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An 11-Step Guide for Editing a Short Film

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

Once you've shot your short film, it is time to assemble all of the visual and audio footage. This stage of production is called post-production.

An 11-Step Guide for Editing a Short Film

An Editor is a technical artist who has the patience to sort through hours of footage to build a cohesive, compelling story. You're basically writing your film with images and sounds.


"Editing is like sculpting, whereas you have to chisel, carve, and mold your picture into shape."

It's a very tedious job, so patience is definitely key. For more information on the Editor's role, check out the job profile on Diversity in Cinema Academy.


Editing is a complicated step in the filmmaking process, but it is one of the most crucial steps in the filmmaking process. There are a few basic concepts that I believe can help budding filmmakers better their craft.


PS: Some of these are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I may get a commission for recommending the product to you.


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As an indie filmmaker, you will find yourself wearing several hats. You will also find that other creatives have to wear many hats, as well. For instance, your Editor may have to edit the picture, sound, and music for your short film or micro-budget film. They also may have to color the film and provide titles and visual effects, too. So, since that's the case, I will provide a step-by-step process of the post-production phase.


Let's take a look at the process of editing a short film. Taking the proper steps during the editing process will assist you in creating a compelling film that can potentially garner the attention of industry insiders such as managers, agents, development executives, and production companies.


Magix Movie Studio Editing Software

Here are eleven steps for editing a short film:


Choose an Editing Program


The Editor must tell a compelling story by understanding how to utilize editing software such as Vegas Pro Suite, Adobe Premiere, or DaVinci Resolve.


Digital editing software is a tool that allows the creator to cut and manipulate visual and audio footage.


Save and backup


The video and audio footage that the filmmaker capture is dumped into multiple portable hard drives during principal photography. At a minimum, you should have at least three different hard drives that store the exact duplicate footage.


  • The Editor uses one drive to work from

  • A second drive is used as a backup for the Editor.

  • The producer secures a third drive, just in case something happens to all of the other hard drives.


You should also back up your footage in the cloud. A lot of filmmakers are using cloud-based platforms to secure their footage, and also as a way to view dailies.


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Create a project


Open your editing software and create a new project. Name the project and save it.


Upload Footage


When it's time to organize the footage, it is uploaded to the editing software on your computer. It makes it easier to access as needed during the video editing process.

need.


Western Digital External Hard Drive

Choose Clips


Choose the clips that you will use for the edit—no need to upload all of the footage because some clips will not be usable. But don't delete the unusable footage. You never know if you might need to steal an expression from an actor from a particular scene or use a sound bite from one of those clips.


Organize Footage


Organize your clips into separate bins and folders. Name the folders so that you'll know what's inside of each one. Organizing your footage makes it easier to find the clips that you need.


DaVinci Resolve 17 Blackmagic Design

Edit Footage


Assemble a rough cut – A rough cut is an assembly of the clips in chronological order based on the script and scripty notes. The rough cut is hard to watch. The first time I ever watched a rough cut, I wanted to fire the Editor. I didn't think they knew what they were doing. Alas, it was me that didn't understand the editing process and how music and sound impact our viewing.😏


Next, you will tighten and polish the picture. Here are some techniques you can use:

  • Cut Tight – This can be done by taking out unnecessary pauses between the actor's dialogue.

  • Match Action – Be sure to match the actors' hand positions, use of props, eyelines, and stage position from one cut to another. This makes the transitions seamless and smoother.

  • 180-Degree Rule – Do not violate the 180-degree rule, which is a cinematography guideline that states that two characters in a scene should maintain the same left/right relationship to one another.

Here's a video clip to get a better understanding:


If you have to break the 180-degree rule, see if you can find a cut-away clip before jumping back to the actors. A cutaway is a clip of the surroundings or close-up shots of the actors moving their hands, legs, etc.


As you're trimming the film down, be sure to save the older versions after each pass. You never know if you'll have to go back to the longer version.


These are just a few basic editing tips that can drastically help you fine-tune your short film.


