Hey there! I started a new freelance video editing project this week. I feel like it’d be a fun exercise to document my journey through it. You’ll get to see my workflow for a freelance video editing project from beginning to end. Hopefully you can pickup some useful tips based on things I do. By doing this we will get to see my workflow and by stepping back and looking at it we can see where I excelled and where I could have done better. And most importantly it will keep me accountable to stay on track with it.
This article discusses 10 methods that will improve your string out edits and have you editing them faster than you ever thought was possible. They are the first drafts of your video editing projects. These don’t need to be perfect and there are a ton of methods speed up how you create a string out edit.
I call the first cut of a video the “string out edit” or “string out.” Others may call it the “first cut,” “first draft,” “offline edit,” etc. This isn’t a rough cut — a rough cut is at least remotely presentable. The purpose of a string out edit is to see what you have, determine what you need (like more footage or graphics) and gather ideas on how you want to cut the piece together. Below are some methods I use to cut my string out time down as much as possible so I have more time to focus on the fine cut or other things that aren’t video editing that I enjoy like teaching my dog to balance a ball on her nose or going to the batting cages.
Note: The keyboard shortcuts and some of the methods below will only work for Avid Media Composer. However the tips, minus the shortcuts and some of the software features, will work for any NLE.
1. Read the script before starting the string out edit
Reading the script at least once will give you an idea of what is in store for you. You’ll start getting ideas of how you want to cut the paragraphs together and when you review the footage you’ll already know where you want those shots go. Many of the training videos I cut use the same basic script that I’ve read hundreds of times. I already know what to look for when I read through it. When I find new sections I get excited and apprehensive and have to bug the videographer to make sure he shot or will shoot these new parts.
2. Review all footage
Even if you shot it, reviewing all the footage is vital to having a quick string out edit. Play through at 2x or 3x the speed (just keep hitting ‘K’ to do this).
3. Label and rate all footage
While you are reviewing the footage, go through and label and rate each shot. Give each master clip a unique filename.
Example: SanFranPromo-140923-001. That breaks down into ProjectName(or shoot name)-YearMonthDay(of shoot)-ShotNumber.
Go through and write a brief description for each shot in the bin. Start each description off with BAD, OKAY or GOOD then write your description.
Example: GOOD WS Crowded cable car going down street or BAD CU Sea lion roar out of focus
When you are done use a Custom Sift (find that under the Fast Menu, aka Hamburger Menu, then Custom Sift…) and search “good.” Then edit all those clips into your timeline. Repeat for the term “okay.” Once you do that you’ll have all your usable clips in your timeline ready for chopping.
Custom Sift in Avid Media Composer
4. Top and Tail
Top and Tail in Avid Media Composer
Top and Tail are two very underutilized editing tools. In fact I didn’t start using them until a few months ago. I thought I could set In/Out Points (E/I and R/O) and Extract (X) faster than hitting F11 or F12 (my Top and Tail shortcuts). 3 keystrokes or 1…which is faster? What Top and Tail do is remove either the beginning or end of a clip based on where your time indicator is (that blue bar in the timeline). Top removes from beginning of the clip to the time indicator and Tail removes from the time indicator to the end of the clip.
Now that all of your footage is in your sequence, go through and cut out all the parts from the clips you don’t need. You are now left with the best parts of the usable footage.
Create a new sequence in a new project called Template. The sequence should be set up the way you like to have your tracks, timecodes, etc. Set the number of video and audio tracks and the starting timecode. I like to start with five video tracks, two audio tracks, and a starting timecode of 00:59:00:00.
Add Custom Numbered Track
In my template sequences I add the V20 track (Command+Opt+Y for Mac or Control+Alt+Y for PC then select V20) as well then rename it to my name and the date. This track is used for my notes using Locators/Markers. V21 or more tracks can always be added if I have the need to create more session notes.
I also put a Timecode Burn-In effect (find that under Effect Palette > Generator > Timecode Burn-In) on V5 then roll it out until around 01:06:00:00. As you know in Media Composer your timeline ends at the end of your last frame. However, probably like you, I like to be able to see past my last frame. That’s why I do that effect. That track is unlocked and the rest are kept locked. I’ll get into locking tracks in another post. Anyway, once you get that template sequence set up, you can open the bin in any project, duplicate it then move it into your project. It takes about 2 minutes to set up once and you’ll have a consistent base to start with every time that would take you 2 minutes to set up anyway.
6. Templated slates for the string out edit
Go ahead and make a slate template in the Template project. You can even add it to your templated sequence (and I have idea why I haven’t done that yet). This way you can open up the bin, duplicate it, re-create the media for it if it’s on a different hard drive/workspace and you’re ready to go. Why create a new slate for every project when you can just use one and modify it each time?
7. Locators/Markers in the string out edit
Okay, I know Avid started calling them Markers in Version 7 (or earlier) but I still like calling them Locators. #OldSchool. As you do your initial cut add Locators to your sequence, preferably in that top track I described in the Templated Sequences section. Make notes of what you have or need to do.
Example: “Fade in music,” “add lower third,” “insert map graphic,” “reshoot reaction shot,” etc.
8. Placeholders for the string out edit
When you have gaps because there’s video still to be shot or graphics to be made throw in a placeholder like a title that says “STILL NEED” or something to that effect in big letters. Add it for the approximate duration of what’s needed. You can even put this on V3 or V4 so it stands out visually even more than just seeing the Locator you added too.
9. Just edit video (no audio, FX or graphics)
Don’t start adjusting audio levels, adding music, creating transitions or making graphics in the first cut. Simply note where these elements go and move on. Get this first cut done and then evaluate your priorities.
10. Remember…it’s just a string out edit. It doesn’t have to be perfect
This cut shouldn’t be shown to many people if anyone. It doesn’t have to be perfect or even good.
“Something done is better than perfect.”
You are trying to find out what you need and what you want to do with this video. Nail that down with the string out edit and you will be editing the rest of the video faster.
Getting your footage on the timeline, cutting out the bad parts and figuring out what you have to do to complete the video will greatly speed up your workflow. Above I shared many of my tips for putting together the string out edit but I’m sure you have your own. What do you do differently? Share your tips below in the comments section!
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