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How to Edit - Part 2: Ingest & Assemble

7 minute read

RedShark/ShutterstockHow to edit part 2

RedShark Replay: Part two of our comprehensive guide to editing looks at bringing your material into the NLE.

Capture / Import

With the materials all arranged on your hard drive, you should focus on getting everything into your NLE.

Every NLE is different, so consult your NLE's instruction manual for specifics on how to ingest media into your software. To do this in Lightworks you use the Import or capture icon. Check out the LightWorks video tutorials for a quick guide to importing footage into LightWorks as well as most of the other tasks I mention in this article.

Before you start importing your media, you should create a rack called “Master Media.” This rack will hold bins for all your original media. Create a new bin for each one of your master media reels. Import the media one reel at a time into these bins.

Do the same for all your sound effects, music, and voiceover files. If you first need to sync your clips because you have been shooting using a dual-system setup (where picture and sound are recorded on different devices) then now is the time to do it.

Log & Transcribe

Now it's time to go through all of your media (that's right, all of it!) and start logging, or labelling the content of the clips.

If you're working on a feature film, there's a good chance a lot of this work has already been done for you. Each shot typically begins with a slate that has the scene and shot number. Ask for a lined and numbered copy of the script and any notes the director might have made. All this information goes into the clips logging information / file card.

When working on a documentary this process can be a lot more involved, especially if there are a number of interviews or a good amount of verité footage. In this case, you're going to start creating a transcript of your footage.

Many production houses I have worked for produce a word-for-word representation of what is said on screen. This is helpful when you find yourself constructing sentences, but it is really involved work, and typically is outsourced to a paid transcription service. For many smaller, low-budget productions this just isn't an option.

A much more efficient way of transcribing your footage is to sit and watch, as I said, everything and start writing down at least a sentence or two for every action, concept discussed, and at what time they occur.

Once finished a typical logging sheet will look something like this:




David greets camera crew outside. Invites everyone in for a tour.

DAVID: “This is where all the magic of Red Shark begins...” **

TAKE 1: DAVID talks about how the facilities are laid out, and what makes them unique. Why he likes working at the office.

TAKE 2: DAVID talks about how the facilities are laid out, and what makes them unique. Why he likes working at the office. Jokes about the vending machines. ***

PETER tells long-winded story about a time a bird that got into the office.


Misc. beauty shots of the workspaces and folks working.

Do this for every scene. Make sure to note if there are multiple takes of a scene or moment and what is different about them.

I typically do all of this long hand in a notebook, good old pen and paper. I prefer this to typing everything into a laptop because it allows me to make little marks and notes in the margins and possibly make little doodles and drawings to jog my memory.

As you write out your transcript start adding cues such as “*” or “!” to denote the shots and takes you like. I typically use multiple “***” when something is really great. These will help jog your memory when you get to writing.

Write & Assemble

The best way of describing the writing part of a documentary is that it is very “zen.” You have all these quotes, scenes, moments and shots in front of you and you have to start putting them together in a way that tells the story.

Simply put, there are no true short cuts, there are no magic formulas. You have to have a clear vision of what the story you want to tell is about and how you want to lay it out to your audience, but there are some basic workflows we can discuss here to make your edit go faster and easier.

First, ask yourself, what kind of documentary are you intending on making? Is it composed mostly of sit-down interviews? Are there many verité scenes that are going to be used to tell the story of the film? Will it be a mix? Both methods have a similar workflow, but slightly different tricks to getting the job done.

Using Rubrics

The fastest route to assembling the first pass of a film rooted in sit-down interviews is to create a rubric of subjects and/or themes. Typically you will ask multiple people about similar events or subjects. Create a list of these subjects (I sometimes color code) as a guide. Now, go through your interview transcripts and label quotes based on that list.

Make a new GROUP called “Rubric” and add a bin for each of your rubric subject.

Referring back to your marked transcript, create sub-clips of your selections.

Creating a sub-clip will create a new, trimmed, version of the clip, but only the portion that you have selected, making it easier to find specific parts of the clip.

It's a good practice to rename the sub-clip (don't worry it won't effect your original media) to something specifically recognizable. For instance: “DAVID.Redshark History TK1” (TK is short for TaKe).

Now go through all the sub-clips you have created and sort them into their own individual bins. If you have renamed your sub-clips to include the title of the rubric then you can use your NLE's search function to quickly sort the clips for you.

Once you have all your interview bites organized, you need plan out how you want those subjects to play out in our story. Make, yet another, list of what you think the story needs to unfold using the titles of the rubrics you created. This will create an outline, a roadmap for your assembly.

