September 28, 2023

Film editing 101: A guide for beginners

Learn about film editing’s role in the film production process and the most popular types of edits in movies.
September 28, 2023

Film editing 101: A guide for beginners

Learn about film editing’s role in the film production process and the most popular types of edits in movies.
September 28, 2023
Mina Son
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Although directors, actors, and even producers receive most of the fame and glory, a film would be nothing without an editor. Without an editor, a film is just footage. 

Oscar-winning director Stanley Kubrick once said, “Editing is the only unique aspect of filmmaking which does not resemble any other art form—a point so important it cannot be overstressed. It can make or break a film.”

When moving pictures were still shot on celluloid, editors were confined to dark rooms, armed only with a film splicer and tape. Now, most films are shot digitally, and every editor needs to know about color grading, editing sound, and making their film footage work on different platforms. This article will go over film editing techniques and tips to get you on your way to conquering Hollywood.

What is film editing?

Film editing is the process of condensing clips, adding special effects, and using transitions to create an engaging movie.

The art of film and the entire filmmaking process are dependent on how a film is edited. Film editors are the ones who make sure a director’s vision comes to life on the screen. Editors (along with directors) create the storylines of those space odysseys and romantic comedies that we’ve come to love. They’re the ones that take hours upon hours of raw footage, organize it, cut it together, and assemble it to create a feature film.

Editing is so crucial it can turn a romance movie into a horror film and a comedy into a psychological thriller. Every week on her YouTube channel, Editing is Everything, creator Dani Venen proves just how powerful editing can be. She takes well-known films and, with some quick edits, turns them into a completely different genre.

The film editing process

There are three stages to creating a film: pre-production (writing, planning, casting), production (filming), and post-production (editing). The film editing process happens in post-production, or “post” for short. 

During post, there are also a number of stages. Each project may operate a bit differently, depending on schedule, the director, or the type of film, but expect to hit all these stages during the post-production process. 

1. Pre-editing stage

Before you can start splicing and adding transitions, the first thing you need to do is organize all the dailies. The dailies are the raw, unedited footage that is shot during a day of filming. 

Directors tend to shoot a single scene multiple times. A script supervisor keeps track of each take, organizes files from each shot, and keeps notes detailing which takes the director liked and which ones they didn’t. This is important because for every minute of a finalized movie that’s shown on screen, there can be anywhere from one to three hours of raw footage.

2. Assembly stage (rough cut edit)

After footage has been sorted and organized, it’s imported into video editing software. The assembly stage is where a rough draft of the film—otherwise known as a “rough cut”—is created.  

The purpose of the assembly stage is to make sure you have all the necessary shots to tell a script’s story. Directors (and sometimes producers) work closely with editors in this stage. Even Inception director Christopher Nolan admits that a lot of his storylines change in the editing room, saying, “You have to overshoot a lot and shoot an enormous amount of material, because many of the sequences have to be discovered in the editing and manipulation.”

After the rough cut is put together, the director will then be able to see if anything needs to be reshot or if different scenes need to be added. 

3. Editing stage

Once the director, producers, studios, and editors agree on the rough cut, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty editing.

This film editing stage is where the editor fine-tunes where a piece of footage is cut by looking at shots frame by frame. It’s also where you (as the editor) will add any necessary computer graphics, transitions, and opening and closing credits

When this stage is finished, the story is pretty much set. 

Video editing interface of Descript
You can easily edit your movies with Descript’s video editor

4. Color correction and grading stage

Color correction and grading make sure the color palette of the footage stays consistent. That means fixing things like white balance, exposure, contrast, saturation, and even adding filters.

This stage of post-production is an important finishing touch to the visual element of film editing, because the color palette of a film can affect how the audience feels—and even reinforce story elements. For example, in The Matrix, directing duo the Wachowskis purposely chose gray dull colors for the “real world” and gave all the scenes in the “Matrix simulation world” a green tint.

Source: Amazon

5. Audio editing stage

As important as the visual aspect of film editing is, sound is equally as important. If you can’t hear the actors or there’s accidental background noise in the audio mix, it can ruin a film. 

