Editing interface with spinning beach ball.

Much like snowflakes are all unique, there isn’t a video project on earth that bears a perfect resemblance to another project. Each story, clip and transition is unique to that particular project; that amazing diversity alone is worthy of praise. However, any video producer who’s been around the block enough times knows that while each project is unique, there are some awful similarities that can befall even the most experienced editor.

Whether you’re a Final Cut fan, prefer Adobe Premiere or find yourself vigilant to Vegas Pro, there will inevitably be a hurdle that hinders your production progress. When that happens, you have options – and, thankfully, they do not involve throwing your computer out a window!

Let’s dig into the infamously inevitable intrusion of TLMD – short for Timeline Meltdown Disorder – and help you avoid unnecessary frustration when it comes to putting the wraps on your latest video project.


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Assess Before Your Progress

If you’re like most editors, you can quickly and easily find yourself in a tunnel-vision like zone, moving along at breakneck speed, dropping clips and blending transitions to make your video dreams a reality. Then, without warning, your editing system starts acting strange — your frames are stuttering, your audio is askew and the progress you felt you were making suddenly switches from fast-paced action to a fast-racing heart rate. There’s no need to panic, so long as you follow these steps:

First, ensure that your project is saved. Hitting the “CTRL-S” (or CMD-S) often is always your best friend when producing video projects. By saving often, you can ensure that your most recent changes to the project are safe and secure. While you’re at it, creating a backup of your project file at significant junctions throughout the project is a good idea, too. In video, redundancy begets royalty, and we all want to look like kings and queens when we deliver a project to family, friends and clients. No one likes a pauper-like producer who has to cower in fear when something goes wrong and they can’t recover their video file. Save, backup, repeat.

Person inserting an SD card into computer to back up files.
Person inserting an SD card into computer to back up files.

Next, if your editing system starts to act wonky, there are several things you can do to mitigate the potential damage. Short of a secret tap/kick/spin sequence to get everything back in working order, the easiest thing you can do is close your editing program, close all other open applications and restart the computer; doing this will essentially give you a clean slate from which to work upon, freeing up memory that may have been committed to other programs.

Editing systems are incredibly memory intensive, so making sure you’re focused on the project at hand when things start to get cluttered can go a long way in troubleshooting your less than ideal operations.

Understanding the Issues

While giving your editing system a restart can make your computer’s memory right with the world, it doesn’t guarantee the issue within your editing software will be corrected. Just like a doctor will order a barrage of tests to rule out certain diagnoses, you need to scrub up and investigate what is ailing your editing platform.

For starters, once your program has booted up, are you able to open individual clips and timelines in the project sequence? Do you have an image in your preview or program? If not, this could translate to a variety of issues – most likely, your media might be offline, which means you’d have to retrace your path to bring the media from your hard drive, desktop or media source back into the editing software. Typically, users can quickly and easily locate and reconnect their media by right clicking on the file and navigated back to your source file. Still not working? The storage location may be offline. If you have your clips on a memory card, external hard drive or jump drive, make sure that it’s plugged in and active in your computer’s list of active drives.

Editing interface showing Media Offline alerts.

Next, let’s go ahead and assume your media is locked and loaded, no issues there. When you try to open a video clip, does the editing software not recognize the file type? Is it taking a long time to load? This could mean the format of your video clip doesn’t want to play nice with your editing software. Much like a child – or adult – can be a picky eater, your editing system has files it prefers over others. Using your software’s user manual, identify which video codecs are optimized for your platform and aim to import, capture or convert your native files into that format to allow for smooth sailing.

Are your video clips playing in your sequence, but not looking right? If you find your video clips are choppy, pixilated or distorted in one way or another, it could be that your computer just isn’t up to the task. Video files are inherently large in size, thus the need for hardware that can process that amount of information as quickly as the editor needs it is imperative. Check your video card and computer’s processor specifications – do they align with the minimums required by your editing software? If not, it may be time for some hardware upgrades.

