Home Video Hints: Editing for Absolute Beginners

If I was writing a best-selling paperback, this might be titled Editing for Dummies (except that I don’t think newbies are dumb). If you’re a casual weekend shooter, you may not be editing your camera tapes. After all, even the simplest digital editing equipment will set you back some dough and you don’t know how much time you want to give this hobby well, you know the reasons. If I said you could learn to make snappy home videos in 20 minutes without spending a penny would you give me a hearing?

A No-cost Editing Rig

(I’ll assume you said yes.)

Step one is to assemble an editing outfit using your camcorder as the source deck (for playing back your original footage) and your home VCR as the assembly deck (for recording your edited program). Connect your VCR to your TV set, where you’ll watch what you’re doing. This setup looks like Figure 1.

Your camcorder is probably equipped with several output jacks. For hooking up with a VCR, you’ll want to use the yellow RCA jack for video and the white and red RCA jacks, respectively, for left and right audio channels. (If your camcorder is mono, only the white audio out jack will be present.) If camcorder and deck both have S-video jacks you can use them instead of the yellow RCA jack, but you’ll need a special S-video cable. As for the VCR to TV connection, whatever you already have is fine. The connection from the record VCR to your TV is for monitoring purposes only and do not affect the quality of your recording.

The only tricky part about this setup involves the resulting picture on your screen, because sometimes it seems to be one thing and sometimes another. The explanation is really very simple:

  •   When your VCR is in STOP mode, the TV shows the picture coming from the camcorder .

  •   When your VCR is in RECORD mode, the TV shows the picture being recorded from the camcorder (also Figure 2).

  •   When your VCR is in PLAY mode, the TV shows the previously copied pictures on your record tape .

    This means that when you’re shuttling around your camera tape finding stuff, the TV will show you what you’re doing. When you record or play back your assembly tape, the TV will show what’s being (or has been) recorded.

    Setting up an Edit Session

    With your editing rig cabled together, place the camera tape in your camcorder and set it to VCR mode. This turns your camcorder into a VCR just like your home deck.

    Step one is to prepare the assembly tape that your VCR will record the edited program on. Always start with a new tape. That way you won’t have any old stuff on it that can intrude on your new show. Also, by putting only one program on each cassette, you simplify logging, storing and retrieving your programs.

    Label the new tape right away, with the show title and maybe the date(s) of the footage. You wouldn’t believe how easy it is to mix up unlabeled tapes even in projects as simple as what we’re describing.

    Now, place the tape in your VCR, make sure it’s rewound to its head and zero your time counter if necessary. All set? Then complete the following steps:

  •   Press RECORD on the VCR with no signal coming from the camcorder (black). Record about 90 seconds.

  •   Stop the tape and carefully rewind it to about the 60-second mark.

    This preliminary step does two things: first, it places professional-looking black in front of your program. Secondly, the first minute of that tape is likely to be stretched by constant rewinding, which will ruin any picture on it.

    Now you need some kind of title. If you don’t have something in your raw footage (like a signboard reading GRAND CANYON) it’s a snap to shoot one, especially if you have any kind of ink jet printer. Simply design and print a simple title, place it in decent light (I use a picture window) and grab a shot of it . Copy around five seconds of this title to your assembly tape (starting at 60 seconds, remember?).

    Recording Procedure

    Now, recap your camcorder’s lens and record a few seconds of black after your title. This is easy to do if you use the slow-motion or single-frame controls on your deck. These few seconds of black make a tidy transition from your title to your show. From this point on, you’ll follow a standard procedure for adding each shot in your edited program. Here it is:

    Step 1. On the camcorder tape, find the start of the next shot you want to copy and rewind until you’re a few seconds ahead of it. Press PAUSE.

    Step 2. On the VCR, PAUSE the tape on the last frame you want to keep of the previous shot, (In the case of the first shot, it’s just black.) Then press RECORD. This will place the deck in RECORD/PAUSE mode, ready to go.

    Step 3. PLAY the camcorder tape. About 1.5 to 2 seconds before the first frame you want to record, release PAUSE on the VCR to start actual recording.

    Step 4. Keep recording for a few seconds past the desired endpoint of the incoming shot, then STOP everything.

    Step 5. Rewind and play back the newly transferred shot on the VCR. When you come to last frame you want to keep, press PAUSE.

    Notice step 5 loops you back to step 1 and you’re ready to repeat the process for the next new shot.

    Choosing and Timing Shots

    Now that you know how to copy camera shots to your program tape, you need to decide which shots to copy. More advanced programs are assembled through the process of additive editing in which the camera footage is no more than raw material for a "program" that is built up from nothing, one shot at a time.

    For starters you may find it easier to use subtractive editing, which means presenting a shorter version of the original camera tape with the bad stuff cut out. To perform subtractive editing:

  •   Decide whether to include each shot in the program, omitting shots that are obviously bad or redundant.

  •   Decide where the really interesting/important part of each remaining shot begins and ends. In copying, transfer only the best part of each shot.

  •   Discipline yourself to keep programs shorter than 15 minutes ten minutes is even better.

    The last point cannot be over-stressed. Get used to the fact that nobody, not even your nearest and dearest, is as interested in your videos as you. If you start with 60 minutes’ raw footage, 15 minutes will be ample for the best of it, and a ten-minute limit will let you present just the very best of the best. If you do, your audience will bless you and even come back and ask for more.

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