If you want to edit your videos but you don’t want to set up an editing system, here’s a simple solution.

When you get down to the basics of video, it’s all about telling a story. You select the images and sounds that weave the message. It’s all about choices–editing choices.

Editing is the essential step that separates droning videos from dazzling masterpieces. Are you limited to making mundane video if you don’t own an edit controller? No. By mastering the simple techniques in this article you can assemble a quality video production without an edit controller. All you need is your camcorder, a standard VCR and a monitor. Sound simple? It is. You probably already have the gear you need.

Editing 101

In its basic form, editing is the process of rearranging, correcting and assembling a video into a polished production that tells a story. Let’s look at each part of the process.

You may want to rearrange the order of the shots on your original camcorder tape. Maybe you scripted the second shot on your tape as the final scene in the video. Not a problem. During the editing process, you select each shot and choose the order they appear in the final production.

Mistakes happen. Tripods wobble at the worst moment and mouths turn to mush as a Pavlovian response to the word “action.” You just skip over these gaffes and use only the best shots while editing. Save the funny “out takes” for another video.

You may want to add titles and maybe a musical sound track to your work. These steps, accomplished during the editing operation, give your production a professional look. Editing gives you the power to add these finishing touches.

The Gear

A basic editing setup requires two VCRs, or a camcorder and a VCR. One VCR, or the camcorder, functions as a playback deck, sometimes called the source deck. This is the deck that plays the original tape you shot in your camcorder. The second VCR serves as a recording deck. You selectively copy portions of the original footage onto a blank tape in this deck.

Hook-up is simple. All you need are inexpensive RCA-type cables. These are the standard cables that carry audio and video signals to video monitors, stereo amplifiers, audio cassette decks and CD players.

You probably have a set of RCA cables around the house–they’re often included with camcorders and VCRs. If not, a quick trip to your local electronics store will fix you up. Most department and discount stores that sell VCRs and camcorders also stock RCA cables–even some videotape-rental stores have them.

Where Do the Wires Go?

Use the RCA cables to hook the audio and video outputs of the playback deck to the input terminals of the recording VCR.

Now you need a way to view the video. Two monitors are best: one hooked to the playback deck, the second attached to the recording VCR. This allows you to monitor both decks simultaneously. If you only have one monitor, connect it to the record VCR.

Use RCA cables to hook the audio/video outputs of the decks into the inputs of the monitors. If you’re using regular televisions as monitors and they don’t have audio/video inputs, use RF cables (also used for cable TV) and set the TVs to channel 3 or 4. This also has the added bonus of leaving the audio/video outputs on the playback deck free for connection to your record VCR.

Many newer camcorders have a fold-out LCD video display that’s perfect for monitoring your footage. Even the standard viewfinder will work, though its tiny size is less than ideal.

Stereo equipment requires two RCA audio cables, one for the left channel and one for the right. What if some of your gear is stereo and some is not? Use a “Y” adapter to combine the stereo signals into a single mono signal. These inexpensive adapters are available at most stores that carry RCA cables.

Setting Up the Suite

You can set up your simple editing suite on a portable table positioned near your TV and VCR. Even the living-room coffee table will work.

For the rest of this article, we’ll use the setup consisting of the camcorder as the playback deck and the VCR as the record deck to describe the editing steps.

Set your camcorder on the table and run the cables to the recording VCR and monitors. Put your original camcorder footage in the playback deck and a blank tape in the recording VCR.

Be careful not to accidentally record over your original tapes. If your original footage is on VHS or S-VHS tape, disable the recording function on the tapes by breaking out the small plastic tab located beside the long label. If you want to reuse the tapes at some other time, then place a small piece of tape over the hole.

On 8mm, Hi8 and DV tapes, disable the recording function by sliding the small tab to cover the hole. Now you’re ready to edit!

It’s Edit Time

First record some black on the recording VCR. Do this by putting your camcorder in camera mode and affixing the lens cap. Put the camcorder in record/pause mode, record a few seconds on the VCR, and hit pause.

Now put the camcorder in “playback mode.” While watching the playback monitor, use the shuttle feature to find the first shot you want to include. Then put the camcorder in pause at the very beginning of the first scene. Now you’re ready to edit.

Simultaneously take both machines off pause. The playback deck will play while the recording deck copies your original footage. Both the playback and recording monitors will display your footage. You’re editing.

After recording the desired segment, place both machines in pause again. Be sure to put the record deck in pause first; otherwise, you’ll record the short glitch that results when you put the camcorder in pause mode.

Next, use the playback deck to find the second shot. Repeat the process for each new segment as you build the production.

Things get a bit tricky if you only have one monitor hooked to the recording deck. Here’s what you do. First find the edit starting point on the recording VCR; then place the VCR in record/pause. The signal from your playback VCR will now appear on the monitor allowing you to locate the next scene.

Use the VCR’s tape counter to help you find shots. Counters that display in hours:minutes:seconds are best, as opposed to those older units that simply tick off a series of digits as the tape plays. It’s also a good idea to zero-out your tapes before you begin editing. To do this, rewind the tape to the beginning, then re-set the counter to zero. This will help to ensure the accuracy of the tape-counter numbers.

Caveat Editor

Unfortunately there are some shortcomings to this editing method. Some VCRs and camcorders don’t actually begin recording at the moment you press the button–there is a delay. You’ll have to experiment with your decks to determine the duration of the lag. If you don’t compensate for this delay, you may accidentally record over the end of the last edit. Or, you may leave a blank segment between the two scenes that appears as snow when you play the tape–not pretty.

Sometimes the picture may jump or distort at the edit point. If this happens, try again. You may have to put up with a little video noise between edits. Unfortunately, this type of editing is less than an exact science. For best results, use a recording deck with a flying erase head.

It’s best to check your results after performing each edit. This way you can correct mistakes as they occur. It’s quite tricky–if not downright impossible–to fix these problems later.

Your camcorder and VCR won’t let a tape remain on pause indefinitely. An automatic system places the decks in stop mode after a few minutes.

Use a good quality tape. An inexpensive tape may not hold up to the rigors of editing. All the shuttling and pausing required during editing takes a toll on the tape.

You can add music by hooking a CD player or cassette deck to the recording VCR’s audio inputs. Add titles with your camcorder’s built-in titler or use a computer to print titles on paper; simply point your camcorder at the printed titles.

Mix and Match

Maybe you shoot on 8mm, Hi8 or DV, but want your final production to be on a VHS-format tape. No problem. Almost all camcorders and VCRs have those RCA audio/video jacks. These can run signals to any other piece of equipment, regardless of the format of the deck.

Editing can be a tedious and time-consuming endeavor, but the benefits are worth the effort. Don’t become frustrated–take a break if you need it.

As you do more editing, you may discover you want an edit controller. These devices automatically control the playback and record functions on the decks, taking the guesswork out of editing.

Edit controllers also perform a pre-roll function that achieves cleaner edits than the method described in this article. We explained how to use edit controllers in the August "Edit Suite."

The quality of your video production is directly related to the time and care you take while editing. The pay back is an audience that reacts with excitement and surprise–not slumber.