Three point editing is a precision process that allows the editor to place edits exactly where they want them with minimal work.
Three point editing is a precision process that allows the editor to place edits exactly where they want them with minimal work.

One of the most common shortcuts an editor takes is to drag and drop their clips directly into the timeline. The truth is, drag and drop editing isn’t a shortcut. The time it takes to mouse clips back and forth between windows adds up. It doesn’t guarantee accuracy either, the clips that get dropped into the timeline still need to be finessed in order to play out correctly.

Three point editing is a precision process that allows you to place edits exactly where you want them with minimal work. It’s an efficient technique that can save you time and will give you finite control over your edit. With it, you can back time a clip from where you want it to end, you can fill gaps without adjusting your timeline, and if you choose, you can build out your edit entirely through your keyboard without even touching your mouse.

Three Point Editing Defined

What is it exactly? A three-point edit is quite simple; it’s a technique in which you define three edit points from a source clip and a targeted track in the timeline. With the three edit points defined, you then choose how you want the software to place the clip. Where and how a clip is placed is dependent on which three points your select.

Pick Three, Any Three

An edit point is simply an in-point or out-point on a clip or in a sequence on a timeline. By default, any clip that’s in a sequence has four edit points: the in-point, or head, of the clip; the out-point, or tail of the clip; the in-point in the sequence where the clip begins and the out-point in the sequence where the clip ends. To make a three point edit, you’ll select a combination of any three points between the clip and sequence, and then define how the clip will be placed into the sequence based on those three points. The three points that are chosen will give you different options with different results.

In-point, Out-point and…?

There are times when you need to use a specific portion of a clip; you know the exact moment in the clip when you want it to begin and you also know the exact point you want that clip to end. In this case, you’ll set an in-point and an out-point for your source clip. In most video editing applications this is done in the source, or preview, monitor by placing the playhead where you want to enter the edit point. The universal keystroke for creating an in-point is “i” and, likewise, it’s “o” for the out-point.

This leaves one last edit point to be selected. That point will be in the timeline, or the edit sequence. You can choose to select an in-point in the sequence or an out-point. By having two points set on the source clip, and an in-point selected on the timeline, the three point edit will start the source clip at the in-point in the timeline. If you set the single point in the timeline as the out point, the out-point of the source clip will align with that point and back time itself to the in point of the source clip.

You can choose any three out of the four available edit points when placing a clip on the timeline. Here, two points are selected on the source clip and the third dictates where the clip will be placed in the edit.
You can choose any three out of the four available edit points when placing a clip on the timeline. Here, two points are selected on the source clip and the third dictates where the clip will be placed in the edit.

In either situation, you can choose to insert the source clip, which will push everything that comes after this point further down the timeline. Or, you can choose to overwrite with the source clip, which will overwrite everything that exists in the timeline from the in-point on the timeline to the out-point of the source clip.

Two Points in a Sequence

A three point edit doesn’t necessitate a selection of two edit points on the source clip. It can have only one edit point, either the in-point or the out-point. In this situation, you’ll select an in-point and out-point in the timeline. There are several advantages to using a three point edit this way: it helps you place a clip into an established sequence when you want to either start or finish with a specific moment in their source clip and not disrupt the timing or footage of the edited sequence. If you want the clip to begin with a particular moment, you would set an in-point for your source clip. This way it would fill in between the points in the sequence, starting exactly where you want it to and cutting out when it reaches the out-point of the sequence. Likewise, if you want to cut out after a specific moment in the source clip, set an out-point on the source for that moment. When placed with a three point edit on the sequence, the source clip’s out-point will align with the sequence’s out-point and back time to the in-point of the sequence.

To cut out after a specific moment in a clip, set an out-point for that moment.

The three point edit saves time. With it, you rely on yourr editing program to do the heavy lifting. A disciplined editor who relies on keyboard shortcuts can execute multiple three point edits without even lifting their mouse, keeping their palettes neat and organized. Efficiency is simple and clean; three points, five clicks, and a sequence that gets built one shot at a time.

Chris “Ace” Gates is a four time Emmy Award-winning writer and producer.

1 COMMENT

  1. Great article. I would also add that sometimes the style of editing is determined by the editing platform you’re using as well as the type of project. For example, if you’re cutting to a music beat, you may wish to indicate the beat using markers. You can add markers without having to select the clip first. Also you can add markers to indicate the downbeat (dominant beat) in the music. Your edit will look better if I keep these beats in mind.

    Also if you’re cutting to a voice narration. Drop the in-points where they need to go based on the voice track.

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