It’s called Final Cut for a reason

Want your videos to have that polished professional look to them? Of course you do. When I view a video produced by someone inexperienced, I see all the little things they could have fixed before they exported. Since I seem to be fond of top ten lists, here is my How to final cut your video before you compress.

It really is the final small fixes that can make or break a video. I often find myself, after posting a video, going back several times to fix things that bug me. A dissolve that’s too long, an audio level that’s too low or high. It is a perfectionist curse that I live with. It’s best, though, to fix your video before they’re posted.

  • Start by listening to your completed project with your eyes closed. Hit pause when you come to something that doesn’t sound right and fix it. I find, by not looking at my time line, I’m much more able to spot (hear) audio issues.
  • When you’re listening with your eyes closed, do it twice, once with headphones and once with your computer speakers. You’ll be amazed at the difference in the subtleties of what can be heard between the two. Music is a case in point. A subtle music sound bed might sound great with cheap speakers, but be overpowering with headphones on. You have to find a balance for both ways the viewer will be listening to your video.
  • Watch your audiometers— Yes, with your eyes open now. You want each edited clip to peak between –12db and –6db. Adjust accordingly.
  • Have an audio clip that has really low levels? Don’t jack the audio levels up to the point of hearing hiss. Instead highlight the clip and duplicate it, several times if necessary, until it builds the sound back up to a decent level. Try it! It really works.
  • Use lots of audio cross fades. I can always tell the iMovie productions because the bumps in audio between clips. Cross-fades work much like an video dissolve does by blending the outgoing clip with the incoming clip. Fades work best between clips that have consistent audio sound. An example would be an outgoing clip of traffic noise transitioning to a clip of crowd noise. Because you can get cross talk, be careful of cross fading dialogue.
  • Always use split edits. The split edit separate the professional editor from the amateur. The way I define a split edit is that you want to hear the person before you see them. Split edits, also called L-cuts really make your video flow smoothly between a-roll and b-roll. Just watch a video where a person appears and starts to talk. It can be jarring to the viewer. You can fix it by unlinking the video and audio track, roll the talking head video back about four seconds, then tuck the exposed audio on a separate track under the outgoing b-roll clip. You now have a smooth transition viewers will hardly notice. There are a half a dozen ways to do a split edit. Find the way that works best for you.
  • Using photographs in your video? Try to fill the canvas window so there isn’t any black bars above the and below the image. It just looks better, especially if you’re adding motion on the photo. What I do is drop the photo onto my timeline and load it into the canvas. With wire frame enabled, I hold my option key down (to constrain proportions) and grab a corner of the wire frame and scale up the photo until it fills the frame.
  • My personal preference is to fade up a video at the beginning and to fade out at the end. Many videos I see just start, which I find jarring. I like to use Final Cut’s video transparency feature. This is that black line on the top edge of video clip. You can key frame it just like audio. If not, just use a cross dissolve. Also, try an audio cross fade on the opening audio clip and have it fade up with the video. It will be smooooth as butter.
  • Speaking of cross dissolves, ask yourself if you really need one. I find editors who use too many dissolves are the ones who failed to sequence their video with wide, medium and tight shots. Remember, a dissolve is best used for transitions of time or place.
  • Color correct your video. It’s really simple to do in a professional video editor like Final Cut Express or Pro. It is the last thing I do before I export my video out of Final Cut. The easiest thing to do with the color correction filter is to use the highlight eyedropper. Click a neutral white in your video and presto instant colorcast correction. Usually that is all I have to do to a clip. It’s a great way to take a cool color balance and instantly warm it up. Bad color in your video makes it look like a You Tube production.
Any other tips? Please share…

11 thoughts on “It’s called Final Cut for a reason

  1. thanks for that tip on how to color correct, i’ve been struggling with that for so long, and i never realized you could have it do it automatically so easily.

