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A sample lesson from our Editing Course...


Editing in the digital age is a true joy. The days of specialized equipment and complex workflows are long gone. Digital editing, also known as non-linear editing (NLE), is performed on a standard computer using media files.

Unlike film editing, which uses physical film, NLE is non-destructive because the media files are never actually manipulated. The images that appear on screen are merely the result of pointers.

The only thing that changes when cuts are made is the edit decision list (EDL), which is essentially a list of beginning and ending time code numbers assigned to each shot. The exception to this is when transitions, effects, and titles are created. Here, new media files are rendered.

If you are unfamiliar with digital editing, it is surprisingly similar to the way a word processor works with functions like "drag and drop" and "cut and paste." Even the terminology is similar!

The typical NLE user interface features bins containing the picture and sound clips to be edited and a timeline where the clips are assembled. There are other windows depending on the job at hand, including color correction and sound mixing.

Final Cut Pro - User Interface

The three dominant manufacturers of NLEs are Avid, Apple, and Adobe.  Avid introduced the first NLE system in the late 1980s and dominated the industry until Apple introduced its own system some ten years later. Image specialist Soon after, Image specialist Adobe jumped into the fray.


Avid is the granddaddy of digital editing and set the standard for other makers. The company has three anchor products, each progressively more complex. Prices range from $800 to $50,000, depending on the hardware and support involved:

Media Composer - Avid's flagship product (aka, "The Avid").

Media Composer Symphony - Identical to Media Composer with advanced color correction and mastering tools.

Media Composer Nitrus DX - Avid's high-end, all-in-one finishing application.

These systems can be used in both film and video production. When working in film, they can generate a negative cut list for matching back to camera original negative.

They feature superior  titling, compositing, and special effects. In addition, third party developers support them with numerous specialized plug-ins.

Avid originally designed its products for Apple computers. When Apple introduced its own NLE software, Avid geared its products to PCs. This was understandable since Apple became a direct competitor.  Currently, Avid software can run on either Apple or PC platforms.


In the early 1990s, Apple purchased the rights to a software application being developed by Macromedia, code named "Key Grip." Apple finished developing the program and released it as Final Cut Pro (FCP). It took the industry by storm and ended Avid's total market dominance. There are several reasons for its success:

Program vs. Turnkey - With Final Cut Pro, Apple proved once and for all that NLEs are essentially software applications. While Avid forced editors to buy a turnkey package--hardware, software, service contract--Apple sold FCP as a stand alone program. This allowed editors to buy and configure their own hardware.

Price - At the time, Avid systems ranged in price from $50,000 to well over $100,000. FCP was priced at a mere $1,000. With the computer, the entire system cost less than $3,500. This was a far cry from Avid pricing and leveled the playing field for low budget filmmakers.

Features - FCP was jam-packed with features. Not only was it an editing program, but it incorporated color correction, sound mixing, special effects, compositing, and titling. This versatility at such a low price was unheard of at the time.

After many successful years, Apple released Final Cut Pro X in 2011. This was a totally new version of FCP, built from scratch and highly intuitive.

Apple currently has two NLE products:

iMovie - This incredible little program allows you to do broadcast quality editing with no prior training. You can add sophisticated  transitions and titles, and do sound design on multiple audio tracks. Your final product can be exported using various compression ratios, depending on your needs. It is part of Apple's iLife software bundle, which sells for $80.

Final Cut Pro X - This is Apple's flagship editing product. It sells for $300 (downloaded version).

Apple programs can only be used in conjunction with Apple computers.


Adobe's entry into the NLE market is Premiere Pro. Early versions of Premiere Pro left much to be desired, but version 6 and above are excellent. The program is designed to run on PCs.

The major benefit of Premiere Pro is perfect integration with Adobe's outstanding imaging software (e.g., Photoshop, After Effects). It also has an excellent audio mixer. The price is $500. Note that the above prices vary widely depending on the vendor.

One of 300 lessons found in Film School Online!

Editing Course Topics

If you are interested in learning more about the movies used  in this
 lesson, click on the title or picture (courtesy 20th Century Fox,
MCA/Universal, Paramount, TCM, and Warner Brothers).

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