How To Edit Video: an 8-Point Style Guide

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Here are some tips I can give you on video editing.  Yes, this is Margelit writing.  Here’s what I’ve learned about editing from being married to and working with Shmuel for the last 4.5 years.

You’ve finally figured out how to use Final Cut, and you’re sitting there with a bunch of loaded shots wondering how to put them together.  Here are some basic guidelines to get you started.

1. Make People Look Good

If you were also the cameraperson, you know that it is hard enough to get people to agree to be filmed and act natural, let alone to speak.

Don’t make anyone in your film regret that he signed up. No stumbling, fumbling, mumbling, bloopers or poopers. You want everyone to clamber to get into your film the next time around.  Plus, highlighting someone’s weak moment is just mean.  If someone has the best quote in the world–it’s energetic and relevant–if there’s a snot hanging out of his nose at least have the decency to cover him up with some B-roll, which is described on Wikipedia to mean “secondary footage that adds meaning to a sequence or disguises the elimination of unwanted content.”

2. Focus on Story

Unless you have camera equipment with shallow depth of field or tilt-shift lenses, an image piece is probably NOT the way you want to go.  You MUST tell some kind of story, or else you’ll lose your audience.  Get your clips in an order that makes sense, with smooth segues between topics, and most importantly, CUT OUT WHAT IS NOT RELEVANT to your audience.


Most of your clips are not relevant. Trust me.The secret to any art (and I am loathe to call this art) is not what is there, but rather what is not there.  Our motto is, “When in doubt, cut it out.”  I don’t care which famous person is saying it, and I don’t care how interesting his or her theory might be.  If it does not serve your story, it does not serve your audience, and this does not serve you.

4. Edit on Action

A great place to start with cutting it out is to cut on action.  There are obvious lulls and dull moments, which you clearly must cut out.  But in editing you need to cut as close to the action as possible, which means on the action.  If nothing else is happening besides someone moving their eyes, cut on both ends of the eye movement as it starts and finishes.  You want to become lean in your editing, and this is the only way to end up with a tight little piece, where everything is relevant and no one can say they got too much information.  Don’t underestimate the human eye and how fast it picks up movements, emotions, and hidden meanings.

5. Fast Cuts

Editing on action will naturally make your cuts fast.  Shmuel and I scour the internet for good videos to learn from, and we always, always turn it off when there’s even one shot that goes on for a millisecond too long.  It’s hard enough to get people to watch your videos in the first place; do not let them think they are wasting their time because you overindulged for a second in a shot you like because that baby is just so cute, or your hair looks just perfect.  Self-indulge on your own time, not your audience’s.

6. Edit to the Music

There are some people whose shots are so good, they don’t need to be phenomenal editors.  Your video must flow and be seamless, and the best way to make that happen is to give it some rhythm.

photo by Paco Vila

Even if you can’t dance, you have rhythm: in your speech, in your actions, in your thoughts, there is pace.  Choose some good music and make the cuts line up with the downbeats and offbeats, and if it fits, make the climaxes line up in the music and your visual edit.  Listen to the music.  What does it tell you in terms of how it develops, its dynamics and intensity?  Your edits should follow that.

Think you don’t need music?  Think again.  I won’t go into the logic now, but suffice it to say that sound is more powerful in some ways than sight, since it can travel through solid matter and around corners, unlike light.  And it can be so subtle that it can make you angry or calm without even knowing what hit you.  Just make sure all your copyright issues are in order, and get some music into your film!

7. Polish!

If there’s a jump, if the people look washed out, if one person speaking is too loud and the next is too quiet, fix it.  Whatever you notice, your audience will notice too, and they won’t be forgiving.  Invest your time and money in sound sweetening and color grading, if you’re thinking of ever making money from this.