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Titles, graphics, and visual effects


On bigger budget films, the Editor doesn't usually do the titles, graphics, and visual effects. However, as I mentioned earlier, your Editor may have to wear multiple hats if they have these skillsets. (Something to keep in mind when hiring an editor for a short film.)


Typically, you want to make sure that the picture is locked before doing any of these tasks. If you go back and make any adjustments to the edit, then you'll have to adjust the graphics and visual effects, as well. This means you cost your production unnecessary spending.


Music & Sound


Now it's time to polish up the sound and add the music.


First, you're going to clean up the sound, which a Dialogue Editor does. A dialogue edit includes synching the sound to the action, removing pops, clicks, smacking, and breathing sounds. They also adjust the sound levels to make sure that the sound matches throughout the film. Plus, they equalize the voices and modulate voices (e.g., a voice sounds like it is coming from a cell phone).


Next, you will add the sound effects. Sound effects are artificial sounds that are added to films to enhance the illusion of reality. The purpose of the sound effects is to simulate reality, create a sound off-screen that is not there, and also to help create a mood (e.g., squeaky door, floorboards creak, leaky faucet, etc.)


Lastly, you add the musical score, which helps create the emotionality of a scene.


Epidemic Sound


Color Correction & Grading


Adjust the color levels, contrast, and exposure of your clips. Make sure that the clip's color matches seamlessly throughout the entire film.


Color grading allows you to give your picture a particular look or style. You can do it for the entire film or a specific scene.


Picture Lock


Save and backup your project.


Export a copy of the film according to the compression specifications of each platform you will deliver your project.


DaVinci Resolve 17 Blackmagic Design

Final thoughts…


So, there you have it – a quick and easy 11-step process for editing a short film. Let's recap the steps:

  • You've learned the purpose of using editing software.

  • You've learned the importance of saving and backing up your footage.

  • You've learned the first step for creating an editing project.

  • You've learned the importance of uploading your footage to your computer.

  • You've learned why you should choose usable clips.

  • You've learned the importance of creating bins and folders for organization.

  • You've learned a few techniques for editing the footage.

  • You've learned the importance of locking the picture before starting titles, graphics, and visual effects.

  • You've learned the purpose of cleaning up the sound and adding sound effects and music.

  • You've learned the purpose of color correcting and grading your film.

  • And, you've learned to export your project based on the specifications of each platform.


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An excellent exercise for you would be to practice editing clips before shooting your short film. You can shoot several clips from your cell phone or download footage from YouTube, then upload them to editing software. Either way would be great practice.


Remember, this is not a pointless exercise. Preparing for the editing process will help speed up the post-production phase. This exercise would be one of the first steps towards figuring out how you want your film to aesthetically look.


Good luck!


Oh, and let me know in the comments how this exercise works out for your project.


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Post-production can get quite complex if you're dealing with animation, 3-D, CGI, visual effects, orchestral scores, foley sound design, walla sound effects, and so on.


If you're seeking a clearer understanding of the post-production process, I invite you to accompany me on YouTube. I kept it simple in this video and talked about the following main components of post-production: Post-production Workflow, Graphics, Stock Footage⁠, Video Editing, Color Correction, Sound Levels and Delivery of Video.



 

Of course, Diversity in Cinema Academy has many other resources that I love to share with you, but I wanted to keep this blog strictly about editing a short film.


If I had to pick two resources I couldn't live without for editing my short film, it would be these two tools.




Aside from the tools above, I also use many other resources to help me prep for a movie production. Some of them are FREE and some are paid.


You can check out some of the other resources that I love using on Diversity in Cinema Academy's resources page. You can view all of the resources for Filmmakers, Content Creators and Screenwriters from the links provided.


From filmmaking tools, to content creation tools, to screenwriting tools... they all can be found in the tools section of Diversity in Cinema Academy's website. I highly recommend that you check out our tools store! :)


If you like it, please help me to share the resources link with a friend. I would really appreciate it!


Okay, that's all for now. I hope that you have found the information I provided helpful!


Enough information, start editing!


 

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