How Digital Editing Makes Us Lazy

As some of you may know from reading my recent Tweets, I’ve been busy editing our television series, The House Healers (web site is close to being done). Season 2 is set to start airing on the local cable station in a couple of weeks.

We’re really excited about this season of the show – it’s not only a massive transformation of a couple of severely outdated homes, we’re also going green – doing our part to minimize waste and make the houses environmentally friendly.

I’ve been producing television shows and working in video for the better part of about 20 years now. Back in the old days when I worked at said cable station, I had at any given time 5 to 7 series I was responsible for. All of them required a certain amount of editing.

The Golden Days of Tape
When I started in this business, and for about the first 10 years, I was editing tape to tape, using an edit controller console like this. This type of linear editing had its limitations, to be sure, but I could control up to four Video Tape Recorder (VTR) machines, and run it through an effects switcher so I could do transitions, titles, etc. Audio was also controlled through a separate console. Linear editing was all about timing. There were no timelines, so everything had to be laid on the tape in sequence. Sure, you could go back and insert a shot or overlay some music, but it was no easy feat to remove or add entire sections of the show without costing yourself literally hours and hours of time.

As a result, the way I approached putting together a show was critical to a successful outcome. If I just walked into the edit suite with armfuls of tapes and sat down and started scanning through footage, not only would I be there for days, I’d probably end up with a final piece that was not exactly what I’d intended. Not having a plan going in was a sure fire way to end up with a crappy show.

Lazy is as Lazy Does
Times have changed a LOT since those days of linear editing. In the years I’ve been working in video, editing, from a technology standpoint, is the one thing that has changed the most. Now, assembling a video piece of any kind is simply a matter of dragging and dropping stuff into a timeline, moving things around at will and tweaking until you’re satisfied.

It’s a remarkable change and one that I’ve embraced wholeheartedly. My actual editing time has been reduced probably by half, and the ability for me to apply complex animations, effects, and transitions in an instant still astounds me every day.

There is a downside, however….digital, non-linear editing has made people lazy.

Did I just call you lazy? Well, I mean no disrespect. Let me clarify. Now that the time it takes to edit a piece is so much less, and the ability to slide things around in a project is so much simpler, it’s really easy to run out, capture everything in sight with your camera, then just sit down with hours and hours of footage and then proceed to hunt and peck out a story, right?


If it Ain’t Clear, it Just Ain’t Clear
Sure, anyone can grab a bunch of shots and throw them in a timeline, slap a voice over and some music on and call it a day. Unfortunately, this happens all too often, and ultimately all too often we see shoddy production, poor writing and unwatchable video. I see many examples of this kind of “hunt and peck” editing every day on the Web. The thing is, it’s an easy fix, and you don’t need to be a professional video producer to fix it.

Approaching a video project is like most things. Before you even consider shooting a second of tape, or editing a minute of footage, you need to have the end in mind. Remember that 80/20 rule? Well it applies to video production as much as anything else. 80 percent of your work on a production needs to happen before you even open Final Cut.

To be successful, really successful in what you are trying to accomplish, you must first know what you are trying to accomplish. Whether it’s a simple sit down interview at the local Starbucks, or  a feature length documentary, it’s essential that you know the focus of your piece first.

If you don’t do anything else, you need to do two things. Think hard about your audience. Think hard about the story you want to tell. Then write it all down. Pen and paper works for me. You’ll have plenty of questions, that’s normal. You won’t be able to answer them all right away, but that’s okay. Write them down.

It’s going to take you some time. It’s going to be kind of frustrating because you don’t have all the answers. But the end result of all this thinking and writing is that you will know what you are trying to do. You’ll have an idea of the story, and how you want to approach it. Of course, you want people to be able to tell their own story. Of course there are things that you don’t want to control, that you want to just let flow naturally when you get to your shoot. But having a plan is not about having control, it’s about having focus. It’s about making sure that you capture all of the moments you need to capture and leave the irrelevant stuff behind.

Focus. Know your story. Keep these things in mind as you go through the process of shooting, logging, scripting, then editing. I guarantee that once you get to the cutting room, you will have shot just what you need, and you’ll spend a lot less time figuring out what you’re trying to do.

Technology of all kinds has a tendency to make us want to take shortcuts. But there are some shortcuts you just shouldn’t take. Being a lazy editor is one of them.

What Being Tired Teaches You
Would the Real WWW Please Stand Up


  • March 11, 2009 at 7:51 am

    Great article, Sue.

    In particular…

    “Think hard about your audience. Think hard about the story you want to tell…Focus. Know your story. Keep these things in mind as you go through the process of shooting, logging, scripting, then editing.”

    The popular “New Media Douchebag” video makes people laugh b/c many in Social Media don’t focus on the target audience.

    For me, focus involves clearly outlining a purpose for using any technology and how these tools will help you connect with other people.

    As Jesse James Garrett from Adaptive Path pointed out at IDEA 2008 in Chicago, if you’re not online it’s almost as if you don’t exist in reality. A scary notion.

    Expanding on this idea, if those in Social Media don’t focus on their target audience, they may be legendary in the virtual world; but will crash and burn when dealing in reality.

    I’ve seen it; it’s not pretty, in fact it’s almost comical. They are legends in their own minds. Too bad they don’t listen to the community as they could be truly legendary.

    Jeff Parks’s last blog post..The Lost Art of Wisdom

  • March 11, 2009 at 8:32 am

    I work with journalists almost every day. When Im not working with journalists, Im working for producers and directors who produce shows for major networks and corporations. I work independently in the edit suite or even from my laptop at home,using Final Cut Pro. I never start digitizing footage/tracks without first knowing the central focus of the piece that I am working on. No camera operator, is going to point and shoot without knowing what to look for.I wouldnt like to see the sloppy result

  • March 12, 2009 at 9:06 am

    Twitter doesn’t make us Hemmingway and digital editing suites don’t make us Speilberg.

    Knowing your audience and understanding that the content is more important than showing your prowess with all the extraneous toys, will put you ahead of the pack.

    In my radio days, I always knew the producers who got ProTools for Christmas.

    Good luck with season two of House Healers. Oh and one more thing: Rendering!! HA HA HA!


    Kneale Mann’s last blog post..Make It About Them

  • March 14, 2009 at 7:35 am

    Everything old is new again, right? It’s funny how people think digital editing tools are a shortcut for good pre-production. But nothing beats old-fashioned planning.

    Michael Leis’s last blog post..Is Code the New Global Currency?

  • March 16, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    Great Post. I have been doing this for 12 years and I do not want to go back to old linear editing days. I work sometimes with footage I did not shoot and sometimes with my own footage. I agree that some people just run out and shoot footage and digitize it and add effects/transitions/music and upload to the internet. The truly dedicated ones like us still take the time to look at the start, the end and everything in-between. I try to get the shoots I edit for to do some pre-planning but most times it just doesn’t happen. I think knowing the story you is the most important thing to consider when editing.

  • March 18, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    Thank you SO much for writing this. I’ve been saying this for years now. It’s like yelling at a wall sometimes.

    Chris Cavs’s last blog post..Create/Consume/Delete podcast



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