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Writers on the Web: Editing a Web Series

Rebecca Norris is a writer, producer, web enthusiast, and creator of the award-winning web series Split with her production company, Freebird Entertainment. Follow Rebecca on Twitter at @beckaroohoo.

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Can you believe it? All that hard work throughout development, casting, pre-production, and production, and you're finally here, with a web series in the can!

Media Student With Tutor Working In Film Editing Class

Since I'm currently in post-production on both my web series, Split, and my feature film,
Cloudy With a Chance of Sunshine, I feel qualified to tell you that once you enter post, the work has only just begun!

Post-production will probably be the longest part of your web series journey, particularly if you have multiple seasons. Although we shot Seasons 1 and 2 of the series over a year and a half ago, I'm still to this day editing episodes and supplementary content for our YouTube channel every weekend. Editing a web series is a pretty sizable time commitment, so if you're planning on doing it yourself, know that going in.

That brings up a great question. As a web series writer/producer, or should you or should you not do your own editing?

Well, if you're a regular reader of my column, you know I'm huge on saving money any which way you can. And if you're shooting on a super-ultra-crazy-low budget like we were, you may not have much choice. Luckily, I had studied editing in college, and had edited several short films before taking on the web series, so I felt comfortable doing the job myself.

If you have no editing experience, and aren't technical, or excited by the idea of incredibly long, exhausting hours staring at the same bits of footage over and over again until you go blind/insane, then you might want to consider hiring a professional editor. Depending on the number of episodes in your series, I'd put aside between $500-1000 in your budget for this.

But it doesn't end there. There's color correction, sound design, and sound mixing, as well as hiring a composer. And those aren't cheap. Depending on your budget, you'd be wise to put aside about 40% of the budget for post-production. So if your budget is $10,000, I'd set $4,000 aside for post-production. That leaves $6,000 for everything else, including film festivals and marketing, which is why you want to do your best to film on the cheap, with free locations, cheap wardrobe, free props, etc. Hence all of my harping about going to Goodwill!

On Split, I do my own editing, color, sound design, and sound mixing, so we didn't have to put aside those funds, but we did hire a composer, which I will explore more later.

If you decide to (or have to) go the road of editing yourself, you can learn to edit relatively quickly. You can go on YouTube and find thousands of free tutorials about how to use every different type of editing software.

Here's a little round-up of popular editing programs to help you decide which platform to use.

Adobe Premiere

PROS: This has always been my go-to software, mostly because it's fairly easy to use and you don't have to render the footage before you edit, you can simply plug-and-play. (Meaning you can just upload the footage right into the software and start editing within minutes, rather than going through a lengthy process to prepare the footage for editing.)

CONS: Adobe is phasing out the software-for-purchase model and making all of their new Creative Suite subscription-only, calling it "Creative Cloud." Essentially, you're downloading the software and renting it for a monthly fee rather than owning it outright. For me to edit Split recently, I've had to pay $60/month just for Adobe Premiere Pro (editing) and Adobe Audition (sound editing), which is only a small part of the entire Creative Suite.

That's $720/year for software that I don't even own. Not a fan. This seems to be the wave of the future for a lot of software companies, trying to make ongoing money in-between releases of their products. I may have to end up switching, or buying the previous release, CS6, from somewhere that still sells it (approx. $650). Trouble is, it will one day become obsolete and I'll eventually have to switch to the subscription model if I stick with Premiere.

You can download a 30-day free trial of Adobe Premiere Pro CC here.
Download the 30-day trial of Adobe Audition CC here.

Final Cut Pro 7

PROS:  The standard of indie filmmaking for years, Final Cut Pro 7 was fairly user friendly and had a ton of fantastic additional programs in its suite for coloring and motion. I say "was" because Apple doesn't make this old-school "professional" version of Final Cut anymore, but it was so prevalent that it's relatively easy to get a copy of it from a friend or possibly find someone on the internet that still sells it.

CONS: Apple doesn't support it anymore, so you can't get any help with it from the manufacturer. And, since it's not manufactured anymore, if you buy it online or bootleg it from somewhere, there's a strong possibility it won't work or you'll be scammed. Also, there's a long rendering process before you can edit the footage that is incredibly annoying and frustrating, in my opinion. I was too spoiled by the instant plug-and-play of Premiere to want to wait around for FCP 7.

Final Cut Pro X

PROS: So Apple skipped from FCP 7 straight to 10 in their newest "prosumer" reincarnated FCP software. I personally have never used it but may end up switching to it because of the lower price point ($299) and the fact that you can buy it outright. Colleagues of mine that use the newest version seem to like it, and you can do color correction and sound design right inside the one program.

CONS: Upon its release, critics complained that FCP X was essentially a souped-up, non user friendly iMovie, with a similar look and feel to iMovie, which you can get included for free on your Mac. Also, after its release in 2011, people were outraged that several of the essential functions of FCP were removed, and you were unable to open previous FCP projects in FCP X. To my understanding, many of those complaints have been addressed, but I still don't know how user friendly it is, because iMovie can be frustrating as hell until you get used to it.

You can download a free 30-day trial of Final Cut Pro X here.

I'm going to try it this next month and let you know how it goes!

iMovie and Windows Movie Maker

PROS: These are the free editing software options that come with either your Mac or your PC. I have used both and, hey, you get what you pay for. They're more than adequate for simple edits and even a few fancy tricks, and if you have a straightforward web series without a lot of special effects, either of these should serve your purpose nicely.

CONS:  If you're shooting heavy-duty HD footage (like on the Red camera, or even the Canon 5D DSLR), iMovie and Windows Movie Maker won't really be powerful enough to handle it, unless you have a really powerful computer. If you're shooting on a lower-resolution DSLR or camera phone, you should be fine, but it may be a bit on the slow side unless, again, you have a really powerful computer.

Read about iMovie here.
Read about Windows Movie Maker here.

This should get you started with editing. I'll explore sound design, sound mixing, and composing your score further in another article. In the meantime, have a very happy and safe Thanksgiving weekend!

Learn more about editing with
The Invisible Cut: How Editors Make Movie Magic