I’ve had extensive experience through the years as a Post Production Supervisor, as well as working in all of the various editorial roles from Assistant Editor, to Editor, to Online/Finishing Editor, and through all of these roles and responsibilities I’ve carried countless projects from the initial ingest to the final output/deliverables.
If there’s one thing I learned from my time as a Post Production Supervisor, it is this:
Without a clear plan of attack, accurate time estimates throughout all of the departments and intermediate deliveries of associated assets, and the exchanges between VFX, Animation and Sound departments (and more), you will not only incur time loss, monetary loss, but also potentially catastrophic delays or worse if all parties are not working in concert smoothly and seamlessly.
In order to determine an edit’s time requirements, all of the above needs to be taken into consideration and carefully mapped out and visualized on a calendar, and all parties must be in agreement with the post calendar dates and delivery requirements in order for everything to run smoothly.
At this point, you can “finalize” or “lock” the calendar, but know that often things will have a tendency to slip or bleed, and this too should be planned for, especially if working on a highly complex and/or long-form edit.
Naturally, though, not every edit requires as many moving parts as listed above. Still, the method should remain the same, as the process is largely unchanged regardless of the parties involved in bringing an edit from raw material to a fully finished and broadcast-ready final.
Here are seven general steps included in a video editing workflow:
Table of Contents
- Step 1: Initial Ingest/Project Setup
- Step 2: Sorting/Syncing/Stringing/Selects
- Step 3: Principal Editorial
- Step 4: Finishing Editorial
- Step 5: Revisions/Notes
- Step 6: Final Deliverables
- Step 7: Archival
- Why Does Video Editing Take So Long?
- How Can I Edit Faster?
- How to Avoid or Minimize Edit Revisions and Notes?
Step 1: Initial Ingest/Project Setup
Estimated time needed: 2 hours – full 8-hour day
In this stage, you are either importing the camera cards from scratch if the material was not already loaded onto a drive (which can take considerable time to do) or you are lucky enough to have all of the footage downloaded already and you need only import it.
In the case of the latter, this should help greatly with the time requirements of the initial ingest and setup. If not, you are going to have to download everything first (and copy your footage to a redundant drive for data safety, ideally) which could take a great deal of time.
Once everything is in the project, you should go about sorting and building the overall structure of your bins and preparing for the next stage.
Step 2: Sorting/Syncing/Stringing/Selects
Estimated time needed: 1 hour – 3 full 8-hour days
This stage can vary greatly depending upon the volume of footage that you are needing to process. If you only have a few minutes of raw footage, and little to no audio to synchronize, you may be able to get to clipping down or even skipping this step altogether.
But for most, this process is one that takes a considerable amount of time, but pays great dividends if you are methodical, meticulous and extremely well organized.
If done right, this can make the initial editorial assembly for your first cut far easier and quicker than it might be otherwise.
Step 3: Principal Editorial
Estimated time needed: 1 day – 1 year
Here is where “the magic” happens, where you finally get to begin assembling your edit. It can come together quickly if you have done all of the above-mentioned preparations well and taken much of the guesswork out of the process.
However, unless you are working with a short-form edit or something that is very simple in terms of edit requirements, you should not expect to arrive at a full-fledged edit without spending a few days time to experiment and refine your initial cut.
If the project is of the long-form variety, then you can expect this process to be quite long indeed, sometimes taking not days or months, but sometimes years.
In short, there is no standard for how long this process can take, and it varies greatly from edit to edit, and editor to editor.
Some editors are lightning fast, and others are obsessive and perfectionist based, or ones that love to tinker and experiment infinitely with various approaches before settling on a definitive V1 version of their edit.
Step 4: Finishing Editorial
Estimated time needed: 1 week – several months
This stage may be largely optional for some edits, but really, all edits benefit from some form of color correction, sound mixing/polish or editorial tweaking/tightening.
This process might then take a few hours, or it may take several weeks or longer depending upon the number of creatives and departments involved in the finishing process.
Sometimes this can be done in parallel, where other departments are working on their VFX, animation, titles, sound design, or color grades while the editor is still actively building their V1 edit.
Adobe and other NLE software have been making a fair bit of progress with team-based editing and finishing, but these solutions are still a bit lacking and only help to expedite the process marginally.
