1. Organize your footage.
Whatever video-editing software you use, whether you’re on a Mac or a Windows machine, organization is the key to success. “If you don't set up your project and your media in an organized way, it will kill you in the long run,” says feature film editor Maurissa Horwitz. Be sure to label video files, audio files, and even still images clearly and keep them on the same drive for easy access. Also make note of the video file formats of the footage you’re using, and record any issues that might come up when converting from one format to another.
2. Watch everything.
This is the first step in the editing process. Writer and filmmaker David Andrew Stoler says there’s gold to be found in the unlikeliest of places: “Watch every single thing from the beginning to the end, because you never know. Even after the director calls for a cut, you want to watch everything. Some of the most beautiful expressions you’re going to get from the actors are after the cut.”
3. Assemble, then make a rough cut.
Drag and drop all of your video footage into a timeline and make sure your frame size and frame rates are consistent. Begin a new timeline and drag and drop the best takes into what will become your assembly cut. Then copy that timeline and begin to make the hard choices, choosing your best video clips to form a rough cut — a loose version of the story you want to tell. (Remember to frequently save your work in the cloud and on a hard drive, and to note the date and time of each version.)
This is where your rough cut starts to resemble a cohesive work. Adjust the sound and color, make sure the dialogue is audible, and add music, titles, or graphics in this phase.
5. Refine some more.
Pacing can make or break a film. A slow scene can ratchet up tension or bore the audience to tears. A fast scene can raise the audience’s heart rates or just give them headaches. Some editors cut scenes several different ways before they find the right pacing, so don’t be disheartened if you have to recut a few times. Remember that a drama can be slower, lingering on the characters — their expressions and body language — but if you’re making a comedy, speed is especially important.
Once you’ve got a final cut that you’re happy with, you can focus on finalizing sound, color, and special effects.