Head Down Memory Lane

We’ve said it once, and we’ll continue to drive this home – memory makes the machine when it comes to your video editing projects. When working with HD video, the taxation on memory utilization is comparable to a celebrity’s bank account after a day down Rodeo Drive – spent. While every software platform is different, they all share common needs – copious amounts of RAM (for example, Adobe Premiere Pro calls for 2 GB minimum, but recommends at least 4 GB all the way up to 24GB of RAM) and even more hard-disk space on the operating system (OS) to keep things moving. If cost isn’t a concern for you, it’s hard to err on having too much memory. However, consider the need before setting your wallet free – there’s no need to buy a 3TB external hard drive and a machine brimming with RAM if you’re only producing one or two videos a year.

Defrags to Riches

Time is money in the video production world, so how do you make more money? You increase your efficiency. While technology doesn’t always play nice with us, there are a few simple things you can do with your computer to improve its operational efficiencies. For instance, if you find that your video timelines are populated with large video files and the frames are choppy, you’re getting dropped frames, or the rendering is taking a really long time, a simple reset of your computer’s memory silos can help. To do this, access your Disk Defragmenter, which is a program that captures rogue pieces of data and reorganizes that data into a more efficient manner. This offers your computer’s processing unit (or CPU for short) an opportunity to plug and play the information it needs more systematically, instead of having to pull data from here and there and everywhere.

Disk Defragmenter

Defragmenting your hard drive every few weeks is a good idea if you’re in the business of recording directly onto your hard drive; if the bulk of your video work is stored externally, a defrag session every few months should do the trick.

Stubborn Controls

Okay, so you’re square on the memory and you’ve purged your system’s memory banks to play your video back, but now, for some reason, the software doesn’t seem to be responding. The playhead sticks when you press “play,” and when it does play, the audio and video tracks don’t seem to align. No, this isn’t the memory gods venting their frustration with you, it could be as simple needing an update of your software. Check to ensure you have the latest and greatest version of your software; if not, consider installing the latest update.

Maybe Babs Had it Right…

Back in 1974, Barbara Streisand released a song called “The Way We Were”, which opens with the famous line: “Memories, light the corners of my mind…misty water-colored memories of the way we were.” When we all started out in this crazy, creative industry, we all had visions of how our videos would change the world and make an impact on every set of eyeballs that came across them. However, just like Streisand continued in her tune “…what’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget.” We never want to truly remember the way our editing systems were back in the day, because with every advancement and improvement, the water-colored memories of the way things were fade out and technology gives us advancements that make our video production lives easier. With luck, we’ll never find ourselves befallen by Timeline Meltdown Disorder again, and that’s something to sing about.

Sidebar: Want to add more memory to your computer? Here are a couple things to consider before you go shopping.

Make sure your computer can handle an increase in memory. Storage can be increased almost infinitely with external hard drives, but internal memory can quickly be maxed out based on the number of slots available to house memory. Memory always comes in standard increments of powers of two, which is why you see 4, 8, 16, 32 GB of memory in RAM, hard drives, and solid state drives.

For example, if you are looking to house lots of video content, a 1 TB  – or 1,000 GB – external drive will offer enough storage to hold roughly 1,000 hours of standard video content. Considering a standard DVD movie is around 5 GB, that’s an awful lot of content on one hard drive.

Helping you find a solution to your storage needs is something we hold dear here at Videomaker. Check some of our previous articles on our website by clicking here.

Dave Sniadak is the Communications Manager for a Minneapolis-based regional airline and also serves as a team videographer for an NFL franchise.

Susan is the Art Director at Videomaker and YouTuber Magazines.


  1. I apologize if most people are already aware of this, but applying certain effects can cripple your playback within an NLE (some color correction, and especially noise reduction plug-ins). It helps to save these tasks for last – or set them up early on to make sure you’ve got your look, but then disable them until all of your other work is complete.

  2. Thanks a lot may, tons of useful info especially the one with fragmentation, sometimes a little knowledge can make a large difference.

  3. Great idea,& even though a lot of us might be aware, it always helps a little reminder form time to time, so thanks a lot.

  4. TonyVirili mentioned it already but I should add: one thing which does not seem properly handled in the general documentation of NLEs is what should be the optimal order for applying filters, conversions, transitions, etc. If you are also dealing with a multicamera stream generated from 2, 3 or 4 original videos streams, the right time to apply those transformations (on the originals or on the composite?) becomes really hard to figure out.

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