You Better Know Your Trim Tools for Video Editing

I’ve been editing on non-linear systems for 15 years.  With each passing year and each new NLE I learn, I’m happy to say I’m still learning.  

One of the tools that took me a while to really grasp was the trim tools.  In fact it wasn’t until I had to learn Final Cut Pro about 10 years ago that I truly started to appreciate the power of the trim.  

A few year ago when I had to learn Premiere Pro. I once again spent extra time understanding the power of the trim tools.  I don’t care which NLE you’re on.  You better have an excellent grasp of trimming.  

I think this is THE MOST important set of tools on an NLE.

I use the trim tools daily, hourly, probably many times a minute.  The trim tools make an editor’s life easier.  Trimming is like the wax you put on your car.  

Sure you washed it and it looks good.  To get that extra shine without doing any more washing you put the polish on.

Trimming is polishing your edits.

I think trimming is one of the hardest concepts to grasp when you’re learning about editing.  I still get frustrated.  With my frustration comes education.

What is trimming.  I took this definition from Final Cut Pro HD Hands On Training by Larry Jordan.

 “Trimming is the process of removing, or adding, frames to the beginning and end of your shots so that the edits flow naturally, maintaining your story, without calling attention to your editing.”

So why should you trim?  What’s the great benefit?  These are the tools that make your edits better and it’s quick.  Eventually, it’ll make you better.

I’m going to speak about trimming in general and why and how.  I currently edit exclusively on Premiere Pro where I work and where I teach.  

I used to edit on a non-linear system very linear-ly.  Meaning I would mark an in and an out and place it into the timeline.  If I didn’t like the edit I would undo and reset my in and out.  That’s a waste of time.  The material you want is already down in the timeline.

Once you place clips onto the timeline, you should never go back to the preview window or re-load the clip ever.

If you don’t like the In, then trim it.

The tool I used the most is extend edit (In Final Cut Pro 7).

I’ll use the story, Swinging on the Trapeze on my YouTube site to show you how I utilized some trim tools in the edit.  

This is a story I edited on Final Cut Pro 7.  The images are from that edit, but the concepts still apply.

At [:21] into the story you hear the beginning of a sentence from the gentlemen helping Kellie with the harness.  He says “It’s gonna be…, then I show him.

I place the edit of Kellie and the gentlemen down on the time line.  I then ripple the video of the woman on the trapeze just over the this new edit.  I made a J cut (Whoohoo!).

Simply select the edit you want to extend.  In this case the end of the clip that has the woman on the trapeze (ONLY THE VIDEO).

In Premiere Pro I love I can just hold down the option key and I can select just one track (basically unlinking a video and audio track)

At [:35] I make another J cut.  You see another women on the trapeze.

And you hear Kellie say, “So this’ll keep..”  and then I cut to Kellie after that.

Between these two shots I select the edit.  I select the rolling tool and drag that edit forward to where I want it to be.

At [2:06] is a match-action sequence of Kellie swinging on the trapeze.

The 2nd shot in the sequence is Kellie swinging from the platform and then all the way back to the platform.  I’m confident the action is matched here.  But maybe I want to tweak it a few frames.  I like my duration of the clip (two seconds) I’ve laid down.  I want to slip it a few frames.

Meaning I’m going to change the in and the out with one tool.  I’m going to zoom in to the clip on the timeline,  select the slip tool, and drag the clip forward and backward until I like my new in and out point while maintaining my duration.

The Slip tool works great for situation like this.  Trying to help with your match-action in a sequence.

Slip, roll, extend edits are the easiest I think to try and explain.  A ripple while isn’t any more complicated, It’ just a hard to to explain in a blog.

What do I want you to learn from this entry?  The next time your editing and you want to change something, use a trim tool.  Sometimes just playing around with the trim tools are your best way of learning.  I still discover new uses for each trim tool everyday.

Play and learn.

