The revolution in editing spawned by computers, “non-linear” editing, has inspired many people to jump into filmmaking with both feet… unfortunately, the “professional” editing software, Apple’s Final Cut Pro, Adobe’s Premiere Pro, and Avid’s Media Composer, take a bit more time and energy to learn than most people care to put out.
The thing is, whatever time you put out to learn these different programs will help you in their use… and can possibly be applied, if not directly, then in principle, to the others. The structure of the programs, the “look and feel” (to use a term no longer in favor), can be configured however you will, and once you have your program set up, you can get faster with it.
Now, the distinction between “linear” and “non-linear” editing is relatively simple; when someone edits in a “linear” fashion, the first scene in the sequence is the first scene put on the target media. The next scene, whenever it was shot, is put after the first, in sequence. This is repeated for every scene in the project.
This is a fairly traditional method, dating to the days of ¾” videotape. But the digital revolution, such as the DVCam and MiniDV formats, and the “tapeless” file-based storage media, have opened up new roads. Editing something in linear sequence is no longer a necessity.
The NLE paradigm is simple… start wherever you want, edit whatever you want, and arrange it however you want. To someone who is used to the linear way, it’s almost a ticket to anarchy, but to those who started out in this new method, it is a relatively quick lesson learned.
The “how” of editing is simple enough… but the “why” of editing is much less easily explained. For example, the way to connect two scenes depends on what the scenes are, where they fall in the sequence of scenes of the project, and what effect the transition is intended to have. You could do a straight cut, a dissolve, a wipe, or a “match cut” or “cut on action”… Cutting on action is one method, and it is possibly the least understood. I will try to explain…
If a person sits down in a long shot, and you cut to a closer shot, cutting in the middle of the action (sitting down) and going to a closer angle would mean you start this next shot at approximately the same point in the action and carry it through to its completion. Because you’re matching the action, that’s why it’s called a “match” cut.
The thing is, editing is largely a matter of rhythm and timing… you develop them as you practice, and you must practice. Experiment… try different cuts, try putting things in a different order and see if it makes sense.
You may just surprise yourself.