5 Essential Editing Tips for Emerging Filmmakers

Featured in Creativity
5 Essential Editing Tips for Emerging Filmmakers

With the 2019 Sundance Ignite Challenge launching later this summer, one of the most frequent questions we receive from emerging filmmakers is how to edit their films down to 8 minutes. Enter Varun Chopra. Varun captured days of footage for his film, “God on a Leash,” and narrowed it down to an 8-minute short that won him a fellowship with Sundance Ignite, as well as being accepted into the Cannes Film Festival. Here are his tips for determining what to keep in his films versus what to leave on the editing room floor.

1. Stay organized.

Since the project can turn into a mess before you know it, I organize bins in a way that if I was to hand over the project to someone else, they would be able to navigate without any hassle.

Color-coding parts of the story and using markers (don’t be afraid of them, use as many as you want) to take notes and comments helps me move from an assembly to a rough cut. From there my timeline looks more like a “papercut,” and I have an understanding of what my story thread looks like and what parts are missing.

2. Create layers.

As student editors are often told repeatedly: it is a cardinal sin to mix layers of different elements. Music and SFX must have their own, dedicated layer.

3. Take notes while things are fresh in your mind.

When I ingest footage to my Premiere project after the day on set, I make notes and comments as I go along each clip. It’s a nifty feature and saves me the trouble of reading transcriptions and notes from the script supervisor.

4. Let things go – yes, even the really expensive scenes.

Whether it’s a documentary or a narrative film, there are always pieces you hold dear in production — but they may not integral to the film’s story as it develops. It helps me to divide my film into different parts that (according to me) serve the emotion, story, and flavor — in that order. Sometimes that means getting rid of the most expensive or toughest-to-shoot scene of your film. It’s heartbreaking but important.

5. Practice brevity.

If you can say something in eight pages, rewrite to say it in six. Likewise, if you can relay the crux of a two-minute scene — without hurting the emotion — in a minute, do that. Have a trusted group of viewers and ask for their take on it. The truth is that every film editor dabbles between wanting to cut the film down while being wary of doing destructive work. Sooner or later, you’ll find your ideal length.

So even with all these steps, why continue to create film?

“It allows me to express my thoughts and ideas in the most potent manner,” says Varun. “I am a firm believer of relaying reality (or its impression) through the medium of film because of the sheer impact, immersion, and the change in one’s worldview that it may drive. It’s a creative medium that equips me with the tools and language to narrate stories and emotions that grip my mind. My films attempt to highlight captivating stories of people who seldom find representation on screen, and ask pertinent questions about the system they dwell in.”

View Varun’s Sundance Ignite submission here.

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