In this stage of the post-production process, audio editing involves: 

  • Checking audio levels to make sure one scene’s audio isn’t going to blow the audience’s eardrums out while another is barely above a whisper
  • Adding background music to help create the right mood for a scene
  • Adding visual effects or sound effects, such as gunshots or lasers
  • Adding audio transitions

Film editors aren’t expected to be professional sound mixers, but you should know the basics. Most video editing software—including Descript—has the capability for basic manipulation of audio tracks built-in. But if you’re looking for more features, consider getting a dedicated audio editor and then importing the edited audio files into your video editor.

Image of Descript audio editing features

6. Formatting and exporting stage

After countless hours scrubbing video and audio, it’s time to decide how you’re going to export your video. The format you decide on will depend largely on how the finished product will be viewed, as well as what kind of resolution the raw footage was shot on. 

The video format you choose will determine how video and audio data is stored and how it’s played back. The less compressed your film is, the more high-quality the images and less distorted the sound will be during playback.

Image showing the different types of video resolutions.

Types of film editing techniques

As with every other art form, there are video editing techniques you can learn to improve your craft. Let’s explore 10 of the most popular film editing techniques, with examples to draw inspiration from. 

Continuity editing

Continuity editing involves making sure things remain the same in a scene, no matter how many cuts or different shots there are. That means if there are white flowers on a table during a wide shot of a scene, the flowers don’t suddenly turn red when the camera cuts to a closeup. 

Continuity is something editors need to look out for while cutting a movie together. Many times a scene is shot over many hours and sometimes over multiple days. It’s not uncommon for the set designers to lose track of what goes where as they change lighting setups and move the camera for different shots. 

Another type of continuity to look out for is making sure everything in a scene makes sense. For example, if you’re shooting a movie set in 14th-century Scotland, like Braveheart, there shouldn’t be any cars in the background.

Still image of Braveheart scene showing car in the background
Source: YouTube

Discontinuity editing

Discontinuity editing is a conscious decision to link together shots that don’t seem like they would go together. Instead of smooth transitions, these shots are put together in an almost disruptive and jarring way in order to tell the story. This includes things like shots that jump time (even though the camera hasn’t moved) and sudden cutaways. 

A good example of this is in the 2003 movie Old Boy, directed by Chan-wook Park. In one scene the main character, Dae-su Oh, is kept waiting in a police station. To show the passage of time, Park cuts from Dae-su trying to pee in a planter to him drunkenly threatening the officers with a coat rack to him dancing with a pair of costume angel wings on his back.

Kuleshov effect

The Kuleshov effect is where you use the shot before and after to show a character’s response. In a CBC television interview, legendary suspense director Alfred Hitchcock explained this effect by intercutting a shot of his face with a neutral expression, adding a shot of a mother playing with a baby, and then cutting to a shot of himself smiling. This film sequence suggests this character is a kind man who loves babies.

But then Hitchcock took the same shot of his face with a neutral expression, cuts to a shot of a woman in a bikini tanning, and then goes back to the shot of him smiling. And boom—this character is now a lecherous old man.

Cutting on action

You’ll see the cutting on action technique in most action films. It shows an action from one angle, then cuts to another angle as that action is completed. 

In the movie Logan, the mutant character Laura fights off soldiers trying to capture her. Every time Laura winds up to slash one of the soldiers with her claws, that’s one shot, then before she makes contact the camera cuts to another angle to capture the end of her movement. This film editing technique is a great way to make action sequences more dynamic.

Cross-cutting

Cross-cutting is when you cut together two separate scenes (usually going back and forth between the two) to show that two moments are happening at the same time. This technique can be used to build suspense and to show different sides of a character or situation.

A classic example of cross-cutting happens in The Godfather. In one scene, Michael Corleone attends the baptism of his son. During that sequence, director Francis Ford Coppola interspersed the baptism with scenes of Michael’s men killing off the heads of the other mob families.

Montage

A montage is a series of short video clips or shots that are stitched together and set to music. One classic example of a good montage is in Dirty Dancing when Baby is learning how to dance.

The difference between a montage and cross-cutting is the clips of a montage are usually about the same subject performing different actions over time. In cross-cutting, however, it’s usually different subjects performing actions at the same time.

Shot reverse shot

Whenever you’ve watched a movie where two characters are facing each other having a conversation, that’s a shot reverse shot. It doesn’t always have to be a conversation, but a shot reverse shot is when you film a subject from one angle and then film the same subject from the opposite angle. 

