• Carlos P. Beltran

How to Edit Documentary-Style Pieces


It's all about prep-work and and being organized. The Puzzle Pieces approach.

This piece of advice best suits video producers getting into short-form video editing for the first time. However, I've used this method of editing since I first started cutting my own pieces.

I'm not the best director out there, but I am a thorough editor. Whether I'm working on branded content or short form documentary pieces, most non-fiction/unscripted videos fundamentally rely on Interviews + Broll. The way we mix these brings out the subject/characters to life. For the past 7 years I've edited all of my pieces using a simple method based on Prep-work and Organization. This is by no means a ground-breaking editing method, but I call it the "Puzzle Pieces" approach.

It's simple, the main idea is to organize all of your footage into specific Sequences (Broll Sequence, Interview Selects, Interview Best Soundbites, as shown in the video). In order to do this, however, I always patiently watch every single clip of footage and broll. Once I am acquainted with every frame and every soundbite, I can adequately create Broll and Interview SELECTS Sequences (I call these, the Prep-work Sequences). This way you are certain to have THE BEST of your character's interview and supporting location footage on a timeline. This is what I call "Puzzle Pieces."

But my point is that you don't have to go looking for that one piece of soundbite you thought you filmed clip by clip.

Once you have all your puzzle pieces, all you have to do is create your "Final Video" sequence on your favorite NLE and exercise your storytelling skills. But my point is that you don't have to go looking for that one piece of soundbite you thought you filmed clip by clip. Once you've done all of the prep-work, you can simply go into your INTERVIEW SELECTS sequence and, if you have marked all of the selects appropriately, simply copy and paste that one soundbite onto your Final Video sequence. Then go to the Broll Selects sequence, find the trimmed/clean broll clips and simply copy and paste them on top of the interview clip (if appropriate). This is why I call them Puzzle Pieces, all you have to do after doing all of the prep-work is simply copy (from the prep sequences), paste (onto the final video sequence) and finesse. mix the audio, add a soundtrack and, if your narrative has a nice cadence, your piece should be looking pretty good.

On this piece, for example, it took me three days to do all the prep work and only about four hours to edit a first cut. If the client/network asks you to change a quote, you can easily go to your prep sequences, find a trimmed up, clean quote and swap it on your final video sequence. I promise this will save you time in the long run.

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