Video editing 101, Part One: Fetching footage

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Let’s be honest: these days the average fifth grader may know more about editing video than many of us professional communicator types. Yet many editors and publishers are starting to see video as an integral part of their story packages. Even without an assignment, we have the option to shop our motion creative to a world-wide audience with a few simple clicks using Vimeo, YouTube and the like.
But first you have to know how to get raw footage onto your computer to pluck the wheat from your seizure-inducing chaff. There are more than a dozen capable editing applications on the market and most employ a similar logic and layout. But virtually every video and TV producer I’ve worked with in the past few years uses Apple’s Final Cut Pro or Final Cut Express, so let’s focus on those as the current standard.
Before you even open an editing program, though, make sure you have lots of free hard drive space because video files can be truly monstrous. In Final Cut Express, capturing HDV will happily eat 49 gigs per hour of footage—no kidding.
If your camera records to tapes such as the popular HDV format, the first step is to connect it to your computer using a Firewire cable (aka iLink /IEEE 1394), which you can find for $2 on or for a small fortune at your local electronics store. Before you do that, though, eject your tape and make sure its tiny plastic switch is flipped to “save” or “read only” so you don’t accidentally record over anything while trying to extract it.
Next, plug your camera into a wall outlet so your battery doesn’t give out mid-capture. Then switch it to VTR or Play mode and rewind the tape.
Open Final Cut, go the File menu, choose Easy Setup and choose the best match for your format and screen-ratio. (For HDV, I use HDV- Apple Intermediate Codec 1080i60.) Next, go to Capture under the File menu. Take the time to come up with a descriptive title for the footage so in the future you can easily identify what can be dozens or even hundreds of video files. It helps enormously to know what they are at a glance.
Push the capture button and for the next hour find something else to do that doesn’t involve your computer. Your software will quit capturing if it drops frames because your hard drive or processor can’t keep up.
Many new camcorders and all video-capable DSLRs save files onto flash cards such as SD and Compact Flash, or onto hard drives. This saves mounds of time versus capturing off tapes and often provides higher-resolution footage and longer record times. Unless you’ve got limitless hard drives, archiving all these files can be a challenge, though, not to mention backing them up. Tapes provide some reassurance in that way.
Another downside of flash or hard drives is that many camera manufactures employ proprietary file formats that may not play nice with low-cost editing programs like Final Cut Express. I’ve run into this problem working with footage from Panasonic P2, Sony XDCAM and even native HDV files captured in the high-end Final Cut Pro. Final Cut Pro can open just about anything under the sun with supplied plug-ins, but it costs $1,000.
To capture footage, simply put the card into a card reader or connect the camera using a USB or Firewire cable. It should show up on your desktop as a drive, then copy the footage over to your computer. From there, use Import under the File menu.
Once your footage shows up within your editing program, you’re ready to edit. I’ll cover that in part two, coming up in the February issue.♦
Paul Queneau grew up in Colorado hunting, fishing and backpacking. He started with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s Bugle magazine as an intern and is currently the conservation editor. Contact him at</em>

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