This is a film editing technique to show reactions from characters when something happens on screen (like an explosion or natural disaster). That’s why shot reverse shot is the conventional method for filming a conversation between characters.

J cuts and L cuts

A smart way of using audio to aid the visual aspects of a film is by using J cuts and L cuts. 

A J cut is having audio from the next scene bleed into the previous scene before the scene changes. An L cut is when audio from one scene carries over into the next scene to make that scene transition smoother.

You can see J cuts and L cuts at work in most scenes involving conversations. The scene will start off with the camera facing one subject. As they talk, the camera will switch to show the reaction of the person they’re talking to, but the audio will still be the first person talking. That’s an L cut. Conversely, if the camera is facing a person listening to someone else talk, then cuts to a shot of the person talking, that’s a J cut. 

In The Wolf of Wall Street, when Matthew McConaughey’s character starts humming, the sound of the humming begins while McConaughey’s and Leonardo DiCaprio’s characters are still at their office. Then the movie cuts to DiCaprio listening to McConaughey hum at a high-end restaurant. That is an example of a J cut.

Match cuts

A match cut is a visual or auditory transition that uses something from the previous scene to pull the viewer into the next scene. This technique is set apart from cross-cutting because it uses a thematic connection to connect two separate events or ideas. 

In The Fifth Element, the character Zorg is making a trade with the Mondoshawan alien race for a set of ancient stones that the Mondoshawans stole from the fifth element (Leeloo). At the same time, Leeloo, in another scene, explains to a priest what happened to the stones. 

Director Luc Besson, uses parts of each conversation to tell the story. He cuts between these two separate conversations in a way that makes it appear that Zorg and Leeloo are finishing each other’s sentences and answering each other’s questions, even though they’re in two different scenes and in two completely different locations.

Tips to master film editing

You don’t have to go to a prestigious film school to master editing. Here are some simple tips to get you started.

Study the fundamentals

Even though the majority of film is shot digitally, the basic fundamentals surrounding editing remain the same. Study these fundamentals. Nail down the basic cuts and transitions. Understand the different editing styles needed to edit documentaries, short films, and action-packed blockbuster motion pictures. 

As fancy as some techniques may be, without the fundamentals, the essence of the story you’re trying to tell can get lost. After all, you need to know the rules before you can break them. Go online, read blogs, and watch tutorials on video editing—like those available on the Descript YouTube channel—to get those fundamentals down pat.

Analyze great films

There’s never been a better excuse to start a movie marathon. Rewatch your favorite films and see if you can recognize the different techniques the editors use, what kind of cinematography speaks to you, and how different cuts affect your perception of the story.

If you want to go one step further, look into the work of the editors of your favorite films. For example, if your dream is to work on a Marvel film, check out Jeffrey Ford and Lisa Lassek. Look through their body of work and read up on their stories and how they became editors. Learning about other editors can give you inspiration and guidance.

Practice regularly

Film editing takes a lot of practice to master. Don’t be disappointed if your first film doesn’t win an Oscar. The good thing is, you don’t have to wait around to practice editing. 

With phones and laptops, you can shoot and edit something every day. And there are plenty of free video editing apps and software out there—you just need to put in the time. 

As Oscar-winning editor and sound mixer Walter Munch said, “Film editing is now something almost everyone can do at a simple level and enjoy it, but to take it to a higher level requires the same dedication and persistence that any art form does.”

Seek feedback and collaborate

It’s difficult to get better if you’re all alone in a vacuum. Working with others will make you a more conscientious and effective editor, and may even create lifelong partnerships. Just look at Thelma Schoonmaker. After working with Martin Scorsese on Raging Bull, she went on to edit every single one of his films, including 2023’s Killers of the Flower Moon

Thankfully, if you need feedback or collaborators, they’re just a click away. You can post your films on social media and find collaborators anywhere in the world. 

Film editing software and apps

There are a lot of different video editing apps and software out there. Choosing which one is best for you will depend on the type of film you want to create. Below is a short list of some free film editing tools, complete with the pros and cons of each to get you started.

Descript

Descript’s film editing interface

Descript is a video and audio editing desktop application designed to help you create professional-grade videos fast. 

It has features like auto transcription and an AI overdub tool that allows you to change what you say in a piece of audio simply by editing the transcription. It can also take out all the “ums” and “uhs” in what you say with a single click—making you sound more professional. 

