What to Look For in a First Edit

One of the topics that we haven’t covered much is helping clients review edits and make appropriate notes for improvement in a second edit or preparing for a final master edit. Regardless of whether the project is a $200 million Hollywood blockbuster or a $2,000 corporate video, no first edit is going to be perfect. Unless the video is complete amateur hour, don’t be shocked when you see a first edit from any production company and you have areas you want to improve or change. Remember, many blockbuster movies underwent massive reshoots and re-edits after the first edit, including Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), which went on to critical acclaim and enormous financial success. When reviewing a first edit, you may have the temptation to send off a quick e-mail to the production company immediately and start asking questions, asking for changes, and making notes, but avoid the temptation. Here are a few tips:

  • Compare notes with everyone else in your company whose opinion you value and who has input into the video. With small companies, you may be the only key decision-maker, which is great in one sense because your notes will be the only notes. Even so, you may want to show the video to a trusted friend or significant other to see what they think. With larger companies, you may have a senior marketing executive who needs to sign off, several lower level marketing executives, maybe a company CEO or owner, and possibly an operations head of some sort. We have seen cases where 4-5 people need to deliver notes about the video, but their notes may contrast sharply (one person loves the music, another hates it), so schedule a company meeting or phone call to go over notes. When you deliver notes to the production company, have one person hand in the group notes, rather than having a bunch of people send possibly contradictory notes.
  • Ask important questions about the video, then rewatch the video to make sure it answers your questions. For instance, “Does the video clearly communicate our new product’s features and benefits?” “Does the video show why our product is better than competing products?” “Does the video hold your interest throughout the running time, or is it too long or even too short?” Be a harsh critic and pretend you don’t know anything about the product or service. If you are having trouble, ask a friend to watch the video and gather their thoughts.
  • Do you like the music? Does the music — regardless of whether it’s your style — fit with the content? Perhaps the production company has selected an upbeat electronic track, but your audience is more of a smooth jazz group. Does the music distract from the messaging in any way? If so, could it work if the volume is lowered, or should an entirely new track be selected? Remember, the music in a first edit should just be a temporary track, so it’s easily replaceable. Make sure you like it.
  • Are the transitions logical and smooth? In other words, does each segment of the video flow into the next segment seamlessly? You want to make sure your video doesn’t feel disjointed and that each transition is smooth rather than jarring.
  • If you’re using interview commentary to drive the video, make sure the best soundbites make the finished video. The production company and their editing staff won’t know your product or service as well as you do, so they may have left out some of the best or most important soundbites unknowingly. You want to make sure your best footage makes the final cut.
  • Evaluate the first edit for visual interest. If your first edit seems to contain too many “talking heads,” or in other words just asks viewers to watch people speaking, consider integrating more visual elements. You should have planned for sufficient B-roll shots to go along with the interview commentary, but even if the B-roll is a bit lacking, you can salvage the video through many other methods. Consider authorizing the purchase of some nice stock footage (acquired many times for just $10-20 per clip), or adding graphical templates, or even kinetic (moving) text elements. You can add visual flair to a stale video, so if the video feels too boring or static to you, suggest visual changes.
  • Ignore issues with color correction until a final review draft or at least don’t be alarmed about color issues. Because the color correction process takes a lot of time, not only to complete professionally, but also to render on a hardware level, editors won’t bother with a full color correction pass until the project is “picture-locked.” The process of locking picture means that no further edits will be ordered, no shots replaced, and no changes will be made except to audio issues or color issues on the existing shots. As an example of a color issue, you may notice that one camera angle on an interview makes the subject’s shirt look more of a light red, then with another angle it appears a darker red. During color correction, the editor will adjust the color palette and match the two shots so that the colors appear consistent throughout the video. If the editor fixed shots before delivering the first edit, the client may later decide to replace 25% of the shots, meaning a great deal of wasted time, wasted effort, and thus wasted money.
  • If you have major issues with the first edit, don’t hesitate to call your contact at the production company and talk through with them your concerns. One of our first clients nearly a decade ago gave a thumbs up to our first edit, then later decided they had a lot of issues with its structure, content, and flow. Every issue was fairly easily correctable but without understanding the concerns, we were making minor modifications rather than addressing their larger issues. As a director, I’ve had major issues with scenes that I let an editor cut before I gave my feedback. I’ve often exploded an entire scene cut and started over because I didn’t like where it was sitting and I felt that making piece by piece corrections wouldn’t address the larger issues.
  • Any professional production company worth using for your video work should want, above all, for you to be happy, even if it means a pain in the butt editing process. I would rather have a client request extensive re-edits and ultimately be extremely pleased with the finished project than have them not express their true concerns and later be unhappy with their video or possibly not return for more videos because we weren’t able to meet their desires. You have a right to obtain the video you commissioned and be fully pleased with the project, so never hesitate to push the company for the highest level of work. Remember, you know your business and your marketing messaging better than they do, so be patient, but also be firm about what you want to see.