Structured Editing

Recently I have been working on a project that holds four simultaneous editors, editing on separate days, with the same footage. There have been some patterns that have been popping up over the last couple of months during this process which I feel needs to be addressed. There are two ways to edit in my opinion – dynamically and straight.

Dynamic vs. Straight editing

Opposed to their main meanings in the film world, my views on dynamic and straight editing have allowed me to know (properly) before I jump into a project the style of editing I need to do. Many of you here would be filmmakers, and be working in my mindset of straight editing while people who work on small budget television programmes would find dynamic editing more aimed towards them.

I digress. I think I should first explain what I view as these two terms in the world of post-production.

Dynamic Editing

The process where you can alter one item in a series of compositions/sequences and the end product will adapt to your changes. If you’ve ever watched any of Andrew Kramer’s, VideoCoilpot tutorials then you’ll understand what I mean. Every time he creates a composition with text, it is precomposed. Why? Not only does it allow the text layer to take the attributes of a composition, but also allows the project to become dynamic and adaptable to changes.

This same structure applies to Final Cut, Premiere Pro, Avid, and all other editors. Combining multiple sequences into a “master” sequence or as I name it, the “Switcher” sequence allows you to turn layers on and off according to what needs to be exported.

To the majority, we already commit to dynamic editing practises. Every time we open a new sequence or composition to throw some “test” footage into we are creating the initial stages. However, after we have used and finished with it we often delete it and continue with straight editing.

Straight Editing

Opposed to dynamic editing, straight editing composes of the “build once, use once” ideology. This is the crux of any filmmaking edit. A few variations to shots here and there, but for the most part the cut is not adaptable.

Yet for the most part it becomes quite a hassle to have a dynamic work flow for these types of projects since we would never reuse them, and if we did could easily be obtained from the original without hassle.

So why use dynamic editing?

It’s a fair question, and in the beginning I often thought of the pointlessness of dynamic editing, until I used and refined it to make life better. Some of the worst things you will find when editing is having completed an edit, and then the director tells you to change it. Subconsciously you make the edit to the main project (not a duplicate) only to have the director later tell you to revert back. SHIT!

Within my view of dynamic editing you hold the ability to open the switcher sequence allowing the quick changes among edits. Just like muting one music track and then alternating between another to choose which suits better to the mood, it is the main idea of dynamic editing.


Apart from making the entire process of rushing multiple edits to your director for choosing (with actually no effort because of the fluidity of the process), it also works wonders when working on a project with multiple editors. As I was alluding to in the opening paragraph, working on a single project with multiple editors and no communication (we are delegated briefs and notes from the others) can be a difficult task. We are all working toward one goal (to finish the project) but all have different edit styles and workflows. This often conflicts as one person’s setup is often not logical to the later stages of editing, effectively making other editors to have to do more work than was necessary.

From this, I took the opening titles (yes, my passion of titles) and create a dynamic sub-folder for lower third graphics. Upon having ten instructors, and over 100 exercise moves, the need to create an adaptable project file was a necessity. I was not ready to recreate all these graphics again and again because each editor had their own X and Y positions, rotations, and scales. We needed uniformity for the programme, and the sake of being in such a collaborative industry actually collaborate.

With the creation of the composition in After Effects (AE), with only two needs of editing (scale and text changes) the dynamic function allows each editor to quickly create a lower third without hassle. It is similar to having a template file, only for that project solely.

This didn’t stop at the After Effect composition – I furthered this into Premiere (editing software of the company). I did this for two reasons. The first being not everyone uses AE, and what’s the point of perfecting something that only you will use? Secondly, I wanted this to be an overall workflow. I didn’t want to remember serval workflows for different programmes – one workflow, multiple programmes.

Without divulging (another article) how to setup a dynamic sequence/composition, similar to precomposing in AE, dragging sequences into the timeline creates the same effect within conventional editing software. Allowing this sequence to be the “switcher” creates the ability to alter what footage is seen without the clutter of multiple tracks.

Current drawbacks

Although the awesomeness of dynamic over straight editing, there are some set backs that make it a little bit of a pain in the bum. Firstly, layer widths and heights are not adaptable to text layers. If you change a text layer, and a mask is shaped to the background, you’re going to have to change it.

Additionally, the potential to create fluid timelines (similar to FCPX’s magnetic timeline) allowing the “switcher” sequence to extend or contract the other tracks – just like ripple delete but in the sense of ripple extend/contract. Currently, you have two choices. Have all files in the “switcher” sequence the same length in duration, or be prepared to trim/extend the switcher file.

It also takes a bit of time to set up the initial project/sequence. With straight editing you jump well… straight into the files. Dynamic needs to be set up, linked, and working to the overall project (without broken links).

Furthermore, the ability to turn video and audio tracks on and off together would be an added bonus. If the creation of a “switcher” type of item existed then the programme could simply link the visibility and audio more effectively. It’s not a major hassle, only I hate forgetting to turn the audio off and having it play while another track is.

And lastly the major annoyance is having to export each sequence/composition individually before flicking the “switcher” sequence to the next video track. This can be a little time consuming if you don’t want to watch the export, and brutal if you do.

Hopes and wishes

So from the above drawbacks, my wishes are that you can sandbox each instance (similar to Premiere Pro and Render Queue) of a composition and sequence. Rather than individually switching the layer on and off, I would like to see a feature dubbed “Switcher Layer” that allows the programme to automatically make an instance for each track/layer in the “switcher”. The process would mean going through and turning on and off layers once renders have complete.

I would also like to see expressions to link to layers making them automatically adjust to the width and height. This would be extremely beneficial to text layers where names can lengthen or shorten drastically.