If you’re a beginner to video editing and/or need to constantly create content, Descript is a great option to fit your editing needs.

Pros of Descript:

  • Easy to use.
  • Excellent audio enhancement features.
  • Incredible customer support.
  • Great for editing TikTok and YouTube videos.
  • Simple enough for beginners who are brand new to video and audio editing.

Cons of Descript:

  • Free version has limited features.
  • Not really conducive to bigger projects such as feature films.

InShot

Image carousel of InShot mobile editor
Source: Google Play

InShot is a mobile video and audio editing app that allows you to create professionally edited videos right from your phone. It’s great for beginners and is designed to be used for mostly social media and short-form videos—a great option for content creators on the go.

Pros of InShot:

  • User friendly.
  • Mobile app available for editing on the go.
  • More detailed options for formatting and exporting than most other free apps.
  • Good for short videos and more simple edits.

Cons of InShot:

  • Allows only one video and audio track.
  • Mostly basic editing features.
  • Can’t handle bigger projects.

Filmmaker Pro

Image carousel of Filmmaker Pro mobile editing app
Source: Apple

If you’re a little more experienced than a beginner, you may want to consider using Filmmaker Pro. This app is less automated and gives you more control over the technical aspects of video editing. It even has a manual video mode that allows you to take complete control of the editing process. 

Pros of Filmmaker Pro:

  • Unlimited video clips, audio tracks, voiceover, and text overlays.
  • Good for more advanced editing techniques.

Cons of FilmMaker Pro:

  • Available only for iOS.
  • Subscription is expensive for an app.
  • Learning curve can feel steep for beginners.

Film editing FAQ

Do film editors get paid well?

The mean wage for film editors is $76,000, but how well a film editor gets paid depends on their level of skill and experience.

What do I need for film editing?

You’ll need a computer, video clips/footage, video editing software, a detail-oriented mindset, patience, and a willingness to learn.

What are the steps in film editing?

  1. Pre-editing
  2. Assembly or rough cut edit
  3. Editing stage 
  4. Color correction and grading
  5. Audio editing
  6. Formatting and exporting
Mina Son
Mina is a writer, video game narrative designer, and all-around word nerd. When not writing, she embarks on adventures with her husky, Moro.
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Film editing 101: A guide for beginners

Blue keyboard for editing film

Although directors, actors, and even producers receive most of the fame and glory, a film would be nothing without an editor. Without an editor, a film is just footage. 

Oscar-winning director Stanley Kubrick once said, “Editing is the only unique aspect of filmmaking which does not resemble any other art form—a point so important it cannot be overstressed. It can make or break a film.”

When moving pictures were still shot on celluloid, editors were confined to dark rooms, armed only with a film splicer and tape. Now, most films are shot digitally, and every editor needs to know about color grading, editing sound, and making their film footage work on different platforms. This article will go over film editing techniques and tips to get you on your way to conquering Hollywood.

An audio/video editor that includes transcription, screen recording, and publishing.
Check out our useful, powerful tools.

What is film editing?

Film editing is the process of condensing clips, adding special effects, and using transitions to create an engaging movie.

The art of film and the entire filmmaking process are dependent on how a film is edited. Film editors are the ones who make sure a director’s vision comes to life on the screen. Editors (along with directors) create the storylines of those space odysseys and romantic comedies that we’ve come to love. They’re the ones that take hours upon hours of raw footage, organize it, cut it together, and assemble it to create a feature film.

Editing is so crucial it can turn a romance movie into a horror film and a comedy into a psychological thriller. Every week on her YouTube channel, Editing is Everything, creator Dani Venen proves just how powerful editing can be. She takes well-known films and, with some quick edits, turns them into a completely different genre.

The film editing process

There are three stages to creating a film: pre-production (writing, planning, casting), production (filming), and post-production (editing). The film editing process happens in post-production, or “post” for short. 

During post, there are also a number of stages. Each project may operate a bit differently, depending on schedule, the director, or the type of film, but expect to hit all these stages during the post-production process. 

1. Pre-editing stage

Before you can start splicing and adding transitions, the first thing you need to do is organize all the dailies. The dailies are the raw, unedited footage that is shot during a day of filming. 

