After editing professionally for 10+ years, I’ve learned a lot about myself and how important it is to strive to keep improving. In this article, you’ll find 10 tips that I wish someone had taught me right out of the gate. Hopefully they will help you improve your speed and performance, so you can crush edits in style. Disclosure: I work in Adobe Premiere Pro. But I’ll try to be as broad as possible so that you can incorporate these tips into the editing platform of your choice.
Staying organized is at the top of my list for obvious reasons. If your project is well-organized, you’ll be able to navigate it quickly and efficiently. Do NOT work with media from the Desktop Folder, Downloads Folder, or any other folder that is not where your project lives. When you work with massive amounts of media like DV does, projects often have to be backed-up or stored on different archive drives. There’s nothing worse than opening a project to a timeline full of red “Media Offline” clips, so make sure you keep your media consolidated so that it is online and easily accessible. Be meticulous. The more in depth you go, the easier your life will be.
The same tips apply within the actual edit. I recommend taking 30 minutes to create a “Template Project”. I like to color-code different footage so that I can easily see what is what. For example, Camera 1 is blue and Camera 2 is red. When you cut your footage, separate the scenes with a gap in the timeline and add Markers over them to quickly reference what scene it is. And, when you can, bring video clips down as much as they will go, so you’re only ever looking at 3-4 tracks max. Let it be fun! This is the calm before the storm.
- Know What You’re Working With
If you’re anything like me, you probably know little to nothing about technical jargon. Try to familiarize yourself with your machine’s capabilities. Look through the Project Preferences and figure out where your Media Cache is going. You should regularly clean this out, as it will get clogged quickly and slow you down. Typically, you want your cache to live somewhere with a lot of space, possibly even the drive you’re working on. Also, you can choose how much RAM your program uses. Typically, when I’m editing all day, I’ll turn the RAM reserve down, so more RAM is dedicated to helping me move along. Edit at a lower preview resolution as well. Proxies are an option if you’re working with super Hi-Res footage like RED Raw files, but expect to lose a few hours transcoding them before you begin, and again on the tail-end of the edit.
- Prep Your Project
This step is key. Putting in more time on prep will help things move VERY quickly once you actually start the edit. For example, I make a “ProjectName_CutFootage” sequence, and I cut EVERYTHING. Go through every second of every clip, not just to the places you THINK the action happens. It may be 5-10 cards of footage, from days worth of shooting. Take the time to cut it, you won’t regret it. When you’re done, you’ll have a good understanding of what’s available to you, where clips are, and be able to confidently communicate with your team and the client about what’s possible. Another benefit is that you’ll begin to build edits in your head, so by the time you get to the actual edit, you’re just plugging and chugging on ideas that were planted earlier. I like to set up a “ProjectName_WorkingEdit_1” sequence, and set the in-and-out points of how long I know the video will be. So if it’s 60 seconds, set it up. Boundaries are good! They help you make the tough decisions by showing how much space you need to fill, and giving you a positive outlook on what may be a daunting edit. Lastly, open the “Cut Footage” sequence and drag it to a slot directly above or below the “Working Edit.” Then you can drag directly from one timeline to the other without deleting the footage from either sequence.
Take the time to learn some of your most-frequently used hotkeys. If you don’t know, hotkeys are keyboard shortcuts for certain functions within the software. A classic one is CMD+S to save your project. Smash that one every chance you can. Everyone’s most-used functions will vary, so identify what you use most and find the hotkey for it. If the hotkey for something is too inconvenient, you can link new hotkeys through the preferences. I learned how to edit on Final Cut 7, and now I use Adobe Premiere, so I have a list of hybrid hotkeys that include some Final Cut and Adobe. I wouldn’t typically recommend something you’d have to pay for, but my good friend and coworker Charlie hooked me up with a Logitech G Series G502 Hero Gaming Mouse, and it has made a HUGE difference in my editing speed. Logitech has a free software you can download in tandem with this mouse, so you can link different keyboard keys to it. I linked some of my favorite hotkeys directly to the mouse, and because I no longer have to visit the keyboard for those functions, I save a BUNCH of time.
- Have Deadlines
Whether you work at a studio, like myself, or freelance from home; Deadlines are crucial. They push you forward, which in turn, forces you to move faster. When I first started editing, I found it extremely difficult to hit deadlines with quality work. My issue was that I felt like I couldn’t turn my creative brain on and off like a light. But I found it to be much easier with the tips discussed in this article. Hopefully, these tips help you with deadlines as well. Whether your supervisor sets them, or you set for yourself, try to have milestones to hold yourself accountable.
- Learn to Make Decisions
This comes with experience, but learning how to make decisions on the fly will keep you cruising towards that elusive “FinalFile.mp4”. With the deadline you’ve set nipping at your heels, you’ll undoubtedly encounter roadblocks that you’ll have to fight your way through. The golden rule is to revert back to the purpose of the video, and the client’s needs. If you have a creative decision to make, ask yourself “what would benefit the client?”. My other rule of thumb is follow your gut. If you feel like it deviates too far from what the client wants, edit two versions. One based on their script, and one “editors cut.” Don’t be so afraid to cut things you are attached to. Let it go, and push on.
- Know Where to Cut Corners
The flip side of my organization principles, is to cut some corners when you have to. But know when, and how. Try not to skimp on the prep work. That will ALWAYS save you time in the future, even if you’re 110% sure it’s a one-off video. They come back… They always come back. An example of cutting corners relates back to familiarizing yourself with the footage. Generally speaking, the best take of each scene is going to be the last take. Because that’s the take the director decided to say “CUT!” and move on. You can typically assume with a decent level of certainty that the last take will be the winner. You can hop straight to that in the “Cut Footage” sequence and drag it in. If you’re working from a script or storyboard, this is even better. If you’re smart about it, you can find faster and more efficient ways to get results.
- Media Encoder is Your Friend
I tend to always export using Adobe Media Encoder, because you can continue to edit while it exports. This was a lifesaver for editors sick of staring at the fateful “Elapsed/Remaining” bar. Editing while exporting has also often saved me by allowing me to catch things I didn’t see right away. If you catch an error, you can simply stop the export and restart, again saving you from having to go back to the start. Keep in mind the RAM settings you chose earlier as well because this can slow you down if you haven’t allocated them properly. If you have no way around what your computer can put out, change your export settings (in Premiere or Media Encoder) to “Software Only” instead of the “Metal (Recommended)” setting. This makes it so that the software doesn’t rely on your computer’s RAM to get the job done. “Software Only” uses only the capacity of the software to export, and this should clear up any issues you have.
- Stay Non-Destructive
I’ve mentioned this a few times above, but staying non-destructive is the biggest issue I see in new editors and one of the easiest to avoid. Every time you do a version of the edit, and you receive feedback (no matter how “small”), duplicate the “WorkingEdit_1” sequence and make a “WorkingEdit_2.” Always stay non-destructive on the drive folders, too. I know this doesn’t directly affect editing speed, but it does if you lose a day due to going back and looking for versions that no longer exist.
Lastly, of course, invest. I’m blessed enough to have an incredible job where I get to do what I love, on machines that can handle it. Not everyone is as lucky, which is why this is at the bottom of the list. Luckily, there are little things you can do to speed your system up. Google things like “How to Free Space” and “Deep-Cleaning Your Cache.” Unfortunately, until you fork up the dough for a good set-up, you’ll only be able to go as fast as your machine allows. The good news is investment goes well beyond money. More important than price, by far, is investing time. I started editing on laptops and desktops that would load after every click. But as long as you keep on clickin’, you WILL get faster.
Hopefully these tips help you increase your editing speed and awareness. Soon you won’t just be hitting deadlines, you’ll be crushing them, with time to spare for all the extra sauce you want to throw on top. Thanks for the read!