Growing up I hated reading. I hated reading worse than broccoli and flossing. Somehow over the past 6ish years I have fallen in love with it though. I’m still a slow reader but I’m usually reading at least two books at all times. My most recent endeavor is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It’s not a book about tuning engines. It’s “an inquiry into values.” I’m only ~50 pages into it but already really digging it (a term that’s been stuck in my head because it’s in every other paragraph in the other book I’m reading). The other night I came across a few pages that focus on focus and an idea struck me. I realized this is something I’ve been slacking on and thought we could try out an experiment together in the edit bay to see if it helps us edit video faster.
It’s 8:30pm on Tuesday night and up until about 30 minutes ago there was a different post scheduled to go out tomorrow, my regular posting day. Like many nights I found myself winding down with a few minutes of Twittering while watching the Nats game. That was until I saw an interesting retweet:
If you're giving it away for free why should anyone pay you? You're not doing work for free, you're getting used for nothin'
— Edward Row (@edwardrow) August 26, 2014
Normally I’d just move on hoping for a new tweet from @CuteEmergency or @OhMyCorgi. But today was different. I felt compelled to respond because something happened earlier today that proved why working for free pays off.
Proving why working for free pays off
A new small business was in the process of getting their storefront setup last winter. I have a somewhat selfish interest in seeing them succeed because I like what they do and the people there (who I didn’t know at first). I felt they could use the video medium in some of there marketing efforts so I offered them my services, 100% pro bono (aka for free or literally, “for the public good”).
I spent an hour talking with them about what they need and sketched out some ideas before deciding on one. I came back the next week and shot a video for them, which took less than two hours. They were in no rush so I took my time editing it. I spent maybe 10 hours editing it from my couch over the course of a few weeks in my spare time (there’s a lot more spare time during the baseball offseason). I delivered a fairly good-looking product IMO and they were very pleased.
Since then we’ve stayed in contact and I’ve reaped some non-monetary rewards from them as well. I spent ~13 hours doing work for free for a company in need and they were sincerely thankful for it. Maybe one day they’ll ask me back to do work for them again. I believe they would not ask for it to be free, even though I might do it for free again. Regardless, something much better happened.
I got a call this morning from them saying they referred me to a separate (and much larger) business. The gig is worth significantly more than a few 13-hour projects for a small business.
Why work for free?
Note: This section would become a grammatical train wreck if I don’t make it a list.
- Reel material – For anyone without a ton of non-school projects, this is important even if you don’t put much importance on a reel (I have a ton to say about the value of reels in a future post). Not only is the reel material useful but the real life interactions with clients gives you experience you can’t get in school. Just curious, any recent college grads out there reading this? Could you use more non-school projects on your reel?
- Try new things – Whenever I work for free I make sure to try out crazy shot angles and weird editing techniques. Most importantly I have fun with it. I can’t always enjoy the moment when time is tight and tensions are high during a shoot or when I’m in the editing bay for a paying client. I can do that with free work though. I hone my skills and experiment to better know what I can or cannot do when I’m doing a project for money.
- It feels good – Don’t undervalue this. It feels good to open up the world of video to a new person/company. It feels good to offer your services with no strings attached. It feels good because of point #4 below.
- They are thankful – I’m always a welcomed guest/patron for those that I do free work for. If I did bad work, I might not be so welcomed. But I strive to give them grade A work. Not only are they thankful but we usually become friends too. Also, you tend to get discounts/free goodies on occasion in return (I can’t count the amount of free beers I’ve had and free baseball games I’ve been to in return for doing various forms of free work).
- No taxes or paperwork – Do I need to say more about this?
- Referrals and future work – This is the most important one but the one you should worry about the least. Remember, you did this with no strings attached. Hopefully you’ll do future work for them. If they ask you to do it for free, you can if you want to reap any of the benefits above. Or you could tell them no. Or you could ask if they would pay you… Do not expect them to ever give you future work or refer you. You will only be let down if you do and they don’t do it. I’ve done free work and gotten future paid work from them. I’ve done free work and gotten referrals. I’ve been asked to work again for free. And I’ve also never heard from them again.
For the record, I have my day job from working for free. I taught Tae-Kwon-Do for many years for free at a free school my dad and I ran. Nearly a decade later I got a call from a man who we used to train. There was a need to create a video department at the company he was at. I’ve been running that video department now for a year and a half.
When I don’t work for free
- Medium-Large Companies – They can probably afford it and if they can’t they are probably desperate (see the next bullet). If they get it for free they will expect it for free in the future from you or someone else and that is bad for the industry. Imagine you work for a medium or large company and you got something for them for free. Isn’t your boss going to expect that the next time they want that same thing? What are you going to tell your boss? If you tell them, “we have to pay them now,” don’t you see them saying, “can’t you find someone else who will do it for free?”
