Video Essentials

Learn the Essentials of Video Editing

Creating and promoting great-looking online video doesn’t have to be difficult. Technology columnist Jefferson Graham has just created Video Nation: A DIY guide to planning, shooting, and sharing great video from USA Today’s Talking Tech host. We’re pleased to present this excerpt.

No matter what video-editing software you use, the basics of editing are always the same. You turn raw footage into mini-masterpieces by trimming out the excess and leaving in the good stuff. Then, you pretty it up with B-roll to help tell the story visually and add transitions to keep the content flowing.

Whether you’re shooting a parody, a small-business video, or an interview for a blog, you will come home with probably five to ten times more material than will make it into the finished piece. A conversation with an interview subject, for example, may be 15 or 20 minutes. Local TV news pieces, however, tend to run only 90 to 120 seconds, tops. On the web, you might expand that to three minutes, but online-viewers’ attention spans just won’t last much longer. (Newsmagazine pieces like those on “60 Minutes” and “Rock Center” tend to be about 15 minutes long. These pieces use the extra time for better visual storytelling and hot interviews. But let’s face it — if you can get the elusive Madonna or Adele to sit down for an interview, it can run as long as you’d like it to be.)

Why are video pieces generally so short? Because the medium calls for to-the­-point stories. Tell me what you’re trying to say. Get in and get out. As the editor, you will turn the conversation into a story. Even though you go into each shoot with a clear story angle and carefully though-out questions, people may respond differently from the way you imagined. In editing, you’ll find the best responses and the best shots, and piece them together artfully.

Toward the end of the editing process, you’ll add titles, transitions, and graphics, creating eye candy that’s a lot of fun to watch.

You can watch Jefferson’s interview with Kermit the Frog on USA Today's web site,

You can watch Jefferson’s interview with Kermit the Frog on USA Today’s web site,

Here’s an example: One of my all-time favorite USA Today interviews was with Kermit the Frog, a fun meeting that featured the iconic Muppet talking about his views on subjects near and dear to my target audience: texting, smart-phones, and video cameras.

I ended the interview by pulling out my guitar and playing the “Muppet Show” theme song — and Kermit sang along. I walked out of there on cloud nine, feeling I had reached a career high. A duet with Kermit! A fun romp.

But, when I put the entire interview together on the timeline, it wasn’t as much fun as I remembered. It was cute, but kind of rambling, with not enough of Kermit — and way too much of me. That was the first cut, at seven minutes long.

As you will discover when you go out with your cameras, sometimes the best responses are in the middle of the interview, not in the beginning. Sometimes people need a little time to warm up. Maybe the middle will sag and the best stuff is at the tail end. Maybe you initially liked questions 2 and 5, but in the editing, you find they work better in reverse order.

So I got to work, trimming, keeping in just the best parts. Finally, I arrived at a three-minute cut, with the excess available to anyone who wanted to watch as an extended bonus cut.

Getting Started with the Video Editing Workflow

Before I begin editing a video, I create and name a folder for the video files. I create the folder in one place on an external drive connected to my computer, and import the video files into that folder. For backup, I immediately copy the folder and its files to a second external hard drive. This way I have two sets of files — on two separate drives. I don’t store video or photo files on my computer’s internal drive because I like to have all my storage in a separate place. Plus, I don’t want to muck up the internal drive with hundreds of gigabytes of video footage.

So, let’s say you’ve connected your card reader, USB cable for the iPhone, or iPad to the computer. In addition, you’ve created a folder for the production, and you’re bringing in the footage to the first external drive. In this folder, which we’ll review later, you can insert other assets for your video, such as a special title cre­ated in Photoshop, additional B-roll images pulled from the web, or a song you want to use on the soundtrack.

The Basic Editing Process

Here’s a step-by-step overview of the editing process:

  1. Import your footage to the computer.
  2. View the material and identify the key moments you want to see in your final production.
  3. Move the clips around to tell a coherent story.
  4. Once the main clips are in place, add cutaway shots (B-roll) to illustrate what you’re trying to say — and make the video more interesting with different camera angles.
  5. Add narration, music, titles, transitions, still photos, and graphics.
  6. Watch the video to make sure everything looks like it’s supposed to. Adjust where needed.
  7. Save the final file and export it to the hard drive.

That’s the quick version. Following is an amplified version, with a little more color.

Import and View Your Footage

After you import the footage, sit and watch the video to identify the sound bites you like. You can either view it within your video-editing software or on the computer itself. Because I’m a journalist, and I always write an article to go with the video, I transcribe the footage as I’m playing it, stopping and starting the video over and over again to get the transcription right. Then I print out the text, highlight the sound bites, and write a script.

Tip: It’s hard to type in a word processor such as Microsoft Word while a video is playing in iMovie or Premiere Elements. The video will stop playing. So I open a simple text editor, such as TextEdit on Mac or Notepad on Windows, to get around this.

Create a Script and Record Narration

Create a script for the narration that tells the story, using the sound bites as you would use quotes in an article, or simply script the arrangement of the sound bites. How do you know what your opening sound bite should be? It’s pretty simple — the strongest, most compelling one you have. Choose the quote that best tells what the story is about. Once the script is in place, I use the video editing software’s timeline to edit the clips and place them in order. Then I record my narration with a Blue Microphone Snowball mic, which sells for $100 and plugs into the USB port. It sounds much stronger than the mic from the internal web­cam.

Add the B-roll

Now, the biggest part of the process begins — illustrating the narration. I usually grab still photos, B-roll, and online videos to appear on screen with my voiceover.

For example, in late 2011 in San Francisco, I went to do a piece on the red-hot photo-sharing app Instagram. It was the day after Apple unveiled its new iPhone 4S, with its new and improved camera, so Instagram was poised to gain even more followers.

The interview was with Instagram founder Kevin Systrom, who talked about his humble beginnings (before he sold the firm to Facebook for $1 billion), and demonstrated how to use the app.

When I got back to my computer, I used the narration as an introduction, a way to let viewers know what they were about to see. My script: “Instagram, which turns your iPhone photos from ho-hum to ultra-cool, is the most popular photo app for the iPhone, with over 10 million downloads. And that was before the release of the iPhone 4S. If any app maker has reason to cheer the new iPhone, it’s Instagram.”

To illustrate, I used B-roll of photos on the iPhone that were being “Instagrammed” with fun filters along with screen captures of Instragram’s No. 1 ranking in the iTunes App Store and the Apple website touting the iPhone 4S. (I captured the screen with SnapzPro software.) Then, I cut to the first sound bite from Systrom.

VideoNationCoverIn the video, I used three sound bites from Systrom from our sit-down interview along with bites from two extended segments. First, we got video of me shooting pictures of Systrom on an iPhone as he used the Instagram app. Then, he and I sat together and walked through the process of jazzing up the photo with Instagram filters. The process took one or two minutes, but I only wanted to show 10 or 15 seconds on the video.

So, I cut to the main points and used graphics, just as I’m doing in this book. To show the process in the video, I inserted graphics:

  • Step 1: Select the Picture.
  • Step 2: Choose a Filter.
  • Step 3: Save and Share.

Excerpted from Video Nation: A DIY guide to planning, shooting, and sharing great video from USA Today’s Talking Tech host by Jefferson Graham. Copyright (c) 2013. Used with permission of Pearson Education, Inc. and Peachpit Press.


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  1. Great article! From our experience with video production, one person doing all these steps on a desktop is quite difficult. This is why we have put all these steps on the cloud to allow video makers to collaborate from the script writing step to editing and post production.

    Posted by StarsVu | January 26, 2013, 10:22 am
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