Editing: Staying sane and focused

This blog post goes out to Brian Hansen (thanks for the post title: ”staying sane and focused while editing”). To begin, I would like to make a disclaimer: I do not consider myself an editor by profession; however, editing is a part of my everyday job. If there are any editors our there reading who can weigh in on the topic it would be greatly appreciated.

What I’d like to do if offer some tips or advice from my own editing experience that might get you out of an editing rut and really help you focus your energy where it counts. That being said, I like to begin my editing process with a basic question, “What is the purpose of this video?” The purpose of your video will drive your editing decisions, and if a particular edit or cut does not advance the story forward or move you any closer to your end goal, I would reconsider the edit. Remember, the best editing goes unnoticed.

Another key part of my editing process is organization. Being organized is a huge time saver that will allow you to focus your energy on your timeline instead of sifting through your clips. A lot of times we find ourselves so excited to start piecing together our videos that we bypass this important step. We like to dive right in without sorting our footage. I’m a huge fan of organizing my project into bins… separate bins for sequences, clips, music, graphics, sound effects, etc. My clip bin is then organized by subject, location, shot, and/or any other appropriate attribution, and each clip is named accordingly. Furthermore, I like to color code each clip with a color… red = best take, green = b-roll, blue = alternate shot, etc. Establish your own system of organization and stick to it. You won’t regret it.

Recently, I helped my co-worker edit a mini-documentary shot in honduras about a medical mission – doctors putting pacemakers in people to help regulate their heartbeats (amazing story – sorry I can’t show it yet). Brandon worked tirelessly on the edit and hit multiple walls. Part of the problem was the spanish – neither of us can speak the language, and editing a translation is tough. The other part of the problem, and in my opinion the larger part of the problem, was how much time he spent on the edit before stepping away. Part of staying sane while editing means stepping back and allowing fresh eyes to gaze upon the mess of an edit. Brandon and I sat down one evening and talked through the story, the emotions we wanted to convey, what we wanted to accomplish, and the purpose. We looked at the edits (plural) he already had and went to work re-piecing the story together. A couple hours of collaborative editing did the trick. He had the story spread across 17 sequences and just could not put it together before stepping back and talking through the story.

When you hit your stride, keep going and don’t stop. What do I mean by this? I’ve discovered that I always hit a moment when I feel like everything is coming together. For me, this moment comes after a lot of frustration and is usually a release from an editing block. This moment may come early in the day or more often at 4 AM with no sleep.  I have found that some of my most creative and effective editing experiences have happened in the dead of night. You’re tired, your eyes hurt, you’re delirious, but you’re making a masterpiece. When the creativity is flowing, don’t stop it. When you find yourself hitting a creative wall, push through. There’s a light at the end of the project (hopefully taking the form of a paycheck), but remember as mentioned before… don’t forget to step back.

Finally, coffee.

Hopefully this post is helpful. Please comment and share any tips you’ve learned along the way.



  1. Ryan Gates

    Great article.

    I’ve been recently struggling with getting “into the edit” so you provide some solid suggestions. The purpose behind a project goes a long way in helping it come together. Something I’ve been lacking in a couple projects. Time to sit down and figure that out.

    Thanks for the motivational post Dave!

    • Thanks for the comment Ryan. I’m glad I could help. I’m learning new tricks every day. I hope you’re doing well.

  2. dean shull

    Hahaha. love it. Coffee is at the top of my list as well. Temp music can help to energize and confirm a proper rhythm. Though be careful of “Temp Love”, it hurts to rip it out. Engagement from others, especially watching their faces is great, I also feel a heightened sense of timing when screening the cut sitting next to others. I have cut several feature documentaries and not having a definitive script is freeing yet also at times very maddening. I have come up with a few more tricks, maybe I’ll blog about it sometime.

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