Editing - How Do I Do This Stuff?

Video editing is both an art and a science. When both of these things are working right, video editing can be a wonderful creative process. However, when technical issues rear their ugly heads, things can take a turn for the worse. Discovering an incapability within your editing workflow can be extremely frustrating. Incompatible software programs, video codecs, editing equipment and other technical components can create serious obstacles, costing you precious time and money. We can take a look at some of the common pitfalls to avoid as you get your feet wet in the video editing craft. Let’s get started on our compatibility checklist.

Start With What You’ve Got

An over-abundance of raw video never fails to produce a new wave of eager editors. If this happens to be you, start your compatibility checklist from your existing video footage. Take inventory of what you have. Is your video on a hard drive? Memory cards? DVD discs? Tapes? Film?! As the variety of mediums grow, usually so does the complexity of creating a fully compatible editing workflow.

There is basically one major division in source video: analog and digital. Analog video adds an extra layer of complexity because it means you’ll need to digitize your video as you import it into your video editing workstation. But the good news is that once it’s digitized on your editing workstation, it’s fairly easy to work with at that point.


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Common analog video sources include VHS tapes and Hi8 tapes. If you’ve got boxes of these tapes, you’ll also likely need their respective video cameras in order to play back the tapes. Using an analog-to-digital video converter, you can capture this video to your video editing workstation. You’ll need to make sure the analog-to-digital video converter outputs through FireWire or USB connectors and your video editing computer supports either of these connectors. Additionally, you’ll need to make sure your editing software has video capturing capabilities. Most all of them do.

Although the process of digitizing analog video can be long and tiring, many of these old tapes hold invaluable memories and may be well worth the time and effort. Make sure you’re up for the task and realize that it can take at least the realtime length of the tape to complete the process of just digitizing your memories. So twenty 1-hour tapes is at least 20 hours of work to digitize all that video.

Digital video, on the other hand, generally takes a lot less effort (but not always less time) to get on to your editing workstation. If you’re lucky and have just digital video content, your compatibility issues are directly related to matching the video codec of your source video with the preferred video codecs of your video editing system. And, this takes us right into our next topic.

Technical Specifications

Video editing software is finicky. It likes to consume only certain types of video. And, many software tools prefer to edit certain types of video over others for performance reasons. In your compatibility checklist make sure to note the type of video codec that your camcorder records. Then check the Technical Specifications to make sure your editing software will import that particular type.

And here’s the trick: even if it says it can import your specific video codec, sometimes it will require that the video is transcoded to a different codec upon importing. That’s why we state that while importing digital video can require less effort, it does not always mean requiring less time. Transcoding video often happens nearly in realtime, so that 20 hours of footage transcodes in about 20 hours, although it can depend greatly on what format of video you’re transcoding to and the performance of your computer.

Check with other users of editing software on forums (such as Videomaker‘s forum) to see what types of video they’re using and what the setbacks are. This particular compatibility issue is best resolved if you can get your hands on a trial version of the video editing software, which will allow you test the compatibility in advance. This tactic is especially helpful for determining whether or not your computer has the minimum requirements for running the software.

Minimum Requirements, Yeah Right

Minimum requirements are just that; the minimum system requirements to launch and run your video editing software. If you’re serious about making video editing work for you, consider the minimum requirements listed on the software box as your starting point. Of course, your budget is probably calling a lot of the shots, but we recommend that you don’t skimp out in these areas: RAM and hard drive capacity.

Make sure to check out the requirements for the processor. RAM is definitely a better investment overall as it can give you more bang for your buck, but don’t underestimate how much time you can save with a faster processor. A lot of time is spent transcoding and rendering video and a mightier processor will help in those areas. With that said, many editors set the computers to do the number crunching processes during their down times (for example, at night or during their lunch break), so this is one area where compromises are often made.

OS Compatibility

It wasn’t long ago that choosing either a Mac or a Windows based PC greatly dictated the type of software available to you. But many software companies have expanded their products so they can be used on both platforms. Yet, even today, there are smaller software companies and very niche products that only support either the Mac or Windows PC.

