SCO Magazine Video To Go

Editing: The Finish Line

In the past several articles, my focus has been on putting together enough content for our movie project. We’ve selected all of the video components – opening and closing shots, trimmed clips, connectors and cutaways. We’ve built sequences and assembled all of the core pieces in a suitable order to support our storyline. However, we’re not done yet.

So far, we haven’t worried much about the final length of our project. But now’s the time. Generally, if you want video to engage an audience, shorter is better.

Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” The same thought applies equally well to video.

Shortening a video project usually takes more time and effort than leaving it long. But, the extra work pays off in a much better product. With travel videos, for example, I normally aim for a final length of between three and five minutes. Videos that size are generally short enough to hold viewers’ attention, but not long enough to make them squirm.

My initial rough cuts, though, can easily run 10 to 12 minutes long. So that leaves a lot to pare back. One of the hardest parts of that process is letting go of material, maybe even some of your favorite shots. You need to look at your sequences critically and determine how important they are to your storyline. If your video can survive without them, be brave. Show some tough love and leave them out.

Don’t worry, though. Great clips never die. Hang on to them and you may be able to weave them into a different story in another video.

Using music as a “soundtrack” for your videos, is a good way to set a natural time limit. Just pick a piece of music that has the right length and fits the mood of your video. Then edit your visuals and build your story around it.

Matching music with video is a critical step. Pick the right piece and your video will come alive. Make a weak choice, though, and your video can fall flat. So don’t rush. “Audition” a variety of music tracks to see which work best with your images and mood. You can start the process when your first few sequences are in place, or wait till you have a longer rough cut. Drop different tracks into your timeline till you find the right one.

How do you know when you’ve got it? Your instinct should tell you. After watching video paired with different music tracks you should just feel when something is working well. Be patient, though. You may have to go through a lot of music to reach that “aha” moment.

Consider different genres of music to suit different moods and editing styles. In some videos, you might want a slow, relaxed pace with a moderate tempo. Or, maybe something quicker and high energy. You can pick country, jazz, new age, funk or hip hop – whatever works best with your storyline and images.

It’s also a good idea to choose music you really like. By the time you finish editing your movie, you’ll hear that music over and over again. It can become annoying if it isn’t appealing to start with.

If your videos are mainly for private use (no dreams of YouTube stardom) sort through the music in your iTunes library and take advantage of what’s there. Or, if you’re musically inclined, build your own tracks using the music loops from Garage Band or Final Cut Pro X.
If you’re planning to distribute your videos more widely, there are good sources of royalty free and creative commons music on line. One excellent resource is Kevin
MacLeod’s Incomptech library containing some 2,000 compositions available under a “Creative Commons: By Attribution” license. You can easily filter the listings by Feel, Tempo, Genre, and Length.

Kevin and other artists also make their material available through the Free Music Archive and And you can find lots more good music on YouTube; just search for “creative commons music”.

Once you’ve found the right music, cut your movie down to the same length. Then, do some fine-tuning to get it ready for prime time. Extend or trim your clips, move your edit points and cut your sequences in sync with the beats of the music. At this stage, everything should fit properly from beginning to end.

Finish up your audio work by adding any additional sound effects and adjusting levels. Ensure there’s a suitable balance between the audio levels of your music, your effects and the sound portion of your video clips. Then play your movie back a few times. Watch and listen to catch anything that’s out of place. I normally come back with a fresh mind a day or two later, repeat the process and make any final fixes.

Oh, and one more thing – something I’m guilty of too. At some stage, you have to stop fussing with your video and decide to call it a wrap. It’s tempting to continue tweaking, changing and polishing, but somewhere along the line it’s best to let go and accept that your video isn’t going to get substantially better. So, just enjoy what you have, share it with your family and friends, and move on to your next project.


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