Now, here's a fun trick for quickly slapping together your assembly:

First, create a new edit.

For each subject in your outline, open that bin, and select all the sub-clips. Now drag those clips to your edit's view monitor and... there you have it! You just made your first, albeit rough, assembly of the scene. Continue to do this for each subject. The assembly will come together incredibly fast. Obviously, not all of this material is going to make it into the film, but now the film has some basic structure for you to work with.

If you're going to work with scenes it's a good idea to treat them like you a narrative fiction film. Make a list of all the scenes you have, write each scene on an index card and tape them up to the wall.
I typically make a bullet point list of important events, visuals and/or actions that occur within the scene.

In a manner similar to the sit-down interview method, create sub-clips based of the scenes and bullet points, and organize your materials into appropriately named bins.

You can easily add the best parts of a clip to a new edit by using the “insert” tool.

A small technical, house-keeping aside about your edit. It's a good idea to keep your video and audio tracks organized and consistent throughout your process. This will make mastering your film a lot easier on the colorist and sound mixer, and for yourself when you go about makes changes.

Here's how I generally lay out my audio and video tracks:

V1 - Main picture / verité scenes or interview
V2 - B-roll and scenics / cutaways / stills and graphics
V3 - titles
A1–4: Location Sound
A5–6: Voice Over (or ADR)
A7-10: Music
A11, Forward: Sound Effects

You can find your own way method for arranging tracks, but what ever you choose if you remain consistent throughout the process, you and your finishing editor(s) will thank you later!

Dealing with Verité

Dealing with a documentary with verité scenes list can be a different battle. There are fewer short cuts when it comes to dealing with this sort of footage, and the work time exponentially increases. I find the most powerful friend in this situation is once again a good notebook combined with a deck of index cards.

Going back over the logging notes, divide up major actions and events into scenes. What moments really stuck out to you as important (where are your markers?), and

Make a list of all the possible scenes for your film. Make up a little title for each scene, and write it on it's own index card. Write down any important moments, beats, visual, etc, as well as where you can find the footage.

Figuring out how all the scenes go together is where that 'zen' thinking comes back into play. How can you construct those telling and defining moments into scenes? How will those scenes build off of each other? How do you intend on giving your audience context for what's happening on screen? How will the events play out?

Again, there is no magic formula to writing a documentary, what works well on an Errol Morris documentary might not work for yours, but there are some general tips that can help you along the way.

Structure your film around people and events - I'll be the first person in line to say that “traditional” three act structure is silly, or at least for people making a film. Three act structure seems to make a lot of sense, after a picture is completed because it is a way to reverse engineer and articulate what is happening on screen from the audience's point of view of a finished product.

Ultimately, for the filmmaker, the problem with this sort of imposed structure is that it disregards the individual mood, style, and needs of a unique story for the pointless sake imposing some generic road map. Especially in the early phases of putting a documentary together, trying to force your story into a shell where “exactly on page/at minute X, such and such happens,” can do more harm than good.

Instead, try to think of putting your film together as a collection of “reels,” or little chapters which are a collection of scenes that explain a little more about what's going on or how an event is playing out. Each reel will tend to run around 12 to 20-ish minutes, and almost act as short films within a film. Feature films will have somewhere between 6 to 10 reels in this case, each made up of any number of scenes.

The only real rules I tend to follow here is that in the first reel you want to establish the who, what, where, when, and why of your main character(s) and start introducing the major themes of the film. The second reel should start building the conflict or issues that will spring up, and finally in the last two reels you should be in the process of answering and resolving the questions you've raised. This might sound very generalized, but you'd be amazed at how liberating it can be to think about this free form!

Grab a sharpie and some of those index cards and start writing. Lay them out on the floor, pin them to a wall, stare at them, keep asking yourself “what if I tried this, does this make sense?” Eventually you'll come to a point where you've laid out your scenes and, at least on paper, everything seems to fall into place. Now is the time to make a commitment to run with it.

Go back through you footage in the computer and lay out what you think you'll need to create the scenes. Save a lot of the detailed cutting for later, right now, while you're assembling your story, think in the widest brush strokes possible. Don't cut anything too tightly because it will only make it more complicated to revise later.

It's important to dedicate ample time to the assembly edit, to make sure that you have the correct backbone for your film. Although, mulling over your story should never, and I mean never, be an excuse to not be working. There is an inherent fear in many of us that the first thing you put on the timeline just has to be correct. This isn't so. You might be forming the core of your story, but the details and corrections will come later. Trust your gut, follow your first impressions, lay out the story.

Further Reading

How To Edit. Part 1: Preparation

How to Edit - Part 3: The Edit Itself

Tags: Post & VFX