Home movies 101: How to edit your videos like a pro

The latest video-editing software make it easy to turn family footage into a cinema-worthy film

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So far in our series on making great home videos of your family, we’ve talked about taking on the role of executive producer, deciding what to shoot, and how to find the best camera for your needs and budget. Now it’s time to talk about what you can do with that precious footage of your grandchildren once you get it back home.

The easiest thing is put it on a shelf and save it for the future when you’re nostalgic for the present. But that would be akin to shooting rolls and rolls of film and letting them collect undeveloped in a drawer. The content might be fabulous but it’s not nearly as useful to your family as an album of carefully-chosen, well-organized snapshots that truly tell your family’s story.

Like those undeveloped rolls of film, unedited, or “raw” video is worth saving but impossible to enjoy in its unprocessed form. As the grandparent and executive producer of the videos, it’s up to you to turn hours of footage into a highlight reel of “wow” moments you and your grandchildren will want to watch again and again. Fortunately, it’s a lot easier than you might think: All it takes is a little time, a computer, and some basic editing software to create captivating stories from the footage that you have shot.

Get comfortable with your tools

Most computers made in the past three years have the large hard drives required for video editing, and the processing speeds necessary to run the software. Adobe Premier, Pinnacle Studio, and Apple’s iMovie are three of the most popular programs.

While you will need to invest a little bit of time to get the hang of one of these programs, don’t be intimidated: All are intuitive and easy to learn. “Editing is like word processing,” says Howie Samuelsohn, 61, a grandfather of two in Santa Barbara, Calif., who has spent 40 years directing and producing professionally for TV. “You can move a sentence at a time. Videos are chunks of sounds and chunks of pictures, and sometimes, the sound and pictures are different. Once you get that it’s easy.” Samuelsohn advises that you read through the “Help” section of your editing software when you first install it. Then read it through a second time, this time trying out everything described in it so that the techniques stick with you.

Find the heart of the story

As you start editing, keep your goals simple. First, import all of your footage from your camera into your computer, and log which family members are featured. Then, select the best clips, and remove anything extraneous from them so that each clip communicates a moment on its own. Your audience will enjoy watching your toddler getting giggles from the newborn in the family much more if they don’t first have to sit through the minutes of coaching and cajoling it took to create that brief video-worthy encounter.

Become a documentarian

Move on to mini-documentaries of single events, like a birthday party or a day at the beach, splicing together maybe the best ten minutes of footage from an afternoon of footage. As your comfort with the software grows, you can add extras like still photos, a musical soundtrack, your own voice-over narration, special effects to transition viewers from one even to another, and titles and captions to identify what’s been seen and when it was shot.

Keep in mind Samuelsohn’s advice, that there are two parts to videos: the pictures and the sounds. With editing software, these two can be separated. You can augment the audio you recorded with a fun song that relates to the event, or you can replace bad footage with good while still keeping the excellent dialogue running in the background. Your instincts as an experienced movie-goer and TV viewer will guide you. You’ll be surprised at how familiar you are with major professional editing strategies already.

It’s good to share

Once you’ve created your edited video, it’s time to share it. There are a number of ways to do this. You can use your editing software to make your video small enough that it can be e-mailed to children and grandchildren, or you can break up a video into smaller pieces that can be e-mailed separately.

Or you can “burn” professional-quality DVDs, complete with chapters and titles and up to 90 minutes of footage. If your computer is recent enough to edit video footage, it almost certainly has the capability to record onto blank DVDs as well.

You can also store and share your videos using a Web-based service like AOL Video, YouTube, or Facebook, all of which give you the option of password-protecting your files, so that only invited friends and relatives can watch them, or sharing them with the whole world.

Processing and editing your digital video footage is the key to turning your raw footage into an organized family archive that is as fun to watch today as it is valuable to preserve for tomorrow. Your time spent editing ensures that the footage you gathered tells the stories that are most important to you and your grandchildren. In the end, your movies will become collective memories for your children and grandchildren that can be refreshed together again and again.

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Also in this series:

Part One: Producing Your Family’s Memories

Part Two: 10 Great Videos Starring Your Grandchildren

Part Three: The Grandparents’ Guide to Buying a Video Camera



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