Directors tend to shoot a single scene multiple times. A script supervisor keeps track of each take, organizes files from each shot, and keeps notes detailing which takes the director liked and which ones they didn’t. This is important because for every minute of a finalized movie that’s shown on screen, there can be anywhere from one to three hours of raw footage.

2. Assembly stage (rough cut edit)

After footage has been sorted and organized, it’s imported into video editing software. The assembly stage is where a rough draft of the film—otherwise known as a “rough cut”—is created.  

The purpose of the assembly stage is to make sure you have all the necessary shots to tell a script’s story. Directors (and sometimes producers) work closely with editors in this stage. Even Inception director Christopher Nolan admits that a lot of his storylines change in the editing room, saying, “You have to overshoot a lot and shoot an enormous amount of material, because many of the sequences have to be discovered in the editing and manipulation.”

After the rough cut is put together, the director will then be able to see if anything needs to be reshot or if different scenes need to be added. 

3. Editing stage

Once the director, producers, studios, and editors agree on the rough cut, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty editing.

This film editing stage is where the editor fine-tunes where a piece of footage is cut by looking at shots frame by frame. It’s also where you (as the editor) will add any necessary computer graphics, transitions, and opening and closing credits

When this stage is finished, the story is pretty much set. 

Video editing interface of Descript
You can easily edit your movies with Descript’s video editor

4. Color correction and grading stage

Color correction and grading make sure the color palette of the footage stays consistent. That means fixing things like white balance, exposure, contrast, saturation, and even adding filters.

This stage of post-production is an important finishing touch to the visual element of film editing, because the color palette of a film can affect how the audience feels—and even reinforce story elements. For example, in The Matrix, directing duo the Wachowskis purposely chose gray dull colors for the “real world” and gave all the scenes in the “Matrix simulation world” a green tint.

Source: Amazon

5. Audio editing stage

As important as the visual aspect of film editing is, sound is equally as important. If you can’t hear the actors or there’s accidental background noise in the audio mix, it can ruin a film. 

In this stage of the post-production process, audio editing involves: 

  • Checking audio levels to make sure one scene’s audio isn’t going to blow the audience’s eardrums out while another is barely above a whisper
  • Adding background music to help create the right mood for a scene
  • Adding visual effects or sound effects, such as gunshots or lasers
  • Adding audio transitions

Film editors aren’t expected to be professional sound mixers, but you should know the basics. Most video editing software—including Descript—has the capability for basic manipulation of audio tracks built-in. But if you’re looking for more features, consider getting a dedicated audio editor and then importing the edited audio files into your video editor.

Image of Descript audio editing features

6. Formatting and exporting stage

After countless hours scrubbing video and audio, it’s time to decide how you’re going to export your video. The format you decide on will depend largely on how the finished product will be viewed, as well as what kind of resolution the raw footage was shot on. 

The video format you choose will determine how video and audio data is stored and how it’s played back. The less compressed your film is, the more high-quality the images and less distorted the sound will be during playback.

Image showing the different types of video resolutions.

Types of film editing techniques

As with every other art form, there are video editing techniques you can learn to improve your craft. Let’s explore 10 of the most popular film editing techniques, with examples to draw inspiration from. 

Continuity editing

Continuity editing involves making sure things remain the same in a scene, no matter how many cuts or different shots there are. That means if there are white flowers on a table during a wide shot of a scene, the flowers don’t suddenly turn red when the camera cuts to a closeup. 

Continuity is something editors need to look out for while cutting a movie together. Many times a scene is shot over many hours and sometimes over multiple days. It’s not uncommon for the set designers to lose track of what goes where as they change lighting setups and move the camera for different shots. 

Another type of continuity to look out for is making sure everything in a scene makes sense. For example, if you’re shooting a movie set in 14th-century Scotland, like Braveheart, there shouldn’t be any cars in the background.

Still image of Braveheart scene showing car in the background
Source: YouTube

Discontinuity editing

Discontinuity editing is a conscious decision to link together shots that don’t seem like they would go together. Instead of smooth transitions, these shots are put together in an almost disruptive and jarring way in order to tell the story. This includes things like shots that jump time (even though the camera hasn’t moved) and sudden cutaways. 

