Recommended for Year levels: 5-VCE

Learning areas: Drama, English, Media & Media Arts, Technologies

Capabilities: Creative and critical thinking

What is editing?

Editing is the art of putting film shots and clips together to make a completed film project. However, it’s not just about assembling the footage; an editor also makes all kinds of decisions that affect how the finished product will look, feel, and sound. 

An editor will decide on the length of all the shots, which takes ultimately get used, and much more. They’re also instrumental in choosing how music and sound are used in a film.

An editor’s job is important, and a lot can depend on what an editor does with the footage provided. One editor might edit a film in a completely different way to another editor, and that can affect how the final story is told.

What do I need?

Editing software is a must. Apple's iMovie for Mac works well and is free. Movie Maker for Windows is free also. Some other programs used by professional editors include Final Cut Pro which is available on Mac,  Adobe Premiere, available on Mac and Windows and DaVinci Resolve.

You can also find some great tutorials for all these different editing software online and we've listed some here:

Movie Maker: there's a wonderful introduction by a young YouTuber on the basics of Movie Maker here and Movie Maker has their own tutorials here.

iMovie: Vimeo Film School have a series of very helpful and easy to understand video tutorials, starting with Ep 1: Introducing iMovie

DaVinci Resolve: Blackmagic design have some wonderful videos about DaVinci Resolve. You can start here with basic editing

Final Cut Pro X: Ripple Training have a create series of short how-to videos on YouTube. Here's a playlist of all those videos.

Premier Pro: Here's a twenty minute tutorial on Premier Pro that works through the basics through to some more advanced skills. Watch it here.

Once you can access some editing software, you can get stuck into one of the lessons below:

1. The rough cut

Let’s start with the basic tools you’ll encounter when editing, and the layout of editing software.

Although the layout and tools available might change between editing software, the basic layout and tools remain the same. The library is usually in the top left corner, your preview window top middle, and your film's timeline at the bottom.

Your first task will be to edit together a scene using the footage provided (you'll need to download this below).

What you’ll need

  • Editing software
    Try and familiarise yourself with the software before starting this task
  • A script
  • Footage to edit - download The Deal footage package 1

Create a rough cut

The word ‘cut’ can be confusing as it’s used in film in a variety of ways. A director might call ‘cut’ on set when they want the camera to stop filming and actors to stop acting. When it comes to editing we refer to every change between shots as a cut, and then we also use the term cut when referring to what stage a project is at.

So a rough cut is where you have put the video files into the order you’d like them, but you haven’t completed the scene or movie. When the editing process is over, and it's time to start on sound design, we call it a fine cut.

To create a rough cut you’ll need a script for the project you're working on. We’ve provided a script for the footage we’ve provided to help you edit the scene together. You can also watch the video below to see how it's done.

Using a script, edit together a rough cut of The Deal. You'll notice you have several different shots that each cover the whole scene, so it's up to you how you edit the scene together using these shots.

Don’t worry at this stage about getting it perfect, just get them in the order you think works.

The script will help you put the scene together, but it won't tell you which shot to use for each action or line of dialogue. That part is up to you. But you should think carefully about what is happening in each moment, and which shot you think works best. Have a look at the page on shot types if you need a refresher on camera shots and their use.

As you bring a clip from the library into your timeline, you should be able to select in and out points, meaning, the section of the clip that you want to use. You don't have to bring the whole clip into your timeline if the clip is quite long.

Now, go to the start of your project and play it back. Make sure you’re happy with the order of the clips. When you're happy, move onto your fine cut.

2. The fine cut

A fine cut is where you get your project to the point you’re happy with how all the footage has been cut together. This means you’ll need to get rid of all the unnecessary parts of your clips, for instance, there are lots of moments where the actors stop acting, the director yells out ‘action’ and ‘cut’, and also where you can see the clapper loader.

You can use your software’s trim tool to get rid of the parts of the clips you don’t want. Trimming is where you drag the start or the end of a clip backwards or forwards to hide the parts of the clip you don’t need.

When you make a fine cut, this is where you make decisions as an editor what you think works best. You might like some shots to hold for longer, and others to be shorter. Ultimately you want your scene to move smoothly from one shot to the next.

Keep going and make adjustments until you feel the scene is working.

3. Adding music

Music can add so much to a film, it can bring energy, create suspense, all kinds of things. Ultimately though, music adds to the feel and tone of the film and help elicit certain emotions out of your audience.

Along with your video files, you’ll find an audio track in the folder you downloaded. Make sure this is in your library for use. Bring the music into your timeline and place it where you’d like it to start.

Like your video clips, you can trim the music file once in your timeline.

Edit in music
1. Bring the piece of music into your library then place it into your timeline underneath your footage. Position the music where you’d like it. You can trim audio files like you do your video files so it ends or starts where you'd like it to.
2. Find out how you can bring down the volume of the music so it doesn’t drown out other the dialogue in the scene.

4. Quick cuts, jump cuts & condensing time

Let's extend some of your editing skills, and focus on some different ways to condense time using different editing techniques.

Download The Deal package 2. This will give you more footage to work with on your scene.

