Behind the Scenes: Editing a Short Film from Pre-Pro to Release

By David Winter
Jan 26, 2024
7 minute read
An editor on set on a short film

Welcome to the exhilarating world of short film editing! In this comprehensive guide, we dive into the journey of transforming a script into a captivating visual story, specifically tailored for the unique challenges and opportunities of short films. 


From the initial script analysis in pre-production to the final touches in post-editing, we'll explore the critical steps and creative decisions that bring a short film to life from an editor's perspective. 


Whether you're just getting started or an experienced editor looking to hone your craft in short film storytelling, this guide is your roadmap to mastering the art of concise and impactful filmmaking.


Pre-Production: Setting the Stage


Understanding the Script and Vision


Immersing in the Story

Before a single frame is edited, immerse yourself in the script. Read it multiple times. With each read, narrow your focus on specific aspects - plot, character development, dialogue nuances. Visualise how each scene unfolds. This isn't just about understanding the story; it's about feeling it.


Director's Vision and Editor's Interpretation

Engaging in a detailed discussion with the director is invaluable. Understand their vision and perspective. Ask about the themes they want to emphasise and the emotions they want to evoke. This isn't just about following orders; it's about forming a partnership where your editing complements their direction.


Character Arcs and Plot Progression

Pay special attention to character arcs and plot progression. How does each scene contribute to these elements? Think about how your editing will reflect the characters' growth or the plot's buildup. Your cuts and transitions are tools to highlight these arcs.


Planning Your Edit


Visual Planning

Ask the director to translate the script into a visual storyboard or, at the very least, a sizzle reel. This helps visualise the final product and is a reference throughout the editing process.


Identifying Key Scenes and Moments

Work to establish key scenes and pivotal moments. These parts of the film will require special attention during editing. They are the emotional or narrative peaks and troughs and will dictate the rhythm of your editing.


Rhythm and Pace Planning

Plan the rhythm and pace of the film. Will it be fast-paced with quick cuts to reflect excitement or tension, or slower to draw the viewer into a more contemplative, emotional space? These decisions will shape your editing style throughout the project.


Collaboration with Other Departments

Coordinate with the cinematography and sound departments. Understanding their plans can influence how you approach the editing. For instance, knowing the cinematographer's shot list can help you plan transitions and cuts more effectively.


Technical Preparation

Ensure you have the right tools and software in place. Familiarise yourself with the latest updates in your editing software (like Lightworks). If you're expecting to work with specific formats or special effects, now is the time to prepare for those.


Organisational Systems

Set up an organisational system for your footage. Decide on naming conventions, file storage structures, and backup plans. Having this before receiving footage can streamline your workflow and prevent future headaches.


Production Insights: Gathering the Right Footage


On-Set Observations


Being a Part of the Filming Process

Whenever possible, be present on the set. This isn't just about observing; it's about immersing yourself in the atmosphere. Feel the mood, understand the dynamics between actors, and grasp the essence of each scene. This insight is priceless when it comes to editing.


Taking Detailed Notes

Whether on set or in meetings, take copious notes. Note the takes and ideas the director likes, any changes made to the script on the fly, and even the weather conditions if they might affect continuity. These notes can be a lifeline when you're deep into editing and need to recall specific details.


Building Relationships with the Crew

Use this time to build rapport with the crew, especially the director of photography (DoP) and the camera operators. Understanding their style and preferences will help you anticipate the kind of footage you'll receive and plan your edits accordingly.


Working with Directors and Cinematographers


Constant Communication

Maintain an open line of communication with the director and cinematographer throughout the production process. Discuss the day’s shoot, ask about their vision for certain scenes, and share your thoughts on how you might approach editing those scenes.


Understanding the Visual Language

Each director and cinematographer has a unique visual language. Learn to understand this language - the types of shots they prefer, their approach to lighting, the pace they envisage. This knowledge will inform your editing decisions and help maintain a consistent style throughout the film.


Gathering Additional Footage

Encourage the capture of additional footage, such as B-roll, alternative angles, cutaways, and reaction shots. These can be invaluable during editing, providing you with options to enhance scenes or smooth over transitions.


Technical Sync-Up

Regularly sync up on the technical aspects, such as the camera settings, file formats, and frame rates being used. This ensures you're technically prepared for the footage, and there are no surprises in post-production.


Feedback Loop

Establish a feedback loop. If you notice potential issues in the footage already shot or think additional shots might be needed, don’t hesitate to suggest them. A proactive approach can save time and improve the final product.


On-Set Editing

Start assembling scenes or rough cuts on set. This can give the director a sense of how the film is coming together and allow for adjustments to be made in real time.


The Editing Process: Tailored for Short Films


Embracing the Brevity of Short Films


Conveying a Story Concisely

In short films, every second counts. Your primary challenge is to convey a compelling story within a limited timeframe. This means making tough choices about what's essential to the narrative and what can be left out. The key is to focus on clarity and impact.


Pacing and Rhythm

Short films often require a different approach to pacing. There’s less time for gradual build-ups, so consider quicker transitions and more dynamic editing styles to maintain viewer engagement. However, this doesn’t mean rushing through the story but instead finding the right balance.


Character Development in a Nutshell


Establishing Characters Quickly

With limited screen time, you need to establish characters swiftly and effectively. Use visual storytelling, concise dialogue, and focused scenes to reveal character traits and motivations. Aim for your editing should work to do this as quickly as possible.