A good example of this is in the 2003 movie Old Boy, directed by Chan-wook Park. In one scene the main character, Dae-su Oh, is kept waiting in a police station. To show the passage of time, Park cuts from Dae-su trying to pee in a planter to him drunkenly threatening the officers with a coat rack to him dancing with a pair of costume angel wings on his back.

Kuleshov effect

The Kuleshov effect is where you use the shot before and after to show a character’s response. In a CBC television interview, legendary suspense director Alfred Hitchcock explained this effect by intercutting a shot of his face with a neutral expression, adding a shot of a mother playing with a baby, and then cutting to a shot of himself smiling. This film sequence suggests this character is a kind man who loves babies.

But then Hitchcock took the same shot of his face with a neutral expression, cuts to a shot of a woman in a bikini tanning, and then goes back to the shot of him smiling. And boom—this character is now a lecherous old man.

Cutting on action

You’ll see the cutting on action technique in most action films. It shows an action from one angle, then cuts to another angle as that action is completed. 

In the movie Logan, the mutant character Laura fights off soldiers trying to capture her. Every time Laura winds up to slash one of the soldiers with her claws, that’s one shot, then before she makes contact the camera cuts to another angle to capture the end of her movement. This film editing technique is a great way to make action sequences more dynamic.

Cross-cutting

Cross-cutting is when you cut together two separate scenes (usually going back and forth between the two) to show that two moments are happening at the same time. This technique can be used to build suspense and to show different sides of a character or situation.

A classic example of cross-cutting happens in The Godfather. In one scene, Michael Corleone attends the baptism of his son. During that sequence, director Francis Ford Coppola interspersed the baptism with scenes of Michael’s men killing off the heads of the other mob families.

Montage

A montage is a series of short video clips or shots that are stitched together and set to music. One classic example of a good montage is in Dirty Dancing when Baby is learning how to dance.

The difference between a montage and cross-cutting is the clips of a montage are usually about the same subject performing different actions over time. In cross-cutting, however, it’s usually different subjects performing actions at the same time.

Shot reverse shot

Whenever you’ve watched a movie where two characters are facing each other having a conversation, that’s a shot reverse shot. It doesn’t always have to be a conversation, but a shot reverse shot is when you film a subject from one angle and then film the same subject from the opposite angle. 

This is a film editing technique to show reactions from characters when something happens on screen (like an explosion or natural disaster). That’s why shot reverse shot is the conventional method for filming a conversation between characters.

J cuts and L cuts

A smart way of using audio to aid the visual aspects of a film is by using J cuts and L cuts. 

A J cut is having audio from the next scene bleed into the previous scene before the scene changes. An L cut is when audio from one scene carries over into the next scene to make that scene transition smoother.

You can see J cuts and L cuts at work in most scenes involving conversations. The scene will start off with the camera facing one subject. As they talk, the camera will switch to show the reaction of the person they’re talking to, but the audio will still be the first person talking. That’s an L cut. Conversely, if the camera is facing a person listening to someone else talk, then cuts to a shot of the person talking, that’s a J cut. 

In The Wolf of Wall Street, when Matthew McConaughey’s character starts humming, the sound of the humming begins while McConaughey’s and Leonardo DiCaprio’s characters are still at their office. Then the movie cuts to DiCaprio listening to McConaughey hum at a high-end restaurant. That is an example of a J cut.

Match cuts

A match cut is a visual or auditory transition that uses something from the previous scene to pull the viewer into the next scene. This technique is set apart from cross-cutting because it uses a thematic connection to connect two separate events or ideas. 

In The Fifth Element, the character Zorg is making a trade with the Mondoshawan alien race for a set of ancient stones that the Mondoshawans stole from the fifth element (Leeloo). At the same time, Leeloo, in another scene, explains to a priest what happened to the stones. 

Director Luc Besson, uses parts of each conversation to tell the story. He cuts between these two separate conversations in a way that makes it appear that Zorg and Leeloo are finishing each other’s sentences and answering each other’s questions, even though they’re in two different scenes and in two completely different locations.

Tips to master film editing

You don’t have to go to a prestigious film school to master editing. Here are some simple tips to get you started.

Study the fundamentals

Even though the majority of film is shot digitally, the basic fundamentals surrounding editing remain the same. Study these fundamentals. Nail down the basic cuts and transitions. Understand the different editing styles needed to edit documentaries, short films, and action-packed blockbuster motion pictures. 

