How I leveled up my storytelling by learning one skill

Do you know how to edit?

If not, you are missing out on a vital toolset that will unlock massive growth for your storytelling abilities.

Learning how to edit is easier and more accessible than ever:

  • the software is free
  • the training is free
  • getting your hands on or shooting your own footage is within reach for anyone

The excuses for not learning this skill are simply not valid anymore.

For me, mastering editing has become both my bread and butter and my secret weapon.

So why should you invest your precious time on learning to edit if you don’t want to be an editor?

With great power comes… star wipes?

I mentioned my first film “Wood Wars” ​last week​. We shot it on a Hi8 home video camera, and we had no idea how to edit, or if we could even find a way to edit what we shot.

It turned out a friend of a friend of a friend had just purchased a state of the art editing software called Pinnacle Studio DV.

Think an antique version of iMovie.

Oh the memories…
Oh the memories...

This piece of software opened Pandora’s Box for me and my friends.

We were able to cut together scenes, add sound effects (ripped from a game called ​Yoda Stories​, highly recommend), music and most importantly - Star Wars appropriate scene transitions.

We even re-recorded all the dialogue from the film. There was so much wind noise in our footage that you couldn’t hear a single line of dialogue.

Talk about “fix it in post!”

Discovering the magic of editing was like seeing how a magic trick works.

Filmmaking went from being this mystical art to something I could actually learn.

Since then I’ve always edited my own films.

I use less star wipes today, but the lessons I learned on Pinnacle has served me for over 20 years.

Today it pays my bills and helps me finish my own projects.

Editing is the greatest teacher of filmmaking

The technical fundamentals of editing are simple.

You select parts of a clip, put it on your timeline, repeat.

All editing programs are pretty much the same, and if you learn one you can easily jump to the next.

When I worked in broadcast sports I saw technophobic journalists learn to cut their own stories in a matter of days.

This stuff is not rocket science or voodoo magic.

Stop worrying and start loving the timeline.

Throughout my career the editing room has been where I’ve learned the most about filmmaking.

Editing is brutally honest.

If you didn’t get the shot, you’ll see it.

If your dialogue isn’t working, you’ll see it.

If the shot you spent 3 hours getting isn’t necessary, you’ll see it.

Dealing with the footage you shot is a real eye opener.

It creates accountability and awareness that’s invaluable for growing as a filmmaker.

Editing a scene shows you everything you did right and everything you could have done better.

If you are observant, editing will teach you how to be a better director on your next project.

Stop waiting for your editor to send you a cut

I used to take the independence I’ve created for myself by editing my own films for granted.

After experiencing project after project stalling because we were waiting for an editor to send a cut, I realized the advantage I had.

And quick side note: I’m not saying working with an editor sucks or that editors are bad.

I love editors.

I work with them and for them every day.

But the reality of making a no-budget short or feature is you can’t afford to pay an editor a fair wage.

And finding a highly competent editor, who will work for next to nothing is very difficult.

And if you find one, your film will be pushed to the side whenever paid work comes around.

I prefer having the ability to making sure my films get done.

More times than I can count I’ve taken over editing a project that had ran aground somewhere in post production.

It usually pissed me off when that happened, but if you think about it I was lucky.

I had the ability to finish a project many would have abandoned.

And we all know footage sitting on a hard drive in a drawer doesn’t make a movie.

If I started over today, here’s what I’d do

I learned to edit over 20 years ago. The technology has changed a lot in that time, but the basics are the same.

If I was starting over today here’s what I’d do:

That’s it.

Keep it simple.

Get started.

I would focus on building the basic skills and then practice them relentlessly. Practice until I became confident and comfortable working in the timeline.

I would also avoid any of the BS that gets touted as “advanced editing” on the interwebz.

Don’t believe the lies about “Advanced Editing”

One last soap box speech for today:

Advanced editing has nothing to do with glitch transitions, VFX, motion graphics or whip-pans.

That stuff can be cool, but it is 100% unnecessary to becoming a better storyteller.

Advanced editing is advanced storytelling.

It is a deeper emotional understanding of how stories work and the elements of a story that creates emotional reactions in an audience.

As an editor you get to direct the audience.

Your pacing, rhythm, shot selection and performance selection builds the narrative experience.

As a director, when you learn how to make all these elements play together, you can’t help but become a better storyteller.

This requires the exact same basic tools a newbie editor uses.

Remember: it’s not the hammer and chisel that makes the statue, it’s the sculptor.

Ok, thank you. Stepping off my soap box now.


Learn how to edit.

It’s free.

It’s not as complicated as you think.

Thank me later.