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Imitate The Eye

I first heard the phrase, imitate the eye, from Lou Davis.  Lou is a photojournalist in North Carolina.  “Capture the world as your eye sees it,” he’d say.  I’ve taken this and applied it to my everyday editing.

When you are at an event.  What does your eye focus on?  Put those same shots together on the timeline.  You’re now basically editing via imitating the eye.  

Please watch Run Fast, Shoot Slow.  This is a natural sound video I edited several years ago.

Let’s start with the opening sequence. I’m trying to make edits as close to action as possible.  So, a gun is shot and it recoils immediately. Like in the edit at [:12]

and the edit at [:15]

Notice I don’t sit on the shot for more than a few frames before the action happens.  Once the action happens, I move on to another shot.  I’m attempting to imitate the eye as best as I can. I still need the viewer to comprehend the shot.  If you were there at the shooting range your eye would probably move faster.

Would your eye capture everything from the beginning?  Your would catch several things in mid-action.  Just like many of my edits.  Go back and look at my edits from [:10] to [:16].

Notice some of the shots the action of the gun being fired has already begun.  Imagine if you were there.  Wouldn’t your eye ping-pong around the shooting range just like that?  Q

Please watch the story again and notice just how often I take an edit right on an action of just after the action has started.

Here are a few examples;

at [:17] the car door is already opening.

at [:27] running onto the firing range.

at [:41] going over obstacle course.

The shot at [:47] I start the edit well after the participants have started running.  If you were on top of the hill watching this is where you head my turn and pick up the action.

Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at 4.24.09 PM

Not every edit in this story follows the imitate the eye concept.  I still have to tell the story.  I do back-time natural sound moments and I’m going back and forth with the interview and there are a lot of other elements to the edit.  For this post I just wanted you to pay attention to your eyes the next time you are out shooting.  When you come back to edit try thinking about this concept.


Thank you for reading.




She’s nervous. As an editor it’s my job to help convey that in the edit.

You are an editor.  Occasionally….wait…I’m mean you’ll always have to convey emotions when you edit.  Sometimes it’s easy.  Your subject is laughing, crying, showing emotion and it’s easily seen and understood.  Quite often it may be more subtle and you’ll need to help convey the emotion with the help of some editing tools.  Here is a story I produced and the tools I used to help convey how Kellie was feeling as she went into a shark-tank with sharks.

The story for this post is We’re Going into Their World on my Youtube page

This is from the ‘Extreme Kellie’ series I produced for KWGN. In this story Kellie MacMullan (now DeMarco) takes a dive with sharks at The Aquarium in downtown Denver.

The first thing I did before I edited this story was to find music.  Using something from the soundtrack to Jaws or any other scary aquatic movie wouldn’t be appropriate.  It’s also cliche.  People already have an emotional attachment to the theme from Jaws.  I want to help the viewer understand how scared Kellie is to actually do this all the while not making a mockery of the dive. Music isn’t an easy thing for me. I’ll often spend hours and hours listening finding the right music for a story.

For the opening portion of the story I choose something the average viewer wouldn’t recognize.  The song is Heed Our Warning from the Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen The Score.  I start the story with music up full for 3 seconds to establish mood.

The 1st five shots of the package are all from the HD underwater camera.  Notice all 5 shot I take the edit with the shark predominantly in the middle of the screen.  I always have eye trace in mind when I edit.  I want to keep the viewer’s eye right in the center of the screen for all these shots.  Why?  The impact of the shark in the 5th shot shown here…

That shot really grabs the viewer’s attention.  I bring the music up full for just a beat during this shot to give it just another second of impact.

At [:11] When Shane Taylor, Kellie’s instructor says,

“We’re going into their world, you know I think if you just respect what there to do, things will go really, really smooth,” I take a shot from above the tank.  I added a slow push-in to this shot.

Why do I choose this shot?  During the interview at [:11] Shane looks down.  What’s he looking at?  If you place the camera at his eye level and pan it down, this is what you’d see. This is another example of how I use eye trace.  I know this post is about helping convey emotion but there is always other elements going on in editing and I like to point those out.

