There’s a piece of advice that I often hear from friends and colleagues in the filmmaking community; “If you’re a director, you must NEVER edit your own footage!” When I’ve questioned them about the logic behind this statement, they usually say something like, “You can’t be objective about what you shot” or “You’re married to the work. You need fresh eyes on it.”
I do agree with some of this, but for the most part I think that learning to edit my own footage has played the most pivotal role in helping me to grow as a director. Here’s why:
I came to directing from a writing and acting background and I’ve never been particularly tech savvy. So, when I started creating my own short films and videos it was sometimes hard for me to communicate what I visually wanted to the cinematographer, and my “shot lists” were often useless. But, at the end of each shoot, I would hand my video files over to an editor and they would fix all my mistakes, with me being none the wiser.
Here’s the thing about mistakes; When you don’t have to face them, you don’t learn anything from them.
I eventually started teaching myself how to edit because I create a lot of content and it was costing me a lot of money to hire people to edit my work from scratch all the time. Learning to edit was hard and overwhelming at first. I had to spend a lot of time watching YouTube tutorials that had titles that made my ego hurt a little, like “Video Editing for Dummies”. But eventually I learned how to navigate my way around the editing program and was able to start cutting my footage together, and WOW! This is when the learning REALLY began!
Looking over all that footage and trying to piece it together, I quickly became aware of the many mistakes I was making on set as a director. I realized that I often spent way too much time on shots that had no way to be edited into the scene, and then would completely forget to cover other important shots that were necessary to achieve continuity . I would then have to do some serious editing gymnastics to try to make that scene flow. I also found that sometimes I’d ruined what could have been lovely moments but yelling “CUT” too early. There were many other little mistakes like this that I never would have become aware of, had I not attempted to piece my own footage together in the edit.
I still use professional editors to polish my work. The way that I like to work now is to put together a rough cut and then hand it over to a “proper” editor to work their magic. I simply don’t have the skills to make a scene look as polished as they do. But by doing my own rough cuts, it allows me to grow so much as a director. I now know how to use my time wisely on set, and as anyone who has worked on a set knows, time is never on your side, so having the ability to make the most of my time is absolutely priceless for me as a director.