What I've Learned (So Far) from 20 Years of Making Videos

By Chris Wells
Jan 30, 2024
8 minute read

Hey there! Chris Wells here. As our first themed month of ‘New Year, New Edit’ comes to a close, I wanted to write a more personal post today about some of the lessons I’ve learned so far from over (oh my god I’m old) 20 years I’ve spent making videos.

 

I’ve been making silly little videos ever since I can remember with any piece of equipment I could get my hands on. I’d edit holiday videos to music or make rediculous films with my webcam, like the music video below (see if you can spot me).

 

 

By most measures, they are terrible, but they gave me space to experiment and learn on the go, as well as working as a wondrous time capsule for me and my friends. 

And now, over 20 years later, from some of those pre-YouTube home video experiments, I am super blessed to have a career being paid to make videos. I owe so much to that fearless, film-obsessed me who was willing to create imperfectly and just keep going. 

In this article, I want to share the top pieces of video editing advice I wish someone had told me (and I’d had listened) when I first started out. Beyond the technical stuff, you can learn anywhere (including here!). These are the hard-won lessons that had the biggest impact on me and the videos I make today.

 

Remember the WHY

 

Making videos is HARD. At least harder than simply not making videos. Even something like a TikTok video requires effort to organise thoughts, make it engaging, ensure good lighting and audio. That’s just the stuff in your control. Any brave soul who has attempted this endeavour will know the pain of a sudden storm, a file corruption or realising there is a missing shot in the edit.

 

This story from Oppenheimer shows that even at the highest level things can go wrong at the worst possible time:

 

 

This isn’t meant to make things scary; it's just the opposite, in fact, to firstly show how amazing it is that people actually get this stuff made. The sheer amount of perseverance required is often inspired.

Secondly, you have to really want to do this to keep on doing it. And the best way to maintain that desire is to remember your reason why. The WHY you’re doing this, the WHY you’re going through all this trouble in the first place. Use that as your compass to remind you WHY you’re making the thing you’re making. Determine what is driving you in your current video project - whether it be financial/work, desire for recognition, or a need for self-expression. All of these motivations are valid. 

Make sure you clarify your core purpose and revisit it during the bad times. Let it serve as the guiding light that keeps you oriented towards forward progress. Being honest with and anchoring in your reasons for creating will help you endure the temporary troubles and continue putting one foot in front of the other on your journey.

 

You're Not Alone - Involve Others!

 

While producing videos can be fraught, you don't need to do it solo. Especially once your projects become more complicated than person infront of camera saying words. Surround yourself with others who share your creative spirit and your journey gets exponentially lighter.

Not only do these partnerships ease individual workloads, they lead to innovation impossible to achieve in isolation. Brainstorming with diverse creative perspectives takes ideas to newer and more exciting heights. Complementary skill sets combine to yield results better than the sum of its parts. Collaborating creates a reciprocal cycle where you all can expand your skills by helping on each others' projects, growing your brains TOGETHER.

 

That’s not to mention the plethora of amazing content and people you can see online RIGHT NOW to learn and grow from:

 

So, while everyone likes the idea of the lone wolf genius who gets all the glory, even Wes Anderson has a production designer to make the dreams come true far better than if he built the sets himself.

 

 

You Don’t Have To Be a Pro to Make Stuff

 

The common feeling EVERYONE faces is that you're not good enough or never will be. Imposter syndrome lurks within even the most acclaimed creators. When inadequacy rears its head, remember this: you learn best by doing.

One of my heroes from NPR Ira Glass nails it with his concept of The Gap, shown in this awesome video here: 

 

 

When you start out, your skills haven't caught up to your creative vision. This gap between what you can execute and what you want to achieve. But the gap is essential fuel - it ignites the desire to improve through action.

I've made many, many, MANY videos over the years that most would call rubbish, trash, WHAT, stupid, I HATE IT, crap and poop. But I love them dearly. Some for more personal reasons and all for what they represent - stepping stones on my way to getting better. 

For example, I once helped students at the school where I worked produce a silly short film for a Movember fundraiser. While clumsy at points with inconsistent audio and framing, I think it’s funny, plus it served its purpose to entertain and educate our audience that night. And the sheer amount I learned on that project is huge.

The key is not to become paralysed by judgments of "not good enough." Instead, allow them to propel you forward into new projects, new lessons, and new growth. Stay focused on incremental progress through regular creation, however imperfect and just have fun doing it.

You can only get better by doing. Lean into creating prolifically, bravely, and unapologetically as your skills play catch up to your bold dreams. Pay no mind when that pesky imposter syndrome pays a visit. Tell it to go away and that you cannot be bothered with its lies, for you have videos to make and lessons to learn.

 

Audio Is The Most Important Aspect Of Your Video

 

I know I go on about this A LOT (especially with sound month coming up next) but sound quality makes or breaks video impact. It's the lesson I wish I had truly understood when I was younger. Far too often, an otherwise stellar video gets sunk by absolutely garbage audio.

Prioritise audio at all costs. A production filmed on an old phone can still captivate audiences if the sound design is immersive. The inverse is rarely true. Mediocre video paired with crisp audio will outperform flashy visuals hampered by poor sound every time.

This is a key advantage of music video, the lush sonic landscapes of the MUSIC allow the audience to overlook technical glitches in the visuals and fully lose yourself in the experience. It’s one of the top reasons why when teaching videography/editing you start by making music videos, as the most important part of the piece has already been perfected.

This music video was mainly filmed on a webcam as well as mixing in a fair amount of rough stock footage, but because the audio is so LUSH it doesn’t matter. It just gels together as a magical experience. If you don’t believe me, watch it on mute first.

 

 

The fundamentals of audio quality will be central next month as we unpack them further. But for now, know this above all else: give audio the attention and care it commands, and your videos will sing.

 

 

"Yes, and..."

 

In a past life, I performed and taught improv comedy. One of the core tenets drilled into every student is "Yes, and..." Despite the annoying overdone cliché, this principle rings true.

The "Yes, and" philosophy emphasises building on the ideas of your scene partners. If someone says you’re a dog, you accept it without judgement by responding "Yes, and..." (or WOOF WOOF). You then add to the premise to push the scene forward. Every contribution should propel collaborative creativity rather than stall it through denial.

This dynamic applies readily to collaborative video projects, especially when you have a strong cast and crew that can adapt/offer ideas on the fly. It also really helps when things go wrong, as instead of taking the new sudden blocker as a death knell, it’s just another opportunity to adapt. The weather suddenly shifted? The scene is rainy now.

 

Camera man accidentally knocks part of the set? Make it part of the scene:

 

 

Those moments of chance, of randomness, of accidents, can create things that have never been done before, and if you have the resilience to take that and adapt, then all your work will be better for it.

 

Experiments and Extremes

 

When it comes to video experimentation, don't be afraid to go crazy. Pushing creative boundaries is how you unlock new skills and styles.

For example, really have a play with the effects in Lightworks to understand their impact. Crank up the contrast slider all the way - what does ultra-high contrast do visually? How can you use it intentionally for stylistic flair? Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t, but now you can really learn what those effects do. Twist those knobs to their extremes to reveal possibilities. Then scale back to tastefully incorporate what you've learned.

This spirit of creative play applied to making things too. Years ago, some friends and I were in a tunnel with some drums and a sound recorder. I decided I wanted to make an accompanying video. I simply embraced the gritty, grainy footage my phone captured in low light. Rather than