Subtext and Visual Metaphors

Leverage subtext and visual metaphors to add depth to your characters and story. A well-placed shot or a uniquely edited sequence can speak volumes about a character or situation, adding layers to your narrative without additional dialogue or scenes.


Maximising Visual Storytelling


Show, Don't Tell

In short films, 'show, don’t tell' is even more crucial. Utilise visual storytelling to its fullest. This could mean focusing on a character’s actions rather than their words, using symbolism, or creating a mood with colour and lighting. Your edits should work to enhance the visual narrative, not just compile scenes.


Creative Transitions

Transitions can be more than just cuts and fades. Experiment with creative transitions that contribute to the story or set the tone. A well-executed transition can be a memorable moment in a short film where every cut and transition is valuable.


Crafting a Memorable Ending


Impactful Conclusions

The ending of a short film is often what sticks with the audience well after the credits roll. It should be impactful, whether a twist, a resolution, or an open-ended conclusion. Your editing choices in the final scenes are crucial in delivering the intended emotional or intellectual impact.


Tying Up Loose Ends

While some short films thrive on ambiguity, ensure that your editing provides closure where needed. This doesn't mean everything should be neatly resolved, but the audience should feel a sense of completion, unless the film is specifically going against that.


Overcoming Technical Constraints


Working Within Limitations

Short films often come with limitations – budget, equipment, or time. Use your editing skills to overcome these. This could mean getting creative with stock footage, using sound design to enhance scenes, or finding inventive ways to mask imperfections in the footage.


Efficient Use of Resources

Make the most of the resources you have. This might involve repurposing shots, using colour grading to set different moods within the same location, or employing sound to expand the world beyond what's shown on screen.


Post-Editing: Refining the Film


Feedback and Revisions: The Art of Fine-Tuning


Constructive Critiques

Short films often evolve significantly during post-editing through feedback. Show your edit to a trusted group that understands the vision and the constraints of short filmmaking. Listen to their perspectives on pacing, narrative clarity, and emotional impact. Remember, constructive criticism is not just about finding faults but finding what works and can be improved.


Iterative Revisions

Editing is iterative, especially with short films where every single frame counts. Be open to revisiting scenes based on feedback. Sometimes, a minor tweak in timing or a subtle change in the order of shots can make a big difference in storytelling.


Final Touches: Polishing Your Masterpiece


Soundtrack and Audio Finishing

In a short film, the soundtrack and sound design can be pivotal in creating atmosphere and depth. Choose music that complements the mood without overpowering the visuals. Pay close attention to sound mixing and effects – they should enhance the viewer's experience and not distract.


Colour Grading for Mood and Style

Colour grading is not just about correcting footage; it's about setting the tone of your film. Use colour to reflect emotions, highlight moments, or distinguish between different timelines or realities. This is your chance to give the film its unique visual style.


Exporting and Distribution: Sharing Your Vision


Choosing the Right Format

When exporting your short film, consider where it will be viewed. Festivals often have specific format requirements, while online platforms might favour different aspect ratios or resolutions. Lightworks offers versatile export options to suit various needs, ensuring your film looks its best wherever it’s shown.


Promoting Your Film

The journey doesn’t end at export. Now, it's time to share your creation with the world. Each platform, from film festivals to social media, has its audience and style. Tailor your promotion strategy accordingly. Utilise social media, film communities, and personal networks to get your film in front of viewers.


Reflecting on the Journey


The Learning Experience

Take a moment to reflect on the journey of creating your short film. Each project is a learning experience, a stepping stone in your career as an editor. Celebrate your achievements and take note of lessons learned for your next venture.



Editing a short film is a craftsman's journey - one of patience, creativity, and vision. It is the journey of transforming raw ingredients into a delicious final feast through a recipe only you can perfect.


Take pride in traversing the entire process - from transforming the words from the script to exporting your final cut for the world to see. You have conquered the unique challenges of short film editing, harnessing brevity into power and infusing each fleeting moment with purpose.


Though this short may soon fade to credits, the insights learned are eternal. Its images leave indelible imprints, whispering wisdom whenever you face the next edit, reminding you of all possible. 


As you embark on your next short film project, remember the insights and tips shared in this guide. Use them to enhance your narrative, engage your audience, and bring your unique vision to life. Each project is a new adventure, a fresh opportunity to tell a story that resonates and captivates. So go ahead, embrace the journey, and create something extraordinary!


Additional Resources


For deeper dives into editing techniques and Lightworks tutorials, visit Lightworks Resources. Enhance your skills, discover community insights, and bring your creative visions to life.


Transform your video editing journey with Lightworks. Whether crafting a short film, a documentary, or a personal vlog, Lightworks gives you the tools to tell your story your way. Download now and embark on your path to becoming a master storyteller.



Authors Note — AI and Content Generation


In our commitment to transparency and ethical practice, we wish to disclose that artificial intelligence (AI) played a role in crafting this piece. However, it remains primarily a human endeavour, with the core content written, edited, and meticulously proofread by our team. 

AI served primarily as a tool for workshopping drafts, researching topics, and ensuring a consistent writing style. Importantly, our use of AI is designed to complement, not replace, our team's efforts. It allows us to efficiently utilise our resources, enhancing our work without compromising or diminishing the value of human skill and creativity.