3.3. Editing the film 

Offline editing and timecodes

Some editors will first perform an ‘offline’ or ‘paper’ edit. This is an edit decision list, where they write down, using good old-fashioned pen and paper, which parts of which clips they are going to use and in what order. The storyboard and script which were used to shoot the film provide the basis for the editing decisions but, quite often, the actual shoot differs from the storyboard and, not infrequently, from the script. Also, it is usual to have several ‘takes’ of each shot and a decision must be made about which shot or which parts of which shots should be used. This decision is based on both technical and artistic quality. Often parts of clips are used. Clips are generally recorded in the camera with a time reference for each frame called a timecode. This is represented in the format “00:00:00:00”. The first 00 represents hours, the second minutes, the third seconds and the fourth frames. The first three are self evident. The fourth depends on the number of frames per second (fps) that the camera is recording at. In Europe cameras generally shoot at 25 fps so the final “00” will go up to 25 before starting back to zero. Therefore, for example, 00:04:13:04 signifies four minutes, 13 seconds and four frames. This timecode can be used to identify where the required footage within a clip starts and ends.

The editing software environment

The look of each editing software package differs from the others but they are generally very similar. Usually they will have a viewing window where you can preview the clips and look at your edited film as it develops. They have a ‘timeline’ which is normally a long window with a ruler on top with units of time marked incrementally and a line above which video content is represented by bars such as you might find on a horizontal bar chart and below which audio is represented by similar bars. There are normally a number of small windows also which have tools to adjust the audio and visual content. Further options are available through standard pull-down menus.

 Editing window in Final Cut Pro

The editing window in Apples Final Cut Pro software

It is best to spend some time with your particular software, experimenting to see how it functions. Use the manual, help menu and online forums find your way around anything that you have difficulty with in your specific software programme.

Online editing

Unlike the old days of Hollywood when everything was shoot on rolls of film, we are working with the advantages of digital film making. Editing with film involved cutting the pieces of film that were required and sticking them together to make a new roll of spliced film. This is known as ‘linear editing’ – it’s all in one single line. In the digital world we edit in a non-linear way. We take the elements we want and we move them around the timeline. To have something in your film you must drag it onto the timeline. The beginning of your timeline represents the beginning of your film so you must place each clip that you want to appear in your film in the sequence you choose along the timeline. We can also stack several visual elements on top of each other – for example, a text subtitle on top of an image. When clips are stacked on top of each other, like the clips 22 and 24 in the diagram above, it is whichever clip is above the other which will be seen. It’s like an aircraft flying over the earth and looking down. It will see whatever lies on top.

We can also cut clips into smaller pieces so that we use only the piece of the clip we want. Unlike splicing film together, we can change our mind and drag the deleted parts of the clip back into their original place.

The rhythm of the edit

Each film has its own pace and style. This is achieved in a number of ways. A music video, for example, typically is fast paced to grab and hold the attention of the viewer. The picture generally changes frequently – often on the beat of the music. A documentary with a tragic theme, instead, might have long, lingering shots of a person’s face showing the emotion they are going through.  A good editor knows what emotion he or she wants from the viewer and uses pace, choice of image, visual effect and music to evoke that emotion and keep the viewer engaged.


A film is made up of scenes and these scenes are arranged one after the other to tell the story. Sometimes, though, the scenes follow each other without a change of pace while other times there is a break between scenes. As an example of the first situation, picture the following:


We see a small boy playing with a ball in the front garden of a house. We cut to a man climbing into a car and starting the engine. He drives away and waves out of the window to an unseen person as he goes. We cut back to the boy who kicks the ball. It bounces and goes over the wall. The boy runs to the wall. We cut to the car that is now travelling along an urban street of houses. We cut to the man inside the car who is adjusting his car radio as he drives. We are now looking across a road at a garden wall. A ball is rolling across the road towards us. The boy climbs onto the top of the wall. He sits there for a moment looking down thoughtfully.  He drops down onto the roadside. He runs across the road after the ball. We cut back to the man who is now concentrating more on the radio than his driving.

There has been absolutely no association stated between the boy and the ball and the man in the car but I would be surprised if you haven’t arrived at the same conclusion about what’s about to happen as I intended.

Now take the same clips and edit them differently:


We see the man climbing into a car and starting the engine. He drives away and waves out of the window as he goes. We cut to the boy sitting on the wall looking down thoughtfully. We now see the man inside the car adjusting the car radio as he drives. The screen fades to black. It fades back in to the boy who is now playing with a ball in the front garden of a house.

Again, there is no association stated between the boy and the ball but what new story have you imagined from this edit of the same clips?

Written and Practical Assignment

Write a paper edit for your film.

Cut and place the appropriate clips onto the timeline of your editing software to recreate this paper edit in basic form.