8. Get a Second Opinion

Find someone whose artistic opinion you trust, and who is not afraid of being direct, and ask them their opinion before showing your piece to the world.  Nothing leaves our studio without bouncing back and forth off of me and Shmuel many times.  There is always something you’ll miss that someone else will see.  Just be careful not to get too many cooks involved, because that always spoils the pot.  And do not ask someone who has no idea about these things, even if you want to appeal to a wider audience.  They will always make the most irrelevant comments and you’ll be fretting too much to ever get your stuff out.

At some point, you must announce that your work is finished, though it can never be truly complete. As Picasso said, “The day I finish a painting is the day I’m finished!” And as my dad says, “Sometimes a bad decision is better than no decision.”  Go boldly forward, post your video anywhere and everywhere if it is relevant, and ask for feedback!  Don’t go back to fix things after you’ve posted a video for the world to see; take these suggestions and use them to improve your next movie.The main thing we’ve found that separates the good from the bad and the ugly editors, is that the good ones are always looking to improve.  When asked how he always keeps his music fresh and innovative, David Bowie said, “I just never get comfortable.” Well said.

Now that you’ve edited your video, check out How to Get Your Videos Found On Youtube in 4 Easy Steps.

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8 Responses to "How To Edit Video: an 8-Point Style Guide"

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Margelit Hoffman, Margelit Hoffman and Margelit Hoffman, ShmuelHoffman. ShmuelHoffman said: How To Edit Video: an 8-Step Style Guide – Here are some tips I can give you on video editing.  Yes, this is Margeli… […]

  2. Margelit,
    You make some very good points on the basics of editing video. The hard part of distilling editing to a multi-point blog post is covering the basic principles, which you do very well, such as focusing on the story and cutting out anything that is not necessary to the storyline. The harder part is covering the details. You touch on many of them such as editing on the action and using music as a guide. There are so many variables to just these two concepts that it is hard to make fast and hard rules. Editing sometimes approaches art but good editing is a craft and a skilled craftsman can do amazing things.
    These guidelines are a great start for the beginning editor. For those who also have a hand in shooting or directing the video it is important to remember that editing begins in pre-production. Thinking about such things as how to handle transitions; staging a scene so the camera doesn’t cross the line of action; blocking action and camera angles for editing; maintaining consistency in lighting and many other things ad to and help the editor. For example cutting on the action is one of the basic editing techniques. This should be planned while shooting. The actor delivers a line to the camera then turns to their left. The camera moves 90 degrees to the right and captures the turn again, but this time with a different framing so when the editor cuts on the turn the shot goes from a medium shot to a close up. This is smoother, doesn’t look like a jump cut and gives the editor more latitude for matching shots that don’t quite line up.
    Your guidelines are an excellent starting point and I agree that the beginning editor should edit, show their work to others, get criticism, watch other videos, copy, imitate, learn and improve.
    Thank you,
    Tim Lorang

    • Very true Timothy! Thanks for your comment. All of this said, it takes years to perfect. Gotta put in your 10,000 hours. There’s no way to teach what Shmuel does. I live and work with him and know enough to have written this post, but not to re-create the magic that he makes. Slow and steady wins every race.

  3. Good Stuff-I wish I had read this a month ago-(500 hours ago) Oh, well, only 9500 more to go…

  4. LOL! Please send me the results.

  5. Paco Vila says:

    Hello, it’s Paco Vila. I’d like to be attributed as the author of the metronome photo if you don’t mind. Here is the link:

  6. Laurie says:

    thanks for reminding us on the basics of a great video. i too shut off anything that doesnt capture my attention throughout.

  7. […] How to Edit Video: An 8-Point Style Guide. Share this: Pin ItEmailMoreDiggPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Tags: video, […]

  8. […] back in the day, I wrote a post called  How To Edit Video: an 8-Point Style Guide. I recently discovered (many thanks to Reputation Rhino) that this post has since been mentioned […]

  9. […] back in the day, I wrote a post called  How To Edit Video: an 8-Point Style Guide. I recently discovered (many thanks to Reputation Rhino) that this post has since been mentioned […]

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