic scene, I try to find the most economical way around the scene that shows you everything you need to know. I’m guessing where an audience might want to look. Maybe that’s a reaction, or it could be the action itself. If scenes are too busy, it has the effect of making the thing feel too long. If it’s very cutty – endlessly bouncing around – that’s a turnoff.
Sometimes showing where everyone is in the scene is not as effective emotionally as showing something very specific and unique. Remember: just because they shot it doesn’t mean you have to use it. When I see someone holding my hand too tight, I kind of reject it like a skin graft. It feels like I’m being pushed. I like to find my own way around a story, to invest. I want to be drawn into a screen rather than just sit back passively.
Concentrate on an edit that works without music. Even if you know it needs music, it should still stand on its own two feet as a visual and verbal piece. Sometimes Denis [Villeneuve, the director of Blade Runner 2049 ] and I will turn the sound off completely. If it works visually, then you have a clue that it will work with everything. Once you’re satisfied that you’ve given the film the greatest scrutiny in its barest, most unpolished form, that’s when you allow music and sound effects in.
Where to save all of this stuff
External hard drives are fast, mostly reliable, and cheaper than buying the same amount of space from Dropbox. Western Digital’s hard drives are consistently among the fastest, and the brand has an unmatched reputation for reliability. Get an 8-terabyte (350 hours of 4K video files) My Book for R4 700.
If transferring files just sounds like too much work, you can always use Google Photos. It
compresses anything you shoot down to 1080p HD, but it’s the only truly unlimited, free option.
The Best Software for Regular People
YouTube Video Editor (Web)
HitFilm 4 Express (PC)
These apps are free and use the basic method of all movie editors: drag, copy and trim video and audio segments into a narrative. They don’t let you get deep with sound effects and transitions, but you can make a name on YouTube with any of these.
The Best Software for People Who Want to Be Better Than Regular People
Adobe Premiere Pro ($20 a month)
Premiere has superseded Final Cut as the unanimous choice of professionals. You’re paying for customisable tools such as stabilisation, colour correction, and titles. If you’re going to commit to learning video editing on one application, this is it.
Field tested: The Portable Studio
I pushed a lot of carts filled with switchers and camera cables down the halls of my high school. Like the dark clothes and fashionably unwise choices in eyewear, it was part of being in the AV Club. It was a tangly hassle, and nothing like the new SlingStudio. This R13 000 multi-camera production platform lets you record from, switch between, and edit, four high-definition-video inputs in real time from as many as ten connected smartphones and cameras. The best part: you don’t have to string any cables or hook up all those switchers.
If you have two linked cameras 100 metres from each other, you won’t also have to run 100 metres of crowd-trampled cable between them. Just plug the somewhat chunky wireless sending unit into any HDMI-enabled camera, and it automatically syncs with the SlingStudio hub. Connect your phone or tablet (assuming it’s an iPhone 6 or later, or from a limited list of Android devices) to the hub with the app, and you can stream the outputs of any connected camera to Facebook Live or YouTube, or record it all to an onboard SD card or USB drive to edit later.
The SlingStudio hub provides its own Wi-Fi access point, so you don’t need to worry about your location having connectivity. Or power: the battery-operated hub lasts up to three hours on a charge. My only complaint is with set-up and configuration. It’s not fun. You need patience and, ideally, experience with streaming video to set up all of the different Wi-Fi links and devices. It’s far from plug-and-play, but the wireless set-up will change the way you record studio-quality video and the number of people you trip while you do it. – Dan Dubno
THE EXPERIMENT: Editing Video
Should I let software edit for me? New apps use image analysis to automatically edit your footage down to the exciting bits. Popular Mechanics video producer Ryan Mazer tested three of them to see if they’d render him obsolete.
Magisto (web only) – The final video is long, but still feels edited. There are no embarrassing cuts, and it didn’t omit anything important. The best of the three.
Shred (iOS) – It picked out a cool scene and made it slow-mo, which I like. But it does so much of the work for you that it’s not customisable. And it did a fade-to-black, which is tacky.
Flo (iOS) – The final movie was shorter than the others, but somehow not as tightly edited. It has a lot of dead air with nothing happening.