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An Hour in Pre-Production Saves Two in Post

An hour in pre-production saves two in post. Are you prepared?
An hour in pre-production saves two in post. Are you prepared? Photo courtesy of Unsplash by Mario Calvo

This article is on the importance of pre-production for video editing projects.

“An hour in pre-production saves two in post,” is one of my favorite sayings.

Whether you are editing or shooting and editing (and producing, directing, etc.), this post is for you. Spending time planning, scripting, brainstorming and storyboarding will significantly decrease the time you spend in post production.

I have been on the winning and losing side of being prepared and not being prepared. Below are some strategies I use in pre-production to save time in post production along with some victories and mistakes I’ve made. These example will highlight the importance of pre-production.

Pre-Production Site Surveys

Whenever possible do a site survey. Canvass the area that’s going to be shot. As far as production goes, check for access to outlets, sunny windows and those typical production-related items. For you the editor, speak up if you have concerns. Is the busy road going to cause you trouble in post? If so, can you move that shot further away? Is there a logo of some sort that’s going to be in the background that you’ll have to blur out? Change the shot or at least you’re prepared in post and won’t be swearing at the videographer.

Recently I had an emergency video that I had to shoot, edit and publish in an hour (crazy, I know). There was only one spot I could shoot in. It had overhead lights and a bright, sunny window with no blinds to one side. I had no time to strike lights and all I had in my camera bag was a green screen. I clipped the green screen across the window to diffuse some of the light. My PA sat in the chair and it looked pretty good, or so I thought.

I shot the quick video with the talent who had a shiny, bald head. I didn’t notice the problem during the shoot because I was in such as rush. When I got to my laptop and plugged in the SD card I saw it… a green glow on his head. If I had spent 2 more minutes setting up I would have noticed this and could have gotten access to a white screen. Instead I was in a rush and had to spend the rest of the dwindling minutes trying to color correct the guy’s head.

Everyone Reads the Script During Pre-Production

The scriptwriter, shooter, editor, producer, director and especially client must read the script before shooting. The more eyes on it the better. You will catch mistakes. This might cause a couple extra rounds of revisions, and piss off whoever wrote it, but it’s better that the client realizes they want one more executive interviewed then than 4-weeks later when you deliver the fine cut.

As the editor you want to read the script so that there are no surprises. Was something marked saying that you’ll create some elaborate animation that’s way out of your abilities? Plan ahead. Tell them you can’t do it, need extra time or they’ll have to hire a freelancer. You can also start laying shots out in your head. If you realize that a nice CU of a smile or someone’s eyes would look good there, ask for it to be included in the shot list.

Years ago my old production manager and I started forcing our team to have pre-production meetings (what a novel idea!). Even though many of the videos we created were based off of templated scripts, there was a fair amount of improvement that could be done. We got together as a team (most of the time) before a shoot to read through the script together. We were always able to find a couple lines or shot selections to change for the better.

Additional Recommended Reading: The Importance of Timecodes

Brainstorming in Pre-Production

Brainstorm everything. Make a list of the top-10 things that could go wrong and what the easiest/quickest/cheapest solutions would be. What happens if you forget the camera or it gets broken on the flight there? What if a high-level executive takes your interview space?

When my wife and I were planning our wedding in 2012 I wrote out a backup plan for nearly everything. What happens if the florist forgets to make the flowers? I had addresses and hours of the next closest florist and Costco. What if one of the groomsman forgets his tie? I brought a backup. What if a friend drinks too much? I got all my friends drunk the night before so they wouldn’t drink as much at the wedding! Luckily there were no emergencies but I was prepared for anything.

I also like to brainstorm what I can do to make a video better before shooting and after completion of the whole project. Should I hire someone to do makeup? Is there a cheaper way to do this? Could my assistant editor have done more?

I’d like to know if and what you brainstorm for projects. Leave your thoughts in the comments section!

Importance of Storyboarding During Pre-Production

I seriously cannot draw. Nonetheless I still draw storyboards. They are very elementary in terms of how they look but they allow me to easily see how the video will play out and I can rearrange and tweak as necessary before the shoot. If you’d like to see a post or tutorial on storyboarding let me know in the comments sections.

I have a gift for you. Click here to download the storyboard that I use! Oh, and don’t make fun of it. I threw it together real quick years ago and it’s worked for me ever since. If it’s not broke don’t fix it!

With storyboards the shooter and editor can put together a better shot list. Storyboarding also gives me a better idea of what graphics I’ll need to create. I can start working on them before or during the shoot.

Summing Up the Importance of Pre-Production

An hour in pre-production saves two in post. The importance of pre-production for video editing projects cannot be oversold.

Before a shoot try to head out to the location to take a site survey. Take note and bring up anything you think will make editing more difficult. Make sure everyone, especially the client, reads the script. Brainstorm what could go wrong and have the best backup solutions ready. Lastly, storyboard your video. This will give you a head start when beginning to edit and help you put together a better shot list.

I’d like to know how you save time in post with better pre-production. Share your thoughts!

Last thing… if you know an editor or someone in the video world that would benefit from this post do them a favor and send it to them. There are some handy sharing shortcuts below or you can always just email them the URL (hey quick shortcut – on a Mac use Cmd+L to highlight the URL).

Okay, this is really the last thing! Thank you so much for reading. Every view, share, subscription and comment gives me inspiration to keep going. I’m headed on a three-day shoot next week so I might not be as active on Twitter but I’m still planning to have new post or tutorial out on Wednesday. If you haven’t subscribed to get emails when I come out with new posts you can do that here.

The String Out Edit — 10 Ways to Edit Them Faster

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

Custom Sift in Avid Media Composer

4. Top and Tail

Top and Tail Icons in Avid Media Composer

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.

If you didn’t know I also write over on ScreenLight’s blog. Here’s my post on Top and Tail that I wrote for them.

5. Templated sequences

A template sequence for a string out edit

Setup a templated sequence

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 to Make Template Sequence for a String Out Edit

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

Template Slate for a String Out Edit

Template Slate

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.

Parting Thoughts

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!