Video Editing Tip: Audio before visuals / by Glenn Dixon

How do you even begin to craft hours of interview and overlay footage into a short story? A quick and indispensable video editing tip that has saved me more times than I care to admit. I hope it can help you in a similar way:

When crafting a documentary film, the narrative is often driven by a combination of interview footage and dialogue from the B-Roll (also referred to as overlay footage). When editing a documentary or corporate film, I always begin to sequence clips in the timeline by focusing solely on the audio. At this early stage in the editing process I am not worried at all about less than ideal camera work, this can be patched up later on. It's all about the sound. We need to firstly establish the narrative flow (through the dialogue tracks) before we divert our attention to the visuals. A helpful way to consider this concept is that the vision always serves the audio.

Screenshot from a current film project

Editing Software: Final Cut Pro 7

Once the audio from the interview and overlay material is sitting in the correct order, I begin to fine tune the timing and remove any blemishes (undesirable words, inflections, breathing etc). I will add cross dissolves to smooth the audio transitions, tweak the output levels and add an *atoms layer to integrate all the tracks as seamlessly as possible.

Now that our audio is working we can give the vision some love. You will notice in the screenshot that I have used the video layer: "Overlay Track 2" to cover up jump cuts in the interview subjects vision caused by removing some of the blemishes in their speech.

*An atoms (atmosphere) track is a "clean" sound recording of the filming location without any dialogue. So if you are filming in a warehouse you would record a minute or so of the ambient sounds with everyone on set completely silent. Place this at the base of the sound mix minimises the jarring effect created when cutting in and out of dialogue.