The Six-Stage Edit Process

Stage 1 Organize

Stage 1.  Organize and Prep

Stage 1

Organize and Prep

Step one of any edit is to lay a solid organizational foundation so that chaos doesn't reign once the edit takes off. This will also ensure that if you need to hand off your project in the future, it will be painless.

On your editing hard drive, make a folder system to capture every possible type of media asset, project file, export, and document that you might import or create during your edit.

Likewise, set up bins in your edit project so you'll always be able to put your finger on whatever you need, when you need it. You'll stay in edit flow and not get lost in detective work.

Read more:

How many hard drives do you need? More than you might think.

The Ultimate Guide to Bulletproof Footage Organization

Download:

Having a system to organize your hard drive is critical to making sure that your documentary edit doesn't end up a big chaotic mess. You can download these Folder System swipe files (for Mac) to help you get started so you don't have to reinvent the wheel.


Stage 2 Get Selective

Stage 2.  Get selective

Stage 2

get selective

Dive deep into your footage and transcripts. Watch and read everything with an open mind. You can't be certain at this stage where your story might lead.

As you review your material, highlight all usable shots and soundbites. Not necessarily what's good or even brilliant (though yes, you can star those!) – just anything that meets the basic technical and aesthetic criteria.

Finally, make sure to turn on your "recurring themes" detector and make a list as you go.


Stage 3 Make Your Blueprint

Stage 3.  Make Your Blueprint

Stage 3

make your blueprint

Make a second pass of your transcripts, batching together all the soundbites that relate to the same theme into "theme blocks".

Sort, cull, and re-sort your theme blocks until you have a flowing progression.

Resist the temptation to take short-cuts at this stage.

If you stay the course, pretty soon you'll feel your film's structure start to fall into place.


Stage 4 Build

Stage 4.  Build

Stage 4

build

Using your blueprint as your guide, start to assemble the pieces in your editing software – first your narrative spine, then your visual stories and cover shots.

Cut down ruthlessly, restructure freely, and always be asking yourself if the story and visuals "track".

Bring in music to help shape your film's corner turns and define each scene's mood.


Stage 5 Make It Flow

Stage 5.  Make It Flow

Stage 5

make it flow

You've made it this far and finally you're ready to share and get feedback.

But viewers will not be as forgiving of the bumps and wrinkles as you – so take care to clean up your edit's easy-to-fix flaws, especially in your soundtrack.

Finesse your music placements, fill in and smooth out your ambient and dialogue soundtracks, make liberal use of use cross dissolves on the heads and tails so you don't have abrupt audio cuts, make all text fonts the same.


Stage 6 Deliver

Stage 6.  Deliver

Stage 6

deliver

Prep your project for your finishing team – which might include an online editor, colorist, sound designer, and audio mixer. 

Don't be surprised when they tell you that your edit is the most organized they've ever seen, which means they'll have to spend less time making sense of the mess and will have more time to polish your film.

Then "print" your final masters and ensure everything's perfect before you send your labor of love off into the world!

Edit Lab

The course is coming!

Want to dive deeper into the six stage process? The EYE Edit Lab course is almost here! Get on the waitlist and don't miss when it opens.

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EYE Edit Lab

Want to dive deeper? My complete course to walk you start to finish through your documentary edit is almost here. You'll learn:

  • a foolproof system for organizing and reviewing footage
  • a more fluid way to structure your film
  • a new language to describe all the editing decisions you'll make

Sign up to find out when the course opens.