Edit like a Fighter Pilot: Why you need to learn 3-point editing today

on August 16, 2014

iMovie is responsible for most of the bad editing we see online today.

There- I said it.
iMovie is intuitive, easy to learn, has lots of prebuilt templates and effects, and can be used by most children.
I know a 9-year old girl that uses the imovie on her phone to make videos and uploads them to her Youtube channel.
She has a Littlest Pet Shop pony do a music Video to Lorde, and it is hilarious, and looks great.
“But I thought you said you had a problem with iMovie!” many of you are already screaming.
Stop screaming.
I’m right here.
I said it is responsible for BAD editing- precisely because it IS so easy to use.

Easy to use is great for home movies and your kid’s birthday party. If spend less than 20 hours a year editing, you don’t need bells and whistles. You need to get in and get out as quickly and easily as possible. But when you make the transition from editing in iMovie to editing in a professional NLE, the learning curve is deceptively steep.
Even when users are upgrading into FCPX, which is finally becoming a viable editor on its own, there are changes to the editing workflow that will frustrate the beginning user.
This is the biggest complaint about FCPX- the change in process. So much of editing is being able to craft and sort through media and envision it in your mind, and use the NLE as a way to express that juxtaposition of images. Multi-track editing gets the user to think about the footage in a certain way- and Final Cut 7, Premiere, Davinci Resolve 11, and Avid all use that thought process. FCPX has a slightly different method of using “connected” clips that acheieve the same end, but through a different thought process. They both do the same thing, but one is far different than the other. Both bats and birds have wings, but their evolutionary path is very different.
Your Non-Linear Editing software should be like your paintbrush. It is the tool which you use to create your piece of art.
Some people will read that last statement and find that funny.
These are the “computer people.”
They tech people.
THe software hoarders dominating the BiTorrent sphere.
For the casual user- NLEs are intimidating- they look like technology. They are alienated by the interface. Working the system of shortcuts and key combinations seems like something out of the movie “Hackers”- and the idea that editing is a technical process and not an artistic one is just as much a piece of fiction.
What they loved about iMovie was that you could just use your mouse to drag and drop your clips into place, and the visual interface would follow your lead.
The problem with this is that when you move over to a professional level NLE, you still CAN use the mouse to navigate your edit, and they often use that instead of learning how to do a 3-point edit.
Using the mouse as an interface is how most peple spend most of theirtim ein front of a computer, and it no only leads to carpal tunnel sybndrome- but fatigue: Mental fatigue, physical fatigue, and most importantly- decision fatigue.
Decision fatigue is real, and it is something editors and sound engineers know very well. Your endurance and focus is somethingthat has to be exercised, and it can bre strengthened and built up over time, but delaying this fatigue is one of your greatest challeneges.

One arena that has spent a lot of research onto mental workload has been aeronautical engineering- specifically relating to fighter jets. A fighter pilot taking an extra second to look down at a gauge, or to find a switch can mean the difference between victory and defeat, and for the US Air Force- a multi-million dollar loss. Engineers worked with test and fighter pilots and came up with a concept known as HOTAS.

Hands
On
Throttle
And
Stick.

It just means that everythkng the pilot could need can be controlled from the throttle and the stick, so that his attention was focused on the fight at hand, notinside the cockpit.

This is an important concept.
Everytime you look down at your keyboard, you are task swicthing. Everytime you look back at your screen, you are reassessing the situation- whether you are aware of it or not. It happens in milliseconds but the effects are cumulative.
Wthe most insidious form we talked about: decision fatigue.

Decision fatigue is the result of too much metal workload. The mind literally does not want to make any more decisions. It can be exhibited in many ways- sometimes you know that you can make a change to an edit, but you aren’t able to decide whether the edit is better or worse. Often it rears itself in the form of frustration and cutting corners. You know an edit needs to be replaced with a better clip, but you decide to just bury it, or cover it with something else instead. Maybe you’re cutting on action and an edit point isnt very smooth, but you just WANT TO GET THROUGH IT so you figure it is good enough.

Here is a good maxim to live by: “Good Enough” never is.
It produces mediocrity.
The biggest frustration I hear from young filmmakers is that they know their work is not what where they want it to be, and they don’t know how to fix it.
Ironically, it DOESN’T come from mediocre filmmakers. They are often very pleased with what they have- and all too happy to just move on to the next project.
To the first group: I say- keep at it. LEARN THE KEYBOARD SHORTCUTS. These will help you edit longer- make better decisions- work through your edits.
To the mass of middling editors- I bear them no ill will either. It is through a sea of mediocrity that truly great work is able to shine through.

Learn the shortcuts- they will allow you edit longer.
Editing more will make you better.
Making you better will make your projects look better when people come across them.

And in the immortal words of Steve Martin:
“Be so good they can’t ignore you.”