Editing Remote Documentaries

This page offers a set of starting points for putting together a more ambitious, complex documentary project. While digital video editing is a nonlinear process, meaning you can backtrack and revise most previous actions on the suggested workflow (including shooting!), there is an overall workflow for efficiently developing an editing project. On this page, we also offer ideas on how to structure documentary narratives, and finally, we end with the big question:  Where to start?

The Editing Workflow

  • Review add organize your footage into bins. This can be according to your own system for organizing by content, person, a category or media type (e.g video, photos, interviews, b-roll, music)
  • Create a bin or folder for your timelines, or sequences so they are easily found in one place. Design a naming consistent system for versions.
  • Assign track roles for your timeline or sequence (e.g. V1 = interviews, V2 = b-roll, V3 = graphics; A1 + A2 = sync dialogue, A3 = effects, A4 = music)
  • Start by assembling the dialogue or any part of the film that will add to the film’s duration. (B-roll over the main dialogue typically does not add to duration.) This is known as the “assembly” edit.
  • Add B-roll over and between dialogue (this can change the film’s duration.)
  • Audio between or under dialogue
  • Music bed
  • Basic sketches of titles and graphics
  • By now you have a “rough cut” of your film.
  • Adjust audio transitions and levels (since this can be time-consuming, we usually wait until late in the process when more certain about what audio will rue in the project.
  • Get feedback!
  • Fine tune titles, graphics, and audio.
  • Export

Story Structure Ideas

Which of these story structures can be interpreted with your footage? Which seems already embedded in your topic? An effective way to develop a story is to visualize your film in terms its possible structure and place particular scenes or dialogue at key points.

  • Plunge in at a turning point, and then reverse the chronology to reveal the development of a situation
  • Provoke a question or uncertainty that the film pursues as an explanation
  • A competition or a substantial deadline
  • Linear chronology
  • Kaleidoscope of difference ways of interpreting the same events or topic
  • A series of juxtapositions + connections
  • String of pearls
  • Fishbone

Where to Start Editing?

While the editing workflow above provides an overall structure for your editing, you don’t have to start at the beginning of your movie! Here are some places you might begin to get that proverbial ball rolling.

  • Any potent, shot, scene, line, dialogue, or event that must be in the movie
  • A specific cut or edit that is a key turning point in the story
  • A meaningful juxtaposition
  • A transition from one scene to another
  • The inciting incident for the movie
  • Set up the context
  • The end.

Wherever you start, however, keep an open mind to new alternatives for stories and your film’s significance. Undoubtedly, the more you work with the footage on the timeline, the deeper and richer your own interpretations will become, and more possibilities for the story and its edited form will be revealed.