- Non-chill and/or desperate people – The success of the video should not make or break the company.
- When I’m approached by them – If I’m approached about doing work by them I usually give them my rates. A third party telling me that they could use my help is different though. I must approach them about doing work. I’ve gone into projects with the intention of doing it for free then they ask me how much.
- When it’s not fun
- When it costs me money (outside of some minor expenses like gas or lunch)
- When it doesn’t improve any situation – This can be social or my skillset. If I don’t find these people likeable and/or my skillset doesn’t improve, I’m not doing it. Example: If the people are borderline likeable and they want a talking head and for me to use some vertical b-roll their nephew shot, I’m not doing it.
- When I can’t use them as a reference
- When I can’t use the work or part of the work as an example of work I’ve done
- When it’s not convenient – I will not work unless the timing is convenient for me. If I have a lot going on at home or at work, it’ll have to wait. They should understand and if they don’t, then they aren’t getting my free work.
Decide for yourself
You can easily get taken advantage of working for free. I hope this never happens to you but it can. It’s happened to me and that’s why I have such strict rules about when I choose to work for free. But working for free is really beneficial. You get to try new techniques, make new friends, get demo material and it feels really good.
You have to decide for yourself though. What’s your stance? Do you work for free? Why or why not?
If you think someone could benefit from this post do them a favor and share it! Make sure to sign up at the bottom of the page to receive email notifications when I come out with new posts. Most weeks I publish an in-depth post like this one on Wednesday and a quick video tutorial on Friday on my YouTube channel.
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.
4. Top and Tail
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
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.
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!
Over the past year I’ve had this urge to create a website dedicated to helping people edit video faster. I’ve spent months planning. I created and recreated mind maps of ideas, topics, courses, products, etc. Started, stopped then started over again only to find myself in the same place – nowhere. All this planning took away from the most important part of all of this – acting. I was stuck. I couldn’t pull the trigger until it was just right. Then over the weekend while I was winding down for the night I reached in the fridge to grab a beer when an idea hit me… why don’t I just start the damn website right now before I’m finished with this beer? I’ll never be able to plan it all out and I already have some idea of what I want to do so why not go for it?
It was midnight after a long week. My wife and dog were sound asleep. All I was going to do is watch part of some bad 90’s action movie on TNT or a standup comedian that isn’t that funny. So I decided right then and there, standing in my dark kitchen, illuminated by the refrigerator light clutching a Heavy Seas Siren Noire in my hands, that I would start this website now.
I poured my beer, moved over to the family room, opened up my laptop and went over to the webhosting company’s website I had decided on (and undecided on then redecided on again) months ago. If my wallet had been on my nightstand where it should have been then I most likely would have chickened out because I probably would have woken up my wife and been guilted into going to bed with a freshly poured beer still downstairs. Maybe it was meant to be. I hadn’t even taken a sip yet and before I knew it the EditVideoFaster.com domain was purchased and I was installing WordPress.
That night and the following early mornings and nights since I’ve been tinkering with the themes, layout, structure and everything else that goes along with it. I’m nowhere near done and don’t expect to be anytime soon. This site looks rough right now and I’m okay with that. If I didn’t act the other night then I probably still would be without a site and stuck in the same place I’ve been. I acted, just like you did when you clicked on the link to visit this site. Just like you will do when you use the information I will share on this site to make you a faster video editor. The only reason you should be here is to become better at your craft of video editing (or you’re my mom). I urge you to act with the skills and knowledge you learn here (which will be up shortly if it’s not already). I urge you to act and share your best practices along side myself and help make the video editing community a better place.
I’m here for you. If there’s something you are struggling with in video editing or the industry in general, let me know. This site is to help you. On this site you will find real-life examples of mistakes I’ve made and what I’ve learned from them so you won’t have to do the same. You’ll find helpful resources for your favorite software like Avid Media Composer, Adobe After Effects and Adobe Photoshop. I’ll create products and resources like Video Editor Survival Guides or stock graphic elements and footage for you. Anything you need, I’m here for you.
Fellow editors – if you take one thing from this post I hope you take this: Act. Don’t hesitate when there’s something you have to do or it’ll slowly drive you crazy and it’ll become harder and harder to do. Grab a beer and dive in. Have you done anything similar recently? Share in the comments section below. Cheers!
Hey, one more thing! Send this post out to someone who needs to act and make sure to subscribe to my email newsletter at the bottom of this post to stay up-to-date on news and special newsletter-only information. As an FYI, like I mentioned above, I’m still getting this website set up and the same goes for the newsletter so please bear with me while I work out the kinks! This is completely new to me but it’s really exciting and I promise to only deliver top-notch content to you.