Quick cutting

One of the simple yet magic things about editing is you can condense time through different editing techniques. We can take a scene or an action that might take a little while, and speed it up by shortening the clips in our scene.

When it’s done really fast we call it quick cutting, but condensing time in a film doesn’t always appear to be quick, it can just be less slow. Either way, you’re condensing your clips to leave just the parts of action you do want.

For example in the footage you have for The Deal, there are several shots where the character of Sarah puts her briefcase on the table, opens it, pulls out a pen and pad, writes in the pad, puts the pen away, puts the pad on the table, and pushes it towards Claire. All together in real-time, Sarah’s actions in this part take around 35 seconds!

We can condense the time it takes for her to do this by using the different camera shots we have of this action and cutting them quite short so we just see the main actions.

Condense time with editing
1. Import the necessary footage
2. Using the various shots of Sarah's entrance, edit her entrance down from 25 seconds to less than 15. Make sure we still see what you think are the important actions. Refer to the script to help decide what you should keep. Watch the tutorial below to get some tips.

Jump cuts

Jump cuts are used with footage in which the camera shot holds for a long time and a character moves around in that space. It can help show a passing of time, like a character waiting for someone and getting very bored. Instead of showing them waiting for ten minutes we could use jump cuts and show them in different positions looking restless. We still get the idea they’ve been waiting for a long time, and are tired of waiting, without having to show them waiting the entire time. Jump cuts are also used to make people disappear or reappear (or teleport) within a shot.

Watch this video about jump cuts on Vimeo to see the technique in action.

Edit in jump cuts
1. Using a long take of Claire waiting, experiment with jump cuts to show a passing of time. We want the effect to be that Claire has been waiting for some time. Watch the tutorial below to get some tips.
2. Condense time your own way. Try making the middle section of the scene (Sarah producing her briefcase, writing something down, passing it to Claire) go a little quicker. You can do this by quick cutting, or jump cuts.
3. Re-edit your music file to better suit your update edit


How did you go? Which time condensing technique did you prefer? Did you prefer the scene when it was sped up, or did it take some suspense out of the scene?

Inserts, cutting on action, L and J cuts

Let's go beyond the fundamental editing skills and look at  more advanced techniques employed by professional editors. These techniques will make your scene look extra special, and give it more depth and detail.

The techniques include L and J cuts, insert footage, and cutting on action.

You'll need to download another package of footage to experiment with these types of cuts and techniques. Download The Deal footage package 3 below.

You can use your existing cut of the scene, or start afresh.


An insert is a piece of footage that shows us another perspective on the action taking place.

In The Deal, we have lots of shots such as a long shot, a two-shot, and a variety of close-ups. These shots cover the main action taking place and shows us mostly character expressions and obvious body language.

An insert shot is usually a close-up or an extreme close up of something else that's happening as part of that action. It might be a shot of a character fidgeting or tapping their fingers. An insert could also be a shot of an important prop or item in the scene.

So inserts can offer us another perspective on the main action taking place, they can tell us more about how a character is feeling, or they can draw our attention to an important item.

Edit in an insert
1. Work the insert footage of the briefcase, the close-up on Claire's hands, and close-up pan shot of the pad on the desk into your rough cut.

Cutting on action

Cutting on action is where you cut from one shot to another, right on a point of action. Because you're changing the audience’s viewpoint of the scene, it makes the action more dramatic and impactful. You don’t have to cut on every moment of action, but it’s a good rule to do it where you think it works.

Even in a scene without a great deal of obvious action (like fighting or a car chases) you can create impact by cutting on all types of movement, big or small. Even cutting from one shot to another when a character turns around, sits down or looks up can be effective.

Edit in a 'cut on action'
1. Include at least two cuts on action in your edit of The Deal.

L cuts and J cuts

L cuts and J cuts refer to when the audio (usually dialogue) from one clip or scene plays over the footage of another clip or scene.

Say we have filmed a conversation between two characters, and the film footage we have are two separate shots focusing on them individually, so in the edit we cut from one character to the other depending on who is talking.

An L cut is when character A is talking, but before they finish talking we cut to character B so we see their face but still hear character A talking.

A J cut is the opposite, it’s where character A is talking, finishes talking, but before we cut to character B we hear them start talking.

L and J cuts don’t just have to be used for conversations though, you might find other interesting ways to use them, such as using them to transition from one scene to another. 

To perform these kinds of cuts, you might have to detach the audio from your video files so you can extend or shorten the audio file separately from your video file.

Be careful when moving the audio files once they’re detached from your video file, as you don’t want to put the audio and video out of sync.

If you’re keen to learn more about L cuts and J cuts, go to The Beat’s great rundown here.

1. Find an opportunity to perform either an L cut or a J cut (or both) on a line of dialogue.
2. Complete your scene and produce a fine cut.
3. Go through your scene and identify if there are 'blip' noises anywhere where one clips cuts to another. If you do find any, this is because of changes on audio between clips. Experiment with slight fade-ins or fade-outs on the clips in question to see if you can get rid of those annoying blips.


What moments did you end up using to cut on action? What was the impact of cutting on action to your scene? Did you try and condense time in any part of the scene? Why, why not? Did you experience any issues when using L cuts or J cuts? What were they, and how did you overcome those issues?