Before You Start the Edit, Get Organized

I have edited several documentaries in my lifetime.  The journey of Hope was the second documentary I edited.  Here are links to all 4 parts.

This documentary is the story of Scott Orr and his decision to have life-changing brain surgery.  This surgery would help with the tremors associated with Parkinson’s Disease.  This documentary was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done at a television station.  It challenged me on so many aspects of editing and production.  It pushed me as an editor to use every skill I had developed.   Before I started editing, I got organized.

I didn’t capture a lot of the video for this.  In fact, my photographer, Dave Wertheimer, captured a majority of the video for me.  I still went threw every tape (Yes, this was back in the days when we shot on tape).

  • Logging is a critical process, especially in anything, especially in long-form.

I edited this is in Avid. Here are some things I did before starting editing.  It doesn’t matter what NLE you use, these are all things you can do in any NLE.

  1. Every time a shot changed, I put locators on the video. That way, I could toggle between EVERY SHOT.  So as I watched every tape that was captured, I added locators.  Most of the time, I watched the video at either two or three times speed.  I didn’t have time to watch everything in real-time.  Nowadays, we don’t have this problem because every time you hit record with a digital camera, you get a new clip.  But if your recording a clip, moving around, and don’t pause recording, this is still a good idea and a time saver in the long run.  


  1. I sub-clipped A LOT.  I sub-clipped interviews, the surgeries, at the race track, head shaving party, etc.  So later, I could just go to the sub-clips and look at a smaller amount of media at once.  I still sub-clip, exceptionally long interview.


  1. I had a different bin for each tape the photographer shot.  VERY important for organization and for sanity.  This is still something I do to this day.  I make many, many bins in long-form edits.  I try to keep the number of clips in a bin small.  In a documentary, I’m usually editing sections at a time.  So, it makes bins correspond to these sections as best I can.  I re-arrange bins all the time, moving clips around in bins to be better organized.  The last documentary I edited I spent over 6 months on, so I knew to reorganize in the end was still a time saver.
  2. I have additional bins for music, graphics, sequences, etc.


  1. I made sure my media was as organized as I could possibly have it.


  1. I also made sure my media was organized in folders on my scratch.  I am very, very organized.  I can’t tell you how much time this had saved, especially when I needed to find a clip or move media to different drives. 

Here is an example of the folder structure I had on a recent project.

Within my master folder are sub-folders.  Within my sub-folder are more sub-folders.  See how I broke down folders by various cameras used.  I have a folder for animations, graphics, music, and VOs.

  • Keep Organized!

Get organized.  Over-organize.  Practice getting organized.  

I have noted all over the place.  I have notes on paper, and I have digital notes.  When I put locators on the video, I write notes on the locator all the time.  It is an excellent practice to get into.  If you don’t know how to put a locator on a clip on in the timeline, I sincerely suggest you invest some time learning how to do that.

Do whatever you can BEFORE the edit to be the most organized video editor you possibly can.  

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