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3 Ways to Get Un-Stuck When You’re Struggling with An Edit

Todd Blankenship

We’ve all been there: staring at the timeline with no idea what to do next in an edit. Here are three ways to get things moving again when you’re stuck.

We’ve all been horribly stuck on an edit at some point or another. There are many different types of edits, and they all have their own challenges. Movie trailers, music videos, documentaries, narrative films, etc. — they can all cause “editor’s block” in their own special and frustrating ways.

First, I’m going to get something out of the way, without counting it as an actual “tip” in this list: the best way to get unstuck when you’re editing is to take a break. Just coming at it with fresh eyes, after a snack or a walk outside, is the best way to get some perspective on what to do next. So, the following tips are, in my opinion, for after you’ve already tried taking a break and you still can’t see a clear route ahead.

1. Skip to The End

3 Ways to Get Un-Stuck When You're Struggling with An Edit — Skip to the End

One of my favorite things to do when I’m stuck on an edit is to skip to the end and work backward for a bit. This is particularly helpful when you’re working on a short piece, like a hype reel or trailer, because you can get the end laid out and start to figure out how the edit will eventually get there.

This is especially useful for hype reels or trailers because they usually culminate in some sort of exciting finale. That ending swell montage with intensifying music and flashing images will almost always be that jolt of editing fun that reminds you why you like editing in the first place.

For a longer project, you can always just jump ahead to the next section or scene for a while. I guarantee that doing this will give you that little bit of clarity and energy that you need to finish the previous segment.

2. Work on Your Sound Bed for a Bit

One aspect of editing that has almost always been a weakness for me (but every now and then is actually a source of strength) is that I love editing to sound that’s already in place.

Nothing helps me visualize an edit more than listening to perfect sound for it beforehand. Sometimes, when you’re stuck on an edit, it’s likely that you might have started trying to edit with the wrong track — or you haven’t picked a track at all.

In cases like this, I’ll spend a good chunk of time just laying down a sound edit with swells, sound effects, stingers, and anything else that helps conjure the visuals for me. You can begin to think to yourself “Ok, here’s where that one slo-mo shot will go, then I can ramp it up into this next track . . .” etc. Just browse the music you have available or spend some time looking at the reliable PremiumBeat music catalog (guess I’m a company man after all), and find a track that makes you want to finish your edit.

3. Revisit The Material

Stop. Stop trying to move your mashed potatoes around on the plate.

One thing I find myself doing often is just using the same 4-5 media clips and trying to make the scene work even if it won’t. Sometimes, it won’t. So, you need to go and find new clips.

While it may seem obvious, when you get caught in these loops, you have to break the cycle. You’ll sit there for an hour, moving clips around, hitting CTRL+Z, moving around, CTRL+Z, and repeat. What’s so funny about these horribly vicious cycles is that the solution is almost always already in your media bin.

When I get stuck, sometimes I’ll just go through my footage one more time — whether that means watching every clip I have (usually in a selects sequence), or just spending some time revisiting a few moments. Almost every time, I’ll find something I didn’t see before.

Image via Kornburut Woradee.

In my opinion, there will never be an edit that simply won’t work, no matter what you do. In all my years working in this industry, I’ve never come across a task in the editing room that I couldn’t solve somehow. The finished product might not be the result that I originally envisioned, but there is always a way to make something work.

The infinite nature of the possible solutions has always fascinated me. The answer might be removing the sound, or adding more sound; it might be fading to black or cross cutting; it might even be removing elements of a story altogether. It’s your job as an editor to take the footage and make the best, most watchable piece of content you can. Sometimes it’s more difficult than others. Sometimes you have to give yourself a chance to calm down and find that needle-in-a-haystack solution that makes it all work.

So, please, just go take a walk every once in a while.

Cover image via Altitude Visual.

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