The right steps for great editing are not always the same, but following the path of experienced editors is a great place to start your workflow.
The right steps for great editing aren’t set in stone. But following the path of more experienced editors is a great place to start your workflow. Most editing workflows start with a rough cut, followed by a second editing pass we’ll call the fine cut. The completion of the fine cut should result in what’s known as picture lock. Once your picture is locked, a whole host finishing tasks can then be accomplished in just about any order. These steps include fixing video issues, color correction, effects, color grading, and titles. Let’s talk about the process in more detail. Every great edit has to start somewhere, and the rough cut is the the post production equivalent of cutting wood with an ax. You chop the raw footage and take the first steps to create the story you’re trying to tell. Whether it’s a narrative film, wedding, commercial, or even an instructional video, the rough cut will attempt to carve a timeline that tells the essence of your story, while not being too concerned with perfectly timed cuts, audio, or effects and titles. The main goal of the rough cut is to select the shots you want, trim the fat off, and create the general pacing of the project. While the goal is to formulate the final structure of the piece, there’s still room to rearrange the cut on your next editing pass. Once you’re satisfied with the rough cut, get ready to take some serious notes. Pour over it and make your list of fixes, changes, and areas to tighten up. Once you’ve got your to do list completed, it’s time to start the fine cut. If the rough cut uses an ax, the fine cut uses a scalpel. This means precisely timing your cuts, adding dissolves or fades where necessary, finalizing your shot selection, and perfecting the pacing and structure. The story should feel air-tight, and the dialogue or narration flow should feel natural. Even though things like color correction, audio, and other tasks will be done later in the workflow, you should be able to hand off your fine cut with confidence that the core of your project is solid and presentable. If you’re working for a client, submit for review, and hope for the best. Once the review notes are in, fix any issues that need attention, then resubmit for final approval if necessary. Once you’re certain that no more changes need to be made, you’ve achieved picture lock. In an ideal scenario, picture lock means the cuts, fades, clip lengths, and shot selection won’t change moving forward. However, any experienced editor will tell you that while picture lock is meant to be set in stone, it’s simply not the case all too often. Nevertheless, reaching this milestone means you can begin working on the next phase of editing we’ll call finishing. Finishing may sound like you’re almost done, but in fact, we’ve simply been waiting until picture lock to dig in and do the fine tuning that will give your project the professional touches it needs. Because, in theory, your edit won’t change, you’ve opened up multiple workflow options moving forward. You can stay in your primary editor if it has the tools you need, or you can export a file from your primary editor to follow a linear or roundtrip workflow. Regardless of the path you choose, the finishing steps include fixing video issues, color correction, effects, color grading, and titles. If you’re working on a project with a team, many of these things may happen simultaneously by different people. If you’re on your own, you’re not necessarily locked into any specific order. However, as we go through each step in more detail, we’ll cover some reasons you may want to do certain steps in a particular order. Step one in our book is fixing simple video issues. This can include tasks like scaling and repositioning a shot slightly, or using rotation to level a shot. If you’re going to be roundtripping your footage for color correction and other effects, you’ll want to make sure the changes will translate when you export your timeline. These tasks may be done within your primary editing software, or in another program via a single or multiple vendor roundtrip. Once those shot issues are resolved, you can begin the color correction process. This process includes primary and secondary color correction. Primary color correction refers to the process of adjusting the entire image. This includes optimizing the brightness and contrast, as well as fixing any white balance issues. In addition to primary correction of each individual shot, this is a good point in the workflow to match shots for continuity. Once primary correction is complete and your shots are matching up, it’s time for secondary color correction. Secondary color correction is sometimes referred to as selective color correction. This is the process of correcting specific portions of a shot. This may be bringing back some highlights in a specific area, making skin tones look more natural, or pushing a dark area a bit to reveal detail. Once these phases of color correction are complete, your entire timeline should be ready for any effects that need to be accomplished. We’re using the term effects to represent a broad spectrum of tasks in this instance. Some examples are pulling green screen keys, compositing, custom transitions, tracking and stabilizing shots, and of course visual effects. Once all those effects have been completed and rendered, you can replace the original shots in your primary editing program. Now that your shots are color corrected, and your effects are in place, you can create the artistic look and feel of your footage by color grading. Color grading is where you give your footage the custom look you want. You’re not correcting issues at this stage, just creating and polishing a look. Think of the green tinge of the matrix, or the cool blue new york and warm mexico scenes of traffic. The advantage of waiting to grade until this step is that it will apply the grade on top of all your effects so they blend seamlessly. In a best case scenario, applying the grade won’t create issues with the effects. In a worst case scenario, you’ll have to rework the effects to complement the final grade. Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet solution to these potential issues. Once the grade is locked in, you’ve got two possibilities. Finish your project in the color correction software by syncing the completed audio mix, generating titles internally or importing them, and creating your deliverables. Or, export a new decision list with the rendered footage and import it back into your primary editor to perform any remaining tasks. Whether it’s a simple credit roll, a flashy title sequence, or lower thirds to identify a host or interview subject, adding titles is typically one of the last things you do in a video workflow. You can either build them in your primary editor, or use a dedicated motion graphics program and render them out with an alpha channel for use in your primary editing software. As we mentioned before, the audio workflow isn’t covered here, but if you’re final finishing stage is taking place in your primary editing program, this is where you’d sync up that final mix, before delivery. We told you in the beginning that “finishing” involved a whole host of tasks to get your video ready for export. And while we could debate the merits of rearranging the order of the steps all day long, the fact remains that these touches are an integral part of a professional looking product. No matter which video workflow you choose, you should now be ready to create the deliverables for your final destination.