The truth is, there is no single, definitive way to know if a video is truly done and ready to be shared with the world. I still watch past clips of my own videos and wince at a cut I left too long, or a title whose font has since gone out of fashion.
To get a well-rounded take on this eternal question, we asked some of our favorite creators: How do you know when a video is done?
Alison Grasso, editor and filmmaker:
“I think it’s done when I can’t think of anything else I would change about it. and I do try. A lot of times I’ll go past the point of it being done and I'll try to change stuff and I’ll be like, no, it was better before, and I'll change it back. If you have the time — and mental fortitude — you can really push it to a point where there is nothing I can do that would make this better.”
Tip: Once you’re not sure your changes are making it better, it’s time to walk away.
Tiffani Bauer, video producer at Descript:
“I think for this you just have to trust your instincts and think about the video through the audience's eyes. I often ask myself, if I were to watch this just once, instead of 35 times in a row, would I notice the small things? The answer is usually no, so I'm able to stop myself from working on it endlessly. The other thing you can do is find yourself someone whose creative instincts you trust. Most people would be happy to watch your work and let you know what they think.”
Tip: Try watching the way your audience will — same time, same platform, same mindset. And if you can, ask someone you trust if they think it’s ready.
Leigh Cooper, co-creator of Do Stuff:
“It’s a feeling for me of ‘good enough.’ You just know. The more you work on it, somehow it doesn’t feel like it’s any better. If you’re not careful there’s that period at the end where you’re overworking it and it’s also not getting any better.”
Tip: Also, cultivate your instincts by watching a lot of video by creators you admire, so you can start to get a feel for when it’s done.
Soo Zee Kim, co-creator of Do Stuff:
“The deadline is really motivating. I mean, you can work on it forever; reshoot it, redo it. I think if there’s a deadline to put it out there in a timely manner, then that makes a lot of decisions faster. I don’t think more time can make it better. Having a time limit gives it a good restriction and outcome.”
Tip: Set a deadline and stick to it. More time can just leave you spinning your wheels.
Sarah Cannon, freelance documentary editor:
“A video is done when you watch it through without stopping to fuss three times without hating yourself.”
Tip: Watch and rewatch. If nothing grabs your attention, it’s ready to head out the door.
Clarissa Driban, owner and producer at Shine + Polish:
“In my producer role, I often try to remain impartial creatively and focus on ensuring the needs of the client are met while protecting and facilitating my team's creative vision. I'm often acting as more of an intermediary to reach the point of "doneness". So in other words, I know a video is "done" when client and creative lead(s) are collectively feeling happy with the end product.”
Tip: Appoint one of your collaborators Lord of the Final, and let them make the call. If you work alone, consider bringing on a collaborator.
Lara Unnerstall, video producer at Descript:
“With video editing and storytelling, you could always get really lost in the details. Things are never really done. But at some point you have to make a decision and say this has accomplished X Y and Z goals and now it needs to go out into the world. If you planned everything out and you planned your story out, you’ll know you have everything you need and met your baseline level need for this project and are done.”
Tip: Set goals and keep working until you’ve met them. Give yourself some grace on everything else.
The author, who is also a video editor:
For me, personally, done is better than perfect. If I had a family crest, that is what it would say in Latin, across a Medieval unicorn staring at a smartphone. As an editor and novelist, I know that I could spend forever tweaking my projects until my eyes bleed, and they still wouldn’t be done.
It’s not easy, especially when you look back at your old work. Videos that seemed great five years ago feel slow to my TikTok-adjusted eyes. Sentences that were beautiful in my youth read as trite in my thirties. That’s all to say: the goalposts will always shift on whether your project is done, but a video that lives on your computer will never be as good as a video that can be shared with others.
Tip: If you’re waffling over whether to keep working on something or call it done, then we hereby give you permission to export your project and upload it. After all, life is short. You can’t tweak B-roll in the afterlife.
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