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how to start a cut with scene drivers

How to Start a Cut: The 5 “Edit Drivers”

This quick edit tip will create a solid foundation for your edit.

Watch the video (or read the transcript below) and find out how to determine which element on your timeline will drive the cut and how it serves as the backbone of your piece!

There are five different types of edit drivers.

1. Dialogue

First, there’s dialogue. It’s the primary driver in most interviews as well as conversation scenes in movies and primetime television shows.

Perhaps the purest distillation of dialogue scene drivers are animatics, pre-visualizations produced for animation programs. Most animation content starts its life as a virtual radio play, with storyboards produced later to dramatize the dialogue. In animatics, dialogue informs the pacing before expensive final animation is produced.

Whatever the genre, if your character’s lines are what’s driving the pacing and structure of the scene, start by cutting dialogue first and filling in the picture to match.

how to begin editing with dialogue
2. Narration

Next, there’s narration, used frequently in documentaries, promos, instructional videos… and, of course, YouTube videos. When we create our tips and tutorial videos here at Film Editing Pro, we lay out narration out first, then cut everything from music, sound effects, and video around, under and over that.

Building out a narration track is like a road map, providing you with signs posting where and what your visuals and sound effects will be.

how to start editing with narration
3. Music

Next, there’s music. In something like a montage, the music will be the driving force of the scene and will largely determine the pacing and structure.

If music is your driver, as it might be in a montage or even part of a movie trailer, you’d want to start by getting your music cut onto your timeline, starting and stopping it to cover the length of time needed. Then, you’d fill in your picture and other elements to work with the rhythm of the cue – each cut and visual effect lining up to the beats.

how to begin your cut editing with music
4. Visuals

Next, there are times when visuals are your primary driver.

Cutting just visuals is the edit driver granddaddy of them all, as early silent films didn’t have the benefit of sound to shape the narrative. Visuals are going to be the driver in things like action scenes, where fast-paced information needs to be conveyed clearly and quickly without the aid of dialogue. In a fight scene where the action is tightly choreographed and meticulously timed, to give priority to another element like music or dialogue would detract from the scene’s excitement, pacing and impact.

If the event happening visually on screen are what propels the story forward, they deserve your initial focus. Cutting only visuals first is a great way to hone your storytelling skills. Your edit should make perfect sense to the viewer, even with the sound off.

starting an edit with visuals
5. Sounds

Finally, there are times when sounds are your primary edit driver. You’ll see this frequently in stylized trailers. These rhythmic sound motifs are a combination of sounds organic or related to the movie laid out in a rhythmic way to create a custom audio bed for your visuals.

These sound motifs are most effective when they provide a unique feel and can reinforce the theme of your piece.

how to start cutting with sound FX

It’s a familiar editor’s refrain: “I’m being pigeonholed into one type of work!”

Learning how to work with different scene drivers will give you more confidence to tackle any type of project and make you a more versatile editor.

Whether it’s the dialogue, narration, music, visuals or sound effects that propel the edit forward, cut the “driver” into your timeline first and let it guide the rest of the editing process.

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