Cut, Crop, Stabilise, Soundtrack and Subtitles. Five steps to creating a useable video from someone else’s footage.

I’ve had the pleasure this week of sorting through two hours of video footage from a student study trip to Rome. It’s been an enjoyable exercise.

We’ve done something similar a couple of times before and the problems to be overcome can be overwhelming at first:

  • shaky handheld video
  • interviews recorded without microphones in noisy tourist locations
  • a multitude of different locations with different lighting and sound
  • no clear narrative thread apparent

These are the major steps we use (as non-professional video editors!) to edit this kind of material together:

1. Cut, Cut and Cut again

Once we’ve sat through all the footage (two hours in this case) once, we go through again, this time cutting out everything except the interviews and short segments of scenery. We then cut the interviews drastically so that the individual statements we’ve picked out follow on from each other to form a narrative. Our finished video is well under two minutes.

Cropped footage in FCPX

2. Crop

You’ll often find that interview subjects are filmed at much wider angles than you would yourself with unconventional compositions. We cropped all of the interviews we used so that the subject filled the frame, engaging more directly with the viewer.

Cropped video

3. Stabilise

We didn’t provide a tripod with the camcorder so on a walking trip around a city we’re obviously going to get back some shaky handheld footage. That has a certain charm, but by using stabilisation functions (in our case, within FCPX) we’re able to easily transform these clips into smooth gliding pans and zooms that the filmmaker can be proud of.

4. Soundtrack

We didn’t provide any specialist recording equipment so the sound levels are very inconsistent. This is then exacerbated by our consistent cutting in the edit between different locations. With a lot of background noise present and the interviewees often very difficult to hear, you might be wary of adding yet another layer of sound, but watch the video below to see how it ties together.

5. Subtitles

Further addressing the difficulties with hearing the interview clips, we’ve hardcoded captions over the video footage. As mentioned in a recent blogpost [Uploading university videos directly to Twitter], this is advantageous anyway for viewing through social media when volume may well be muted by default. With our example video, the captions are essential for being able to understand what is being spoken.

Our finished film retains the charm and authenticity of the original footage, while minimising the negative consequences of being produced by non-professionals using basic handheld equipment.



Web Manager for the College of Arts and Law at the University of Birmingham.

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