At [:24] I have a shot of a shark swimming shot from above,

followed by a shot of Kellie looking into the tank.

Look at this shot closely.  I wait for Kellie to have some expression on her face.  I want to show the viewer she’s nervous.  I then cut back to the sharks swimming from above.  I’m following the logic of eye-trace.  Kellie is looking at something, I show the viewer what she’s looking at (eye-trace).  But it’s not just eye-trace. Its is also finding something in the video to show the emotion of the moment.

At [:32] I show Kellie and she says “I’m nervous.”

The next shot I choose is that of a sharks opening it’s mouth.  Wow, looking back on that edit I love it.  I’m really conveying the emotion of the situation.  The shark opening it’s mouth really works here.

With this shot I bring up the music full again. Why did I cut away from Kellie to this shot?  In the sequence of Kellie in the water I didn’t like my choices of shots.  They were either jumps cuts or cutaways adding nothing to the story.  I’m trying to keep the viewer engaged as much as possible.  Cutting a sequence of Kellie dropping into the water isn’t nearly as powerful as cutting back and forth from Kellie to the sharks.

At [:58] I bring the music up full again and show a great shot of Kellie.  With the music up full and her expression you can really feel the tension she’s feeling.  That’s good editing.

Notice coming out of this shot at [1:00] I wait until she slightly moves her head.  The next shot wide her head continues to move.  I like using match-action to help hide edits.  Little things like this make an average editor better.

At [1:25] Kellie goes underwater and I change the music. I’m now using the song Grand Central from the soundtrack to the movie K-Pax.

This song has a feel of discovery.  I want the viewer to realize Kellie is not so nervous anymore.  She is intrigued by her dive.

I bring the music up full several more times.  The shots are beautiful.  Kellie’s taking this all in. I want the viewer to take it all in too.  So, I let a few shot just breathe.

This was a fun piece to edit.  Great underwater shots to choose from.  I kept my editing very simple.  Trying to let shots breathe.  Simple music and notice no dissolves.

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Make Your Editor Happy with Screen Direction

Have you ever crossed the axis,violated screen direction?  Stop it!  

Ok, there are about 15-thousand reasons why you’ll do this.  Relax, I’m here to help.  

A quick review just in case you don’t know what a axis in video production is and a few definitions.


  • Action Line – This imaginary line follows the direction that the people or object are facing. 


  • If you keep your camera and people (or object) on opposite sides of the action line, screen direction is never a problem.
  • Frame Left – indicates movement towards the left side of the screen.
  • Frame Right – indicates movement toward the right of the screen.

The story I’m going to use for this post is Slow but Steady found on my Youtube page

The story starts out with video that was given to us by Thunder Valley Motocross.  It’s a montage of shots from various races.

Even though this was given to me I edited it with screen direction in mind. Notice all shots from from [:00] to [:11] are frame left.  There is one shot at [:11] in the music full montage I take from frame right.  Why?  When I’m in montage mode, I like to break rules and go for coolness of shots.  I liked the way the shots from frame left and frame right worked.

After that montage I go back to all shots frame left until the I take the interview full at [:18].  Then all shot are frame right, back to interview. After that I tried to cluster several shot in which in action is coming mostly straight at you. Some are frame left and some are frame right but because they are mostly head on I didn’t feel the direction change was to drastic to be visually unpleasant.

At [:38] is a shot of Kellie on the bike, followed by a shot of the wheel, followed by Kellie on a motorcycle going over a bump.  I break screen direction with all three of these shot.  It works because they are all tight shots, I haven’t established any real screen direction and it’s a mini-montage.

I want you to respect the guidelines of screen direction.  I also want you to be creative and figure out ways to violate screen direction without it being visually jarring.

At [:40] Kellie and David are talking getting her ready to ride.  The action line keeps David frame left and Kellie frame right. Pretty obvious.  So, a bad idea would of been to all of a sudden start shooting from the other side of the axis.  

