Postproduction: Vertical Editing

video editing

Sometimes I take things for granted. The first Avid I worked on had one level of undo, so I got good at making only one mistake at a time. No, really! Now with multiple layers of undo, I can make lots of mistakes.

I’ve worked on systems that had multiple layers, but you had to indicate which one you wanted to view. There was no top-down compositing like now. That experience gave me the idea of using the vertical track arrangement to organize footage in certain situations.

There are some projects, mostly unscripted, where I’m given a hard drive, maybe some log notes and maybe even a little direction, but that’s about it. Usually, there’s a pretty tight deadline, too. Since I’m not familiar with the footage, I need to watch it to see what I have to work with. This is when I use multiple tracks to sort out the footage. Of course, this could always be done using bins, notes or comments on clips and/or subclips, but I’ve become accustomed to dragging all my clips onto a timeline and watching from there.

For example, if I have interviews where several people are asked to talk about the same 10 topics; I might create 10 or 11 tracks for each topic. As I watch, I’ll cut a clip on Topic 1 and drag it up onto the Topic 1 video track; the same for Topics 2, 3, etc. If the edit software allows me to name tracks, I’ll do so; if not, I put a Post-it note on my monitor and label the tracks on the note.

Did you notice I mentioned 11 tracks, but only 10 topics? I use a track for miscellaneous clips, like a funny outtake or an extremely strong statement that I can use at the beginning or end of the show.

video editing
By dragging clips up onto tracks, you can sort clips by topic right on the timeline.

Once I’ve viewed all the footage, it’s all organized in the timeline. Then, if I want everybody’s answers grouped together based on topic, I can just drag the clips together on each track. By having everything sorted this way, I can review each person’s response—one right after the other—and quickly evaluate which is the strongest.

But this technique isn’t just for interviews. I recently used it on a behind-the-scenes project to categorize various subjects. I had a track for equipment shots, a track for slates, a track for interviews, a track for sync sound shots, one for interiors, one for exteriors, one for crew, one for talent and so on. I even broke it down into a few subcategories using additional tracks.

Once I had it all sliced and diced and moved to tracks, I could see all of the “topics” I had to work with. I knew at a glance which topics I had an abundance of, and which I didn’t.

This method isn’t exactly what the software engineers were thinking of when they built vertical editing, but it works for me.

Michael Guncheon is an accomplished editor who has cut a wide range of projects, including music videos for Prince, a documentary on Genesis, and numerous commercials and corporate pieces. A partner at HDMG, a Minneapolis video production and post-production company, Guncheon has written several books on DSLRs and is the author of the Kodak Digital Photo Guide. He has presented his talk on shooting with HDSLRs at Twin Cities Public Television, WGBH in Boston, PBS in New York, the Hollywood Post Alliance and at the annual SMPTE conference in Hollywood.