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  3. Great tips. I do exactly the same things, from closed eyes to the color-correction 3-way filter. One thing I’ve noticed though is loose audio editing. Only have a break in spoken word (either interview or ambient) if it serves a purpose, like letting a quote breathe, or adding pacing to the production. But most often editing ends up really loose.

    I also lay down all my audio first, with the video track linked as well, but then i chop the audio up without worrying about all the visual, taking out unneeded gaps like “uhs” or studders. When doing it in the timeline there’s tons of cuts in my audio/video tracks, but it’s rare that i do it so much that it can’t be corrected by a quick white flash or cut-away (coverup) visual of something else.

    You’re right in focusing most tips on audio. It makes or breaks a piece.

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  5. Bookmarked and will be referred to regularly. It’s good to have stuff like this all one place as a checklist.

    A even more detailed post on split edits would be appreciated.



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  7. I’ve been a professional editor for 12 years. If you’re really serious about editing, you must understand the importance of music and sound effects. Sound is 50% of your finished product.

    Careful music choices affect pacing. If your pace falters at any point in the video or film, you’ll lose the interest of the viewer. Don’t just look for a “music bed” that just plays in the background. Look for tracks that match the tone of each mini-segment of your sequence. Look for accents or florishes within the tracks (the chorus, the bridge, stops and starts) and time them with your video edits. Don’t be afraid to make cuts in the track to allow these accents to hit when you want them to. Remember that you’re an editor and and music editing is part of what you do!

    Sound effects can really draw a viewer into your film. Good sound effects libraries contain nearly every sound you could think of. Keep your eyes open while watching through your video and make a list of things that could use sound FX. It takes some careful tweaking to get them just right, but they make a world of difference. When adjusting the volume, try using keyframes — and make things louder when they are closer to the camera; make the sound fade as the object moves away. (A car driving by is a good example.) Sometimes you may need to get creative: if you have footage of a boat driving by with no sound, try generic ocean wave sounds if you don’t have the exact “boat traveling through water” sound effect. Place a keyframe at every spot you see the boat hit the water, and another when it’s at its farthest point from the water. Then adjust the “ocean wave” volume accordingly so it’s louder when the boat touches water, and quieter when it’s away. (Your keyframing will look like “VVVVVV” when you’re done!) You’ll simulate the sound of a boat splashing through waves as it drives. Add some seagulls and a breeze to fill it out. No “boat motor” sound effect? How about a go-cart instead? Or a blender? Or any similar sounding device that, when mixed in at the right volume, will fool any viewer.

    Many people, including many editors, neglect their audio tracks. The result is a boring show with no personality. I will admit that having a musical background is an enormous advantage if you’re interested in editing. It’s not essential — but the best editors I’ve met are those who also play a musical instrument. Even sections without music can be helped by approaching the material with a musician’s sensibility. Creating a video or film has many similarities to songwriting, especially in understanding proper pacing.

    Hope this helps someone out there!


  8. these are great tips – but one more that saves a ton of work BEFORE you get to post – is – white balance, white balance, white balance! White balancing the camera before you shoot and every time you change scenes make editing so much easier. Spend extra time on the set up (sound/lighting…) and your edit will be that much better and easier.

  9. Great tips! To add my 2 cents, I would say “Watch your Room Tone!” Room tone cuts without cross fades are scary. Blank digital space is even worse! Record room noise that you can put in your blank spaces so everything sounds nice and smooth.

  10. @ Marc

    You’re definately right. I’m a musician and professional editor for 12 years now.
    When I see other editors’ work, I can always immediately tell which ones are musicians.
    Nevertheless you should know, musicians are also those who can tell, where non-musicians REALLY care a little less. (hard to tell when you already are one)

    Editing on the beat is one, but I love to start a tune whenever a new section starts. I use 30-60 seconds of a track, then switch to another as soon as possible. This keeps the action. Be careful to ‘Feel’ your edit, like musicians do. Give others space to solo, and take the solos where needed…

    Trimming frames is a must, if your tunes start a little too soon or late, your work is trash.

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