The world of video editing is no stranger to the appeal of drag and drop functionality. One might think that such ease of use would lead to greater efficiency, but a trigger-happy mouse finger isn’t always the quickest way to get things done. Many novice editors are first taught how to edit videos by dragging clips around the timeline, pulling the ends of clips forward and back, and plunking down one clip on top of another. It works but it’s not the most efficient method. The secret to speed editing is in the tools. The names of the tools may change in different editing programs but their functions remain the same. An editor who knows how to immediately access all of their tools is able to move swiftly through their edits and spend more time making creative decisions as opposed to technical tasks and perfunctory operations.
The Power of the Keyboard
One of the most powerful, and overlooked tools, is the keyboard. Professional editing applications offer up a slew of keyboard shortcuts, allowing the user to access any tool in the application with a keystroke. By putting keyboard shortcuts to memory through frequent use, the editor is able to move through edits at blazing speeds. There is a catch, keyboard shortcuts don’t help without the knowledge of what the tools are and what they do. Across the span of editing platforms out there, the keyboard shortcuts will vary from system to system but the tools work in a similar fashion. Once you learn them, your life will get much easier. Trust us – lay off the mouse as much as possible. It'll kill your hand after several hours of editing!
Every editing program is going to have one or more selection tools. These allow the user to select a clip or group of clips to be acted upon, whether it’s moving the selection, making an adjustment, or applying an effect. The simplest is called the move or arrow tool. A single clip is selected by clicking on it. Multiple clips are selected by click-dragging a bounding box around or through clips, selecting a portion of the edit.
A track selection tool will select all clips on a particular track. It can be modified to select one or more tracks in one direction from where the cursor is placed. This is useful when the editor wants to bump down an edit and fit a clip into a particular track.
Trimming is the precision cutting of one clip and placing it in context with the cut of another clip. Clips are easy to move around with selection tools and the same selection tools make it just as easy to drag the end of any clip to trim its in and out points. Most editing programs now have a trim window. When an edit point between two clips is selected, a trim window is called up with two images, one showing the last frame of the first clip while the other displays the first frame of the second clip. In this window the editor is able to trim, or adjust, the clips and view the frames on both sides of the edit point.
A powerful tool that confuses many new editors is the ripple edit tool. The ripple tool is used to adjust a single clip in the timeline. By placing the tool over the head or tail of a clip, the editor is able to adjust the length of that clip. What makes the ripple tool powerful is that as the edit point for the selected clip is adjusted, the other clips in the timeline move with that adjustment so a gap isn’t created and the adjusted clip doesn’t overlap existing clips in the edit. The entire edit is maintained with only the selected clip being adjusted.
Related to the ripple edit tool is the roll edit tool. The roll edit tool adjusts the edit point between two clips. When placed on an edit point, the roll edit tool is able to move that edit point backward or forward, provided there is sufficient overlapping footage between the two clips. The clips maintain the position in the timeline but the edit point changes to where the editor rolls it.
The slip edit tool works upon a single clip, maintaining its placement and duration in the timeline. The slip tool moves footage forward or back, within the context of its placement. The clip’s duration and the edit points in the timeline remain the same, but the in point and out point of the selected clip are adjusted simultaneously. If the placement of the footage in the timeline is a window, the slip tool moves that footage through the window.
Similar to the slip tool is the slide edit tool. The slide edit tool allows the editor to move a clip in either direction while maintaining its duration. The head and tail of the clip remain the same whereas the placement of the clip changes. While the clip’s location in the timeline slides in position, the adjoining clips in front and behind it are adjusted accordingly.
One of the most practical tools at the editor’s disposal is the blade or razor tool. True to its name, the blade tool cuts clips into separate pieces. It’s most helpful for trimming clips to a specific frame and for splitting a clip.
Moving clips into and around the timeline is the foundation of any edit. It can be simple, such as the drag and drop of a clip with the move tool. Yet there are other ways to move clips that increase efficiency or serve a specific purpose. There is the universal cut, copy and paste. This can be done with a single clip or with numerous selected clips.
When moving individual files from a media bin to the timeline, an editor chooses how the file will be placed. Common across editing platforms are the abilities to overwrite and to insert an edit. Overwrite places the clip at the selected point in the timeline, overwriting what is there without moving other clips in the edit. An insert places the clip at the selected point and ripples, or pushes further down, any clips that come after the insertion point.
Removing clips from the timeline also serves the editor with multiple choices. An editor can lift a clip, or delete it from the timeline, without changing anything else within the edit. Or, an editor can perform a ripple delete, which lifts the selected clip and closes the gap in the edit by moving all of the content past that clip up to the point where the removed clip had started.
The best way to judge an edit is to view it. Moving quickly through the timeline to what needs to be observed will give the editor more time to make a judgement. A standard in editing software is the use of J, K, and L keys. The J key moves the playhead back (reverse) through the timeline. The K key stops the playhead. And the L key moves the playhead forward. These keys are more proficient when fully utilized to their potential. By tapping the J key or L key twice, the playhead will move at twice the normal speed, and with repetitive keystrokes of the same key the speed continues to increase. Likewise, the playhead can be slowed down. If editors hit the L key twice to move forward through the timeline at twice the normal playback speed, they can hit the J key to slow down one notch and have playback at normal speed.
Sometimes repeated viewings are needed, over and over again, to get the feel for an edit. That’s when looping playback comes in handy. The editor selects a segment of the timeline and sets the playback to loop. This way the playhead continuously replays the selected region until the editor chooses to stop it.
How Do You Double Your Speed?
Many inexperienced and new editors want to learn how to edit videos. As the old idiom goes, “practice, practice, practice.” By taking the time to learn all the tools available and how to access them, you will grow in ability. By putting that knowledge to work and utilizing these video editing techniques, you will find greatly increased efficiency and discover you have a lot more time to work through your creative options and achieve a better edit in the end.
Chris “Ace” Gates is an Emmy Award winning writer and editor.
Sidebar: Video Editing Keyboards
A helpful tool for an editor getting to learn a new editing platform is a video editing keyboard. These are keyboards that are made specifically for an individual editing program. The keys on the keyboard not only have the standard QWERTY characters but also have the symbols of the different tools from the application to show where the keyboard shortcuts are. Often times these keyboards have color coded keys to keep like functions and toolsets grouped together. A video editing keyboard is a simple way to learn how to navigate a new program and increase your editing speed.