At least for now, there is no easy way to share one system or ecosystem that can serve all relevant artists involved in the editorial finishing processes, but there may be so in the future. If this happens, the finishing process overall will be greatly improved and thoroughly expedited.
Step 5: Revisions/Notes
Estimated time needed: 2-3 days – several months
This is arguably the most dreaded and hated part of the process by anyone that has ever donned the coveted role of editor.
Just now as I speak these words “Here are the notes”, are you having flashbacks to your last nightmare edit? My apologies if so, I know the PTSD can be very real.
If not, you should count yourself lucky, as you have been spared (thus far that is) or you have been fortunate enough to work with wonderful clients and companies who love your work and aren’t going to put you through months of infinite editorial notes and revisions, moving a title by a few pixels or needing to hear yet another music track.
Yes, I’ve seen my fair share of revision hell, and any professional likely has, even if they aren’t willing to admit it. There is no telling how long this stage will take, but I can assure you that it will pass, so do take that to heart if you’re stuck at this stage.
You can expect to spend at least a few days though likely a week or more, and sometimes even months in this stage at worst.
Step 6: Final Deliverables
Estimated time needed: a few minutes – weeks
This stage is typically one of the quickest stages, though it too can become quite long and protracted depending on the number of deliverables and various outlets or social media platforms you are seeking to distribute and release to.
If you have a high volume of edits as well (say for a full commercial campaign) this process can take many weeks to complete (depending on the number of final deliverables).
If you’re only printing a single final and not distributing it throughout the known media universe, then this stage may take you no more than the time it takes your system to export your final output. If so, you may be done within a few minutes or hours depending on the system you have and how long the edit is.
Step 7: Archival
Estimated time needed: a few hours – a few days
Many people overlook this stage and are instead all too happy to move on to the next edit or simply take a much-needed victory lap.
However, if you are not making proper backups of your source media, editorial projects (and associated assets), and your final prints, you may find yourself completely and utterly distraught when one or all of these files suffer a catastrophic failure, corruption, or data loss. Oftentimes this is irreparable and something that may not be fixable, and hence, lost forever.
Don’t let this happen to you. If you have dodged this bullet your whole career, I consider you lucky, not smart.
So do the smart thing and make it a habit to archive and back up your project and all final assets/deliverables as soon as you have sent the finals to your client and there are no further changes to be made.
Your source media/raws should have already been backed up before you even begin to import it into your NLE, never cut off your master files, or do so at your own peril.
Why Does Video Editing Take So Long?
Video editing takes considerable time because it is an intensive and iterative creative process. One does not operate or live in linear time when editing, largely due to the fact that you are assembling an entire world frame by frame.
Ask any editor and they will tell you that they often totally lose track of time, especially when in a flow state. Furthermore, as the above stages illustrate, there are considerable time requirements at every stage of the process.
How Can I Edit Faster?
The key here is to practice and never stop trying to hone your craft. The more edits you complete and the more comfortable and intuitive you become, the better and quicker you will be able to edit.
In the beginning, it may feel like you’re drowning in options, but once you get your “sea legs” you will be able to dive into 40 hours of raw materials and produce a 60-second commercial spot in no time at all.
The best singular method I’ve encountered throughout my career is to treat an edit like a stone carving, simply cut away and remove anything that doesn’t feel like it belongs, and in the end, you should be left with an expertly crafted edit in no time at all.
How to Avoid or Minimize Edit Revisions and Notes?
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could guarantee that you wouldn’t get any notes or revisions, and your first edit would also be your final edit? Yes, it would be nice, but this is a pipe dream.
The fact of the matter is that edits are made better through revision and notes, as painful as they may be, and we must accept that our singular vision may not be as complete or ideal as we think it to be, and can often be divergent from that of our clients’ wishes.
In short, it’s unlikely that you can avoid notes or rounds of revisions, but you can certainly try to set a limit to the number of revisions you are willing to make (if you do so upfront), or if not, simply do your best to bring the client’s vision to life and refrain from sending early rush drafts, only ever put your best foot forward with regard to the first client-facing draft.
That wraps up this guide. As always, please let us know your thoughts about the general phases of video editing, and leave your feedback in the comments section below.