Filmmaking For Dummies
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The same computer on which you write letters, organize your bank account, surf the Internet, and maybe even write your script can now easily be turned into a powerful editing machine. Most computers, both PC and Apple computers, are able to edit a movie in a nonlinear environment and are limited only by the size of their hard drives (but unlimited when using external hard drives).

In nonlinear editing (NLE), you take all your separate shots, arrange them in story order, and then play them consecutively to form a scene. Every frame has its own individual set of time-code numbers (numbers generated electronically on the video image or in a computer) or edge-code numbers (numbers printed on the actual film stock) that pinpoint its exact starting and ending frames. Computer software can then generate an edit list that accurately contains the hour, minutes, seconds, and frames of your shots and identifies each cut made by the editor. With the right editing software, you have the capability to edit your movie without leaving your computer. (For technical tips on setting up your own editing studio, check out Digital Video For Dummies by Keith Underdahl, published by Wiley.)

You can also purchase third-party software programs to perform additional functions like special effects, mattes, and process digital footage to look more like it was shot on motion picture film stock.

Hard driving

Your computer hard drive stores all your picture information. Because you’ll probably need more hard drive space than the amount that’s in your computer’s internal hard drive, you may want to purchase an external hard drive or two. An external hard drive these days is often compact — about the size of a paperback novel or not much bigger than a deck of cards. External hard drives connect to your computer via USB 3, USB C cables, or thunderbolt for speedy data transfer.

Most external hard drives can be formatted for either PC or Mac platforms. The codec (digital file format) you record in will determine on how much storage space you will need on your external hard drive. Examples of certain codecs are .mov, MP4, H264, H265, ProRes 4444, and so on. Each one compresses your footage differently. Some are large files, some are small. H264 and H265 are known to compress large files into smaller files that maintain quality without much loss from image compression. When capturing or transferring high definition footage (depending on the compression), it can equate to around one gig per minute (or more if shooting above 2K) — so a 500GB external drive in high def can hold up 500 minutes. I like to use at least a 4 terabyte external drive, also known as 4TB — 4,000 gigabytes.

Cutting it with editing software

Without software, a computer has no personality. Add movie-editing software often known as NLE (nonlinear editing) and it becomes a complete postproduction editing suite within the confines of your desk space. You can choose from numerous editing programs on the market that allow you to affordably edit your digital footage in a nonlinear environment. Some computers even come with free editing software.

Most software-editing programs use these basic components of nonlinear editing:

  • A bin to hold your individual shots
  • A timeline that allows you to assemble your shots in any order (it resembles individual storyboard panels placed one after another)
  • A main window that plays back your edited footage
  • Titling, effects and transition options
All editing software accepts 2K high definition files, but many also work with digital files up to 4K resolution. 4K takes more CPU (computer power) so even if the software will edit 4K footage, make sure your computer has the right operating system, enough memory, and the correct specifications to run very large files.


Many Apple computers come with iMovie, a free, simple-to-use, nonlinear editing software that allows you to cut your movie on your computer. The program also comes with over 80 music soundtracks you can use with your footage. Check out Digital Video For Dummies by Keith Underdahl (published by Wiley), which guides you through the steps of using this effective and easy-to-use software to edit your projects.

An Avid Fan

Avid, a name synonymous with nonlinear editing, makes the multi-award-winning Media Composer software, which works with Mac or PC platforms. The program works with high definition resolution up to 16K. Many studio feature films have been edited on Media Composer software. Avid’s software is more sophisticated than other lower-priced editing software, but it also has a longer learning curve. The software includes audio tools for post sound. It also includes titling and graphics, along with a variety of real-time effects. Avid charges a monthly or yearly subscription charge to use their editing software.

Becoming a Pro with Final Cut

My favorite editing program, without hesitation, is Final Cut Pro 10 (FCPX), available for use with Apple computers for $299. No monthly subscription. You own it and the free Apple support is as good as it gets. It’s a professional and powerful nonlinear software program for cutting picture (2K and 4K) as well as audio. It’s much more sophisticated than iMovie or some of the other nonlinear software, and it can produce some amazing results, including titles, effects, transitions, and color-correction. With it, you can repair shaky footage, fix many audio problems, and even create closed captions. The program also comes with an extensive sound effects and music library. This is a whole new reworking of Final Cut Pro, and for those who gave up on FCPX after FCP7 — you need to revisit this amazing software. You can even download and use it for free on a trial basis for a whole month! Check it out at the Apple App Store and download it today (if you use a Mac).

This is not only the perfect nonlinear editing software for the novice independent filmmaker, many feature films have been cut using the software, including my film, Santa Stole Our Dog, which was released by Universal Home Entertainment. A lot of great tutorials on YouTube show you how effective and user-friendly Final Cut Pro X is. I won’t cut on anything else!

Final Cut Pro X editing software program. Final Cut Pro X screenshot reprinted by permission of Apple Computer, Inc.

Final Cut Pro X editing software program.

Resolving Di Vinci

Blackmagic (the ones that make the cool digital pocket cameras) also developed a widely used nonlinear editing program called Di Vinci Resolve. Depending which version you use, or whether you’ve bought a Blackmagic camera — the editing software may be free to you! Resolve also is known for its powerful color-correcting and -grading software — used by many colorist professionals in Hollywood and abroad.

Wonderful Filmora

Filmora from Wondershare is an affordable one-time buy of $59 NLE software that is packed with lots of power. The program is easy to learn, and you can find lots of helpful tutorials on the Wondershare website. The program has effects and transitions included. The limitation, though, is that no third-party plug-ins are made for Filmora like there are for some of the other editing programs like Final Cut Pro, Avid, and Premiere.