As fancy as some techniques may be, without the fundamentals, the essence of the story you’re trying to tell can get lost. After all, you need to know the rules before you can break them. Go online, read blogs, and watch tutorials on video editing—like those available on the Descript YouTube channel—to get those fundamentals down pat.

Analyze great films

There’s never been a better excuse to start a movie marathon. Rewatch your favorite films and see if you can recognize the different techniques the editors use, what kind of cinematography speaks to you, and how different cuts affect your perception of the story.

If you want to go one step further, look into the work of the editors of your favorite films. For example, if your dream is to work on a Marvel film, check out Jeffrey Ford and Lisa Lassek. Look through their body of work and read up on their stories and how they became editors. Learning about other editors can give you inspiration and guidance.

Practice regularly

Film editing takes a lot of practice to master. Don’t be disappointed if your first film doesn’t win an Oscar. The good thing is, you don’t have to wait around to practice editing. 

With phones and laptops, you can shoot and edit something every day. And there are plenty of free video editing apps and software out there—you just need to put in the time. 

As Oscar-winning editor and sound mixer Walter Munch said, “Film editing is now something almost everyone can do at a simple level and enjoy it, but to take it to a higher level requires the same dedication and persistence that any art form does.”

Seek feedback and collaborate

It’s difficult to get better if you’re all alone in a vacuum. Working with others will make you a more conscientious and effective editor, and may even create lifelong partnerships. Just look at Thelma Schoonmaker. After working with Martin Scorsese on Raging Bull, she went on to edit every single one of his films, including 2023’s Killers of the Flower Moon

Thankfully, if you need feedback or collaborators, they’re just a click away. You can post your films on social media and find collaborators anywhere in the world. 

Film editing software and apps

There are a lot of different video editing apps and software out there. Choosing which one is best for you will depend on the type of film you want to create. Below is a short list of some free film editing tools, complete with the pros and cons of each to get you started.

Descript

Descript’s film editing interface

Descript is a video and audio editing desktop application designed to help you create professional-grade videos fast. 

It has features like auto transcription and an AI overdub tool that allows you to change what you say in a piece of audio simply by editing the transcription. It can also take out all the “ums” and “uhs” in what you say with a single click—making you sound more professional. 

If you’re a beginner to video editing and/or need to constantly create content, Descript is a great option to fit your editing needs.

Pros of Descript:

  • Easy to use.
  • Excellent audio enhancement features.
  • Incredible customer support.
  • Great for editing TikTok and YouTube videos.
  • Simple enough for beginners who are brand new to video and audio editing.

Cons of Descript:

  • Free version has limited features.
  • Not really conducive to bigger projects such as feature films.

InShot

Image carousel of InShot mobile editor
Source: Google Play

InShot is a mobile video and audio editing app that allows you to create professionally edited videos right from your phone. It’s great for beginners and is designed to be used for mostly social media and short-form videos—a great option for content creators on the go.

Pros of InShot:

  • User friendly.
  • Mobile app available for editing on the go.
  • More detailed options for formatting and exporting than most other free apps.
  • Good for short videos and more simple edits.

Cons of InShot:

  • Allows only one video and audio track.
  • Mostly basic editing features.
  • Can’t handle bigger projects.

Filmmaker Pro

Image carousel of Filmmaker Pro mobile editing app
Source: Apple

If you’re a little more experienced than a beginner, you may want to consider using Filmmaker Pro. This app is less automated and gives you more control over the technical aspects of video editing. It even has a manual video mode that allows you to take complete control of the editing process. 

Pros of Filmmaker Pro:

  • Unlimited video clips, audio tracks, voiceover, and text overlays.
  • Good for more advanced editing techniques.

Cons of FilmMaker Pro:

  • Available only for iOS.
  • Subscription is expensive for an app.
  • Learning curve can feel steep for beginners.

Film editing FAQ

Do film editors get paid well?

The mean wage for film editors is $76,000, but how well a film editor gets paid depends on their level of skill and experience.

What do I need for film editing?

You’ll need a computer, video clips/footage, video editing software, a detail-oriented mindset, patience, and a willingness to learn.

What are the steps in film editing?

  1. Pre-editing
  2. Assembly or rough cut edit
  3. Editing stage 
  4. Color correction and grading
  5. Audio editing
  6. Formatting and exporting

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