When I stepped into my role as a writer/director, one of the experiences I brought along with me was several years of professional video editing. I didn’t quite know it at the time, but this skillset was going to prove to be more valuable in my new role than any other film-related knowledge I had. Without it, I would have been lost and scrambling on set more times than I can count.
To anyone looking to step into a directorial role, I can't advise enough, LEARN HOW TO EDIT. You don’t have to be a hotkey wizard or VFX God - just learn the basics, cut a few projects you’re proud of, and I promise next time you walk onto set you’ll be more intentional, creative, and adaptable.
Keep in mind, the utility of the list below fluctuates a bit depending on what sort of project you’re directing. Some of these bullets may be more relevant to directing a 30-second broadcast commercial, whereas others may make more sense in the context of a corporate promo video or short documentary. With that out of the way, here are my 5 reasons.
1. You’ll become more adaptable. While on set, things will go wrong, and you'll have to improvise. When conceptualizing a new shot, line of dialogue, or any other creative detail on the spot, having a comprehensive, high-level understanding of how the video is going to come together is insanely helpful. It gives you the power to play the edit out in your head (or as I call it, doing a Jimmy Neutron) and say “Hey, if we try the shot this way or that way, it’ll fit in the edit”. When time is of the essence, being able to make these judgment calls quickly and with a thorough explanation for your crew is absolutely priceless.
2. Your mental stopwatch will become more refined. Intuitively knowing how short or long any given shot needs to be is a great skill to have as a director. Timing is everything in video production, especially when you’re shooting a 30 –60 second commercial. You can have your AD time out a shot with a stopwatch, or ask your DP to review playback, but frankly, that won’t always be possible. You don't want to end up in a nightmare scenario where one of your keystone shots is 5 seconds too long and screws up your entire edit.
3. Your editorial transitions will become more thoughtful. We’ve all seen a commercial that features a satisfying transition - whether it’s a smooth whip pan in/out or a graphic cut that captures your attention. More often than not, these decisions are made before the footage hits the cutting room floor. If you don’t direct these moments with the utmost intention, you won’t have the content you need to make it work in the edit bay. During the final stages of writing or shot listing a spot, I always find myself making a final pass through, searching for places where I can enhance the story with a tasteful transition. These little moments are often what take a project from good to great. They’re the Cholula in your breakfast burrito.
4. You can prevent overshooting or undershooting. During your production day, having the ability to build out the edit in your head gives you the opportunity to shoot more to compensate for any content you KNOW won’t make the cut, or on the contrary, stop shooting and save money on data by calling it a day when the cake has been baked.
5. You can say “We can fix that in post-production” with confidence, and your editor will thank you for it later. Knowing what content is possible and what is not possible to save in post-production allows you to be transparent with your client, especially if they’re on set with you. You never want to be caught in a situation where you tell your client you can fix it later, and it turns out you really can’t. Those are not fun emails to send after a shoot.
If you’re looking to hone your editing skills, we highly recommend taking a look at sites like Udemy.com. They offer comprehensive courses that are affordable and will get you up and running fast!
Until next time.