There are days when your brain is on auto-pilot and you just can’t muster any creativity or focus. But you still have to get some editing done.

What to do? Going out for yet another coffee isn’t going to help – but you feel like you don’t have the mental clarity to even put two shots together.

Here’s a short list to remind you of some low-intensity tasks that don’t require high levels of concentration so you can still make productive use of your time.

And with any luck, these tasks will get your brain warmed up and in gear so that you can tackle the heavier lifting of constructing scenes, structuring story, and weaving narrative.

  1. Look for music. Finding a good track whose mood is just right for a particular scene always helps me energize and find my editing flow. Rob Hardy over on Filmmaker Freedom has this list of music libraries he’s currently using. I rely heavily on Audio Network because for nearly every track, you can download multiple variations with more or less instrumentation and of different lengths. Sometimes I use Premium Beat – it’s very affordable, though stylistically it can be pretty conventional. Keith Kenniff, a composer whose music you’ll recognize from Apple commercials, has a sizable library of his compositions available for licensing over at Unseen Music. And for projects without a music budget, I’ll dig into Free Music Archive, though you have to sift through a lot of junk to discover music that’s potentially useful. (September 2018 note: right now it’s down for maintenance.)
  2. Do some project housekeeping, like clear out clutter and organize your bins
  3. Watch something online for inspiration. No need to feel guilty either.
  4. Make b-roll selects. Leave making interview selects or playing with dialogue for another day. Watching and deciding on purely visual elements requires a lot less concentration than putting words together.
  5. Re-watch selects sequences you’ve already made to refresh your memory of the material and see new potential connections.
  6. Browse through material you had set aside as low priority. Watching footage again helps you see new places in your film where it might fit. 
  7. Review transcripts again.
  8. Color correct some shots you know need it. Then take a render break.
  9. Do some shot stabilization. Ditto on the render break.
  10. Make subtitles.
  11. Review your tech specs / deliverable requirements.
  12. Do the prep work to make a film map. Here’s how: Grab Post Its and write a scene on each one. Then once your brain power is back, arrange a scene map to help flesh out structure. Even if you’re not struggling with structure, this exercise could help you see new connections / relationships between scenes.
  13. Browse graphics templates online. Check out the Premiere Pro and After Effects templates sections on VideoHive over at Envato Market. It can stimulate and inspire ideas for the visual style of your film.
  14. Plug in and inventory old mystery drives. Put a label on the outside of each drive describing what’s on each one plus how much free space is left.

About the author 

Leslie Atkins

Leslie Atkins is a documentary editor and story consultant who wants to save filmmakers from unnecessary agony when they edit on their own. She is lost in translation somewhere near the intersection of visual storytelling, online entrepreneurship, and motherhood. Or geographically speaking, in her adopted home of Mexico City.

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