That would of put Kellie on the left side of the screen and David on the right.  That’s the type of screen violation you do want to avoid.  Keep people on the same action line unless you have a reason to break this.  Don’t just break your axis in this type of situation without a good reason.

Oh no!!!  at [1:04] they switch sides.  Kellie is now frame left and David is frame right.

Cutting those two shot together with the reverse in screen direction looks bad, feels bad and I won’t do it.

Lucky for me, I have a pan-up that helps me get out of my reverse frame problem.  So, now the screen direction doesn’t look so bad.  You are going to run into screen direction problems all the time.  Find a solution.  It’ll make you better as an editor.

If you’re a videographer and this happens, remember to shoot yourself out of the problem.  You and your editor (again may be you) will thank you in the edit bay.  

Now, we cannot control David moving around and sometimes we can control screen direction problems in the field. As an editor it’s your job to make sure this doesn’t get in the way.

How do I you do that?  

At [1:11] Dave is frame left.  I wait until he’s out of the shot to make the edit.

Dave is now frame right.  I use a shot of Kellie’s hands and their torsos to make the jump less harsh.

When Kellie finally starts riding the bike she rides away from the camera.  Notice I take the edit when she slightly leans left to get her around and back.

From there on in the sequence she’s always riding frame left.

At [2:00] she reverse’s direction.  I use another pan up to help me get out of this looking to jarring.  Two pan-ups to get me out of screen direction problems.  Remember that.

The next 3 shots are frame right.  In the third shot I allow her to turn in the shot.

and now I can get her going frame left.

At [2:22] I let her turn in frame again, allowing me to get her going screen right again.  The reason why I turned her around again is because her final little post interview she’s frame right.  I’m thinking ahead making sure I don’t have a screen direction problem.  Yeah, you better be thinking ahead too!  

A 4 shot montage after the interview I break the screen direction rule (I mean guideline) again. why?  I’m in montage mode and don’t follow the screen direction rule (That’s my own little rule or guideline).

  • Screen direction helps the viewer understand your visual realm you are creating.
  • The action line keeps people or objects on the correct sides of the frame.
  • Imitate the eye.  People and objects don’t reverse screen direction in the real world, why do it in editing.
  • You can break screen direction, just understand the rule (or guideline) before you break it.

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The Guideline of Six in Video Editing

The guidelines of six come from the rule of six. What’s the rule of six you ask?  It’s a rule originally published by Walter Murch in the book  The Blink of An Eye, by Walter Murch.



 Walter Murch is a film editor.  He’s the editor responsible for Apocalypse Now, The Godfather III and many others films.

The Rule of six is a list of rules you should follow with each cut you make.

1) Emotion
2) Story
3) Rhythm or pacing
4) Eye-trace (leading or directing the eye to what the viewer should look at)
5) Two-dimensional plane of Screen (or screen direction/180 rule)
6) Three-dimensional space of action (or continuity)

This list was developed for film.  This list could and should be applied to all visual storytelling.  It’s a logic to the edit decisions you make every day.  I’ve broken down a story you can see the rule of six in action.  I’m not a big fan or rules.  I prefer guidelines.  So, from here on out we’ll refer to this as The Guidelines of Six in Video Editing.  I use this in news, program, documentary, corporate and commercial/promotional editing.

The story we’re going to break down is  We’re Just Floating Along.

This is a segment from the Extreme Kellie franchise I edited at KDVR/KWGN.  I start the story with an aerial of paragliders.


The next shot is that of a shadow of a paraglider.


The action of the shot is happening at the same position in both shots.  The action is just left of center, that’s not by accident.  That’s me wanting you to look at exactly what I want you to look at. I’m using rule#4, eye-trace (leading or directing the eye to what the viewer should look at).


The next shot I’m cutting for rhythm/pacing, rule 3.

