Or, it can be. You don’t have to make it miserable, or confusing, or tedious.
One of the tricks in editing your movie swiftly is similar to my trick on preventing writer’s block when you’re working on your screenplay:
If you hit a roadblock, or a scene that is troublesome, you’re thinking about it too much. The first order of business should be assembling what you’ve shot. So stop thinking, and just lay down the shots. And if you refuse to not think, and the scene is troublesome, move on to the next scene. You can always come back to that scene later. The first assembly isn’t the final cut. So there’s no reason to trick yourself into thinking it will be. Trust me, you will make various tweaks multiple times until you’re satisfied.
The first thing I do is make sure all my clips are logged and tagged appropriately, with names that are easy to find and read. One example: “Scene 27 – Dee MCU” or “Scene 27 – Dee Wide.” I do that for the entire film, all the shots. I’ll also make note if a shot is no good, so I don’t need to watch it again.
Then I pick a scene, any scene, to start. Sometimes it’s at the beginning; sometimes it’s about 10 minutes into the film. From there, I will simply assemble each scene as it plays out, in sequential order, until I reach the ending. Then, I’ll go back and do the first part.
After the First Assembly is complete, I’ll go in and inspect each scene on a more detailed level. This is the time to fiddle with cutting frames here and there, making each sequence seamless. This is the time to think about the rhythm of the movie. Don’t waste your time trying to do those things when you’re simply building the First Assembly. Wait until after the assembly is complete, and then do it.
Once you do that for the whole film, you’ll have the Second Assembly. When I have the Second Assembly complete, I will watch it start to finish, making notes as I do. I don’t actually make any changes when watching the Second Assembly, I’ll just make notes. Then, after a complete viewing, I’ll go back and implement those changes. Sometimes I’ll watch it again at the editing system, and make additional changes. But most often, that is the point at which it’s time to burn a DVD. Now you’ll have your Rough Cut.
I think it’s important to watch the Rough Cut where you normally watch films. Is this on your home laptop? Your TV room? On your iPad? Wherever you normally watch movies is the place to view your Rough Cut. It’ll take you out of editing, and into watching it as entertainment. You’ll do yourself a great disservice if you only watch the movie in the editing room.
After watching the Rough Cut, make any additional changes, and keep repeating the cycle until you’re happy with it. At some point you’ll have your Final Cut.
Just keep in mind when you start the editing process that there will be various versions. Your First Assembly is NOT the final cut. It isn’t even the Second Assembly. By remembering that, and knowing it, you’ll be able to make the First and Second Assembly in no time flat. Which will get you to the Rough Cut sooner than later, and on to the Final Cut enjoyably and efficiently.