Digital Video Essentials

There are some important things you've just gotta know to be successful as a new editor. Here are 10 digital video essentials to get you started on the right foot.

Pick The Right System

Desktop? Laptop? Stand-alone box? Self-configured computer or turnkey system? Hobbyist software or professional suite? And the questions continue. The system you choose will make a big impact on learning time, working method and cash. Study this issue and trawl the Web for all the information you can get, before committing. There's no substitute for good gear.

Work Systematically

Like all digital enterprises, video editing is as rigid in its procedures as it is flexible in its powers. To avoid chaos, log and label tapes and shots. Develop a filename system and stick to it. Don't move stuff around on your drives. Above all, remember that there's a rational reason for every unexpected event – somehow, somewhere, if you just have the patience to track it down.

Start Small

Don't expect to uncrate your new baby and plunge right in editing your first feature-length movie. A funny 30-second commercial for a silly product (like a rock) or a two-minute reprise of a family picnic is a more do-able (and immediately satisfying) first project.

K.I.S.S.

Sure: with your flashy new system you could layer six streams of video, titles and transitions, and it'll perform alpha-channel tricks, and stack 99 lines of limited, equalized, reverbed, wah-wahed stereo audio. Don't. Master simple projects first, and never get more complicated than is necessary.

Make It Snappy

The awful truth: nobody really cares about your video for its own sake, but only for its interest to them. So interest them: keep the show moving even if it means cutting three-fourths of that beautiful sunset or eight out of ten of your daughter's cartwheels. Always edit for the viewer, not yourself.

Minimize Transition Effects

Though you have 200+ transition effects, don't use 'em all in one show. For most projects 95% of your edits should be cuts and 4% dissolves. Unless you make car commercials, avoid stringing together combinations of flips, twists, flops, zips, wipes and curls.

Exploit Audio

After random access and digital permanence, the biggest advantage your computer-based editing system provides is professional caliber audio. Give sound the same attention you devoted to the picture, and your shows will jump six steps in professionalism.

Fix Small Mistakes

Coming from the linear world where fixing a goof means re-laying everything that follows it, you may want to rationalize blemishes away. But in digital, they're so easy to fix that there's no excuse for leaving them in.

Review Renderings

Without real-time hardware and software, you'll need to render your show when you've wrapped the editing. Often artifacts and botched effects show up in the finished product. Take the trouble to watch the rendered version closely and clean up digital hiccups.

Archive Digitally

The only hedge against decay is a digital master. Ship your finished program out to DV tape, or consider a DVD write drive. They're becoming increasingly practical and cost-effective.

Incorporate these simple but effective digital video essentials into your next project for a professional look.

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