Premiering Adobe

Adobe makes popular software programs for the editing world: Adobe Premiere Pro for picture and sound editing (priced at $239 a year). Unless you edit for a living this can be very expensive because it’s a monthly and/or yearly subscription. I have edited with Premiere and definitely prefer editing on Final Cut Pro. I kept running into technical issues with Premiere and found limitations with the software compared to other editing software. Adobe also makes other software like Adobe After Effects (a powerful effects engine) that you can add to your monthly or yearly subscription. Check out Adobe’s products.

KB Covers makes really cool keyboard covers, each individually customized to precisely fit over different brands of computer keyboards, including laptops and MacBooks — and are designed to work with many of the major editing software programs, like Final Cut Pro, Avid, and Premiere Pro. Chances are, they’ll have a precision fit cover for your keyboard, designed to work with your editing software. It’s like a short cut for editing, because the thin silicone cover converts your keyboard by displaying all the shortcut keys for most editing functions. These covers can definitely speed up your editing game.

keypad cover KB silicone keyboard cover customized for FCPX for use on iMac keypad.

Simulating cinema with software

Many independent filmmakers desperately want to make a movie that looks like it was shot on 35mm film — but they can’t afford the expense that comes with shooting on motion picture film stock. There are now software programs that will process your digital video footage in the postproduction phase and create the illusion (as best it can) that you shot on 35mm film. These programs emulate the characteristics associated with the look of film stock, such as grain, contrast, softness, subtle shuttle flutter, and saturated colors. The software also pulls down footage shot at 30-frames per second to emulate the 24 standard frames used with motion picture film cameras. FilmConvert is a unique software program that converts and emulates a pretty effective film-look to your digitally shot footage.

Red Giant puts out software called Magic Bullet Looks that has settings to emulate particular Kodak and Fuji film stock emulsions. The software also has other color-correction presets and color-correction controls allowing you to start from scratch. Remember though, you may get close, but digital will never look exactly like film, because film is organic and digital is electronic — but advances in technology are bringing them closer. Magic Bullet Looks works with many of the popular NLE editing programs, including Final Cut Pro, Resolve, and Avid Media Composer.

This neat little tip could save your production! I discovered a miraculous software plug-in call Neat Video. It is a magical plug-in that fixes dancing grain or noisy footage that appears to be completely unusable — or at least distracting to the viewer. This amazing and powerful software works with many nonlinear editing platforms like Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere. It saved one of my movies where some of my dark, underlit scenes had so much grain and noise they were almost unwatchable and wouldn’t have passed broadcast specifications. The Neat Video software quickly smoothed out my shots by removing unwanted grain and noise, and turned some pretty ugly visuals into images of beauty. And the shots passed the strict technical QC test to air on broadcast television and on several popular streaming platforms!

Posting your production in your computer

After you finish editing all the dialogue and picture elements for your movie in your computer, you’re ready to marry your picture and sound together. If the final production is going to television, DVD and digital streaming distribution (and not a theatrical release), then you can continue to do most of your final preparations in the computer (color correcting, titles, and so on). If you plan on getting a theatrical release for your picture, then you’ll need to have a DCP (digital cinema package) authored by a post-production house.

Outputting your masterpiece

Once you’ve completed your final cut, you then have to figure out how you’re going to get your movie out of your computer. There’s a variety of ways to output your movie. One way is to make a QuickTime file. Think of a QuickTime file as a container. It can contain different digital codecs including ProRes, H.264, and MPEG-4 MOV files. This file can be exported to an external hard drive or authored onto a standard DVD or Blu-ray disc (depending on the size of the file). Most TV networks and streaming platforms will accept delivery of your movie on an external hard drive. A QuickTime file can even be uploaded and showcased on YouTube, Vimeo, or Facebook. If you are entering your movie in a film festival, you can often upload the QuickTime of your movie to a private and secure site that the film festival uses to review entries (instead of shipping out a DVD or Blu-ray disc).

If you want to export your edited movie from your computer directly to digital tape which is usually Digibeta tape (sometimes a requirement for TV broadcast or streaming platforms), then you have several options. You can rent a Digibeta tape machine and output the QuickTime file of your movie yourself, or you can take your QuickTime file to a professional post-production facility and have the people there transfer the QuickTime file to digital videotape for you. In the long run, it’s easier to have a post-production house do it, because they will guarantee it’s done right.

In this day and age of entertainment outlets, things have changed exponentially in the last few years. No longer is entertainment limited to a few major TV networks. With advances in digital technology, the Internet, and the explosion of wireless communications — we have unlimited entertainment at our fingertips — literally. Netflix brought a new age of entertainment by offering tens of thousands of movies and TV series available to everyone (with a subscription) on your schedule, and at your convenience. On the heels of Netflix, we now have an explosion of more streaming platforms. Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, CBS All Access, Universal, Warner Bros., and even Apple are into the streaming game. I’m just waiting for an implosion. Too many services, too many series and movies. Eventually I think quantity is going to overcome quality. YouTube and Vimeo offers a platform that anyone can upload their short or feature film and can now call themselves a published artist. But looking at the big picture — all these streaming services are going to need content. Maybe this is a good thing for you!

If you’ve ever had the challenge of trying to send a digital file to someone (like your special-effects guy) via email but the file was too big, here’s a little secret: Check out This site allows you to upload and download files. The cost? Files up to 100MB are free; files up to 25GB are $12 a month.

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Bryan Michael Stoller is an award-winning filmmaker who has produced, written, and directed more than 100 productions from music videos and commercials to TV shows and feature films. His movie First Dog had nearly a half-million Redbox rentals, and he has directed stars such as Edward Asner, Barbra Streisand, James Earl Jones, Drew Barrymore, and Dan Aykroyd. Bryan's movies have amassed close to eighteen-million views on video on demand platforms. Learn more at

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