I always like to think about eye trace (rule 4) when I’m editing.  Every shot won’t work and nor should you try and make every shot work.  If you went for eye trace in each shot you’d spend a lot of time looking and not a lot of time cutting.  I’m cutting for rhythm or pacing here.  I wanna maintain a certain pace and this rule overrides eye trace.  Ah yeah,  you should follow the guidelines in order.  Keeps these rules (or guidelines as I like to call them) at the top of your mind as you cut.  Heck, maybe you should print this out and paste in on you NLE for future edits.

1) Emotion
2) Story
3) Rhythm or pacing
4) Eye-trace (leading or directing the eye to what the viewer should look at)
5) Two-dimensional plane of Screen (or screen direction/180 rule)
6) Three-dimensional space of action (or continuity)

The number #1 guidelines for storytelling is emotion.  Remember, emotion overrides all.   I don’t care if the video is blue, if the shot is shaky, if there is a swish pan to get to the emotion. 


Never cut away from emotion, always cut to emotion.

Guideline #2 is the story. Really starting thinking about this rule.  I mean really, really start thinking about this rule.  Did you advance your story?  You should always be advancing your story.  If you not then see if the reason why you’re making a cut falls under guidelines 3,4,5 or 6.  

Back to the video we go.


 I do a series of faster edits at [:08] for rhythm. I’m simply cutting to the music.  Notice the paragliders are mostly centered in this series of shots.  I always have eye trace in the back of my thoughts.

Now here’s a spot that you could argue that rhythm, guideline 3, is over-riding story, guideline 2. The shots are still relevant to the story.  I’m not showing crazy tights shot of the sky?  I’m showing paragliders.  Story and rhythm are working together here.

Back to eye trace here at [:11]  Paragliders are just above center and just to the left.



In that same spot just above center and to the left, Kelly’s head (The instructor Kelly, not the anchor Kellie); more eye trace in action. 


The shot at [:23] is for rhythm and advancing the story.  As you can see no eye trace into the edit.  But, out of the edit take a look at [:25]


You are looking at the paraglider. Your eyes are looking just left of center frame.  I’m getting you ready to look at what I want you to which is…


…at [:27] Kelly (instructor) putting the harness on Kellie (anchor).

Ok, I’ve think you’ve got the whole eye trace thing.  So, I’m not going to point those out any more.

The shot from Kellie and Kelly wide above to the shot tight shot Kellie putting on the backpack fall under two dimensional plane of screen (screen direction), or guideline 5.  Kellie (anchor) is on the left and Kelly (the instructor) is on the right.  


I maintain screen direction but I override continuity rule 6.  Do you see how Kellie (anchor) turned at         [:28].  She facing left at [:28],


but facing right in the tight shot at [:29]

I maintain screen direction but I break continuity.

A word about guideline #6, three dimensional space of action or continuity. Continuity is the guideline that is incredibly hard to maintain in broadcast news editing.  The easiest way to get around continuity is tight shots.


 From [:45] to [:59] I’m just thinking about guideline 4 or screen direction.  This is a sequence of getting the paragliders up.  I’m also advancing the story, guideline 2.

At [:59] I cut to a shot of Kellie giving the camera a thumbs up.


This shot is for emotion, guideline #1.  I’m showing Kellie’s enthusiasm.

From [1:00] to [1:10] I’m thinking about rhythm.

At [1:11] Kellie talks about being nervous.

Emotion, guideline #1.  I’m NOT going to make a cut even though the photographer adjusts the iris during the shot.  I break rhythm too by keeping this shot up so long. This is a true example of emotion over-riding all.


From [1:20] to [1:44] I’m cutting for rhythm and for story.

At [1:45] Kellie shows emotion and I stay with it.


 There are several more examples of the guidelines of six and how it implies to each edit. I invite you to watch the piece and really look at each edit and ask yourself, why did he do that?

Rarely is one edit made based on one guideline, more often several rules are in play.

I do want to point out something toward the end of the story.

These 3 shots are jump cuts.




and I don’t care.

Each shot has emotion.  No need to cut away from it.  This is another example of emotion over-riding all.

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