An Editing Workflow To Save Time and Money [u]

Posted on by Larry

[Updated Aug. 1, 2020, to clean up wording.]

I want to talk about making money for a few minutes.

As editors, the way we make money is selling our time. (Yes, I know there is a craft to editing, and technology, and experience, but at the end of the day, the unit of measure for this is time.)

One of the frequent problems I see in my emails is it is very easy for editors to get distracted from what we SHOULD be doing to what we WANT to do. This means that we are wasting a lot of our time – which costs us money.

One of my goals in writing my books is to show you faster ways to do things. If you can achieve the same quality in your projects in a fraction of the time, this instantly equates into either more free time, or time for more projects. Both are desirable goals.

When I wrote my first book on Final Cut Pro more than decade ago, I developed an editing workflow that answered the question: “What should I be doing right now?” The software we use has changed, but the need for organizing our time remains the same.

At its heart, editing is story-telling, regardless of whether that story is a feature film, wedding, corporate training, or a commercial. The best videos are always stories. And, like all stories, videos get better the more you polish them. This workflow for editing helps you decide where to best spend your time.

Here’s the overall rule: don’t start a step until all the prior steps are complete. For instance, it makes no sense to spend time adding and polishing transitions when you aren’t even sure what your final shot order is. All the time you spend adding and adjusting a transition becomes wasted when you delete one of the two shots it is attached to.

My workflow divides the editing process into two stages: Creating the story, then polishing the story. Here are the steps:

PART 1: Create The Story

Step 1: Plan your project. Develop a consistent file naming scheme. Set your scratch disks, then leave them alone. Create a project folder to store all your project elements and non-timecode-based media. Think about who your audience is and how you want to reach them. Planning is never fun, but it is essential to successfully completing a project. Here’s an article that can help you get your tapeless media organized.

Step 2: Gather your media. Capture media from video tape. Ingest any tapeless files. Import audio and graphics. Figure out what you have and what you need to create.

Step 3: Label your media. Use bins, keywords and favorites to group your media into categories that will allow you to find it later.

Step 4: Build your story. View your clips. Set In’s and Out’s and edit them into the Timeline. Don’t worry, yet, about precision. Just make some basic decisions on which clips are in and which are out. The goal here is not to strive for perfection, but to get the ideas you have in your head edited into the timeline so you can decide whether they work or not. Until you have something in the timeline, there’s nothing to review and polish.

Step 5: Organize your story. Watch your sequence and make decisions on the order of your clips. Delete the clips that don’t work. Insert clips that are missing. Shuffle clips around to make your story flow better. Don’t worry about making each edit perfect. Concentrate on improving the flow of your story.

Step 6: Trim your story. Once the organization of your story is complete and your clips are in the right order, now it’s time to start trimming your edit points so that your edits become invisible. There are two reasons to trim: to improve the story, or to get your story to fit for time. My recommendation is to first trim to improve the story, then trim to get everything to fit for time.


Step 7: Add transitions. Transitions are fun and sexy, but you’ve only got limited time. Focus on what needs to be done first. Hard as it is to believe, people will still watch your program even if it only contains cuts. (Strange, but true!) But, they can’t watch your show if you never get it done. There are three categories of transitions: cuts, dissolves, and wipes. A cut is a change in perspective, a dissolve is a change in time or place, and a wipe totally breaks the flow of the story to take you somewhere entirely different. Be cautious not to overuse dissolves, and only use a wipe when you want a complete disconnect between what came before and what comes after.

Step 8: Add text and effects. Now that your story is complete, you can afford to spend all your remaining time adding text and effects. Keep in mind that there is no right answer on what is a good effect. If it looks good, within the context of your project, then go ahead and use it. However, don’t bog down too early in effects, or you’ll spend all your time creating effects, only to discover that your story isn’t complete. In general, effects will suck up all the remaining time in your project, plus about a week.

Step 9: Mix your audio. While you’ve been editing your audio all along, now is the time to start adding sound effects, music, background and atmosphere. This is often called audio sweetening. The best thing you can do to improve the quality of your picture is to improve the quality of your audio. If you are part of a team editing this project, feel free to send drafts to the audio folks so they can start planning their mix. If you are doing the whole thing yourself, hold off audio effects and mixing until you’ve decided the picture is locked, otherwise, you can end up spinning your wheels.

Step 10: Color correct/grade your video. This is the last step of your project – making everything look great. Whether you color grade in your NLE or an external application, save this step until everything else is complete. To avoid wasting time, lock your edit, then color grade.

Step 11: Output your project. When everything is done — or the deadline has arrived — create a master file of your project. That way, when you need to make new versions, you don’t need to open the original project and reassemble all the elements. Just locate the approved, high-quality master and make new derivatives from it.

Step 12: Archive your project. Save that which needs to be saved, and trash that which can be trashed. Remember, there are two rules in our industry:

 1) No one actually looks at the final version until it has been posted to YouTube.
 2) Someone will always want changes two days after you delete the project from storage. Archives are ALWAYS necessary.

All we have to sell is our time. The more efficient we are with it, we can make more money, keep happier clients, and rediscover that there is a life outside the editing suite.


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4 Responses to An Editing Workflow To Save Time and Money [u]

  1. This is a great post Larry, having a workflow is so important to keeping a project on track.
    Just a question or rather advice, how should editors price their services? By the hour? day? Project rate?
    And how do we keep in profit as we get faster, as the faster we get the less time we can charge for?
    Is the answer to charge a project rate? And how do we protect a project rate from project creep, as film are never completed as the saying goes.

    Again thank you for this post, your advice on this would be very appreciated.



  2. Karen says:

    I’ve got a bit of a quirky way to edit, mainly because I’m working with demos for people. I edit to the music to keep things flowing and cohesive with it. So I actually start backwards, with the music being the first thing I pick.

    For instance, here is a link to one of my pieces.
    and this one

  3. Richard says:

    It’s very frustrating to work without a workflow. The story and editing is the easiest part of the job. Everything else is nessessary but gets in the way and eats up so much time. Thank you for all the info and tips you’ve put up.

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