Make sure to do your research before committing to either computing platform. If you’re a student or aspiring filmmaker who’s looking to get into the business, find out what software tools are the industry standard in the given craft. You never know what you might uncover. Audio professionals, for example, typically gravitate toward more specialized tools. Different types of pros may prefer a different editing tool over the more commonly packaged tools in a video editing suite. Do some research on industry forums and ask users what they use and why. Using these specific types of tools as you practice your craft will give you a leg up in a very competitive industry. Ultimately, most editing tools will give you the artistic freedom you desire, but the technical know-how does truly matter.

Inevitably, technical issues will arise during your journey as a video editor. Hopefully we’ve helped you avert some of the more common pitfalls. But if you do run across some of these dips along your smooth ride, remember to be patient. Start by researching your problem. Your ability to quickly resolve these issues will give you more time to spend toward refining your art. And that is time well spent.

Contributing columnist Mark Montgomery is a web content specialist and produces instructional videos for a leading web application developer.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.


  1. Sorry to appear to have too much time-on-my-hands and seeming to set myself up as a home-grown expert on everything, which I am not. But, I’ve done huge amounts of video-editing over the past five years. The best advice I could give, from countless false-starts, is to establish a working-method based around a realistic appraisal of the resources at your disposal.

    My project is five-years into the ‘making’. It has been derailed countless times, one being a point-blank refusal on the part of new ‘owners’ to allow me to re-activate Ulead’s
    Media Studio 8 Pro, after a catastrophic computer breakdown.
    I eventually went over to ‘Magix’ and having used the ‘Pro’ package for a year or more, went over to ‘Movie-Edit Pro 17’
    which suits my working methods perfectly and will be much cheaper to upgrade in-the-future.

    My method, for what it is worth, involves my downloading the DV-AVI footage and logging it ‘in’ as soon as possible after shooting, generally during a long session on the night of the event. Do things when every detail of your day is still fresh in your mind. Review your footage before too long as well, go over what you have and see if there is sufficient to follow the commentary script beginning to ‘gel’ in your mind. If not, (and provided it is possible to return to the locations, as I have done lately), go and shoot the missing material, bearing in mind that overhead conditions and natural lighting, cloud-cover etc. have to be near enough to identical.

    Whatever your bulk data storage method, transfer all needed material to a USB hard-drive devoted to that single project, (1tB is not too much for half-an-hour screen-time), so that the material is fed directly to the editing/rendering processes from a hard-drive and not from a flash device. That also avoids your bulk-storage area becoming cluttered-up with ‘extra’ files which some processes add to the bulk-footage during the editing process, as ‘Magix’ tends to do. At the end of the project, and only then, reformat the drive.

    Type out your script and record the commentary. It is a lot less trouble to record that with the computer switched-off to avoid the intrusion of cooling-fan noise etc. which will later have to be removed. I do mine using a high-quality Sennheiser mic. into a Microtrack II audio recorder. Edit the audio material and from the various ‘takes’ extract one word-perfect paragraph from each. (Chop them into a cut-and-paste version from several ‘takes’ if you have to). Re-record that with whatever audio editing is necessary including a ‘clean-up’. Label each paragraph number in-a-file, and include the first four or five words of each paragraph as the title, along with the para number. It’s handy extra identification.

    Lay those out, in line-astern, provisionally, into your timeline, leave spaces for future adjustments, as there will be many as the edited masterpiece begins to take-shape. Basically, you simply take it from there using all the video/audio tracks available to you for optimum effect. That usually means keeping the same stuff, on the same tracks, throughout the production. For example, I put avi and mpg2 on different tracks. Add your video to keep pace with your commentary, ensuring that the shots used are those most relevant to the unfolding narrative.

    As you might have worked out, that is fine for the natural-history based ‘doco’ I do, but might not work for everything.
    Working from a pre-prepared commentary instills a certain discipline and order to the production and keeps the ultimate goal firmly in-sight, The last thing you should do, in my opinion, is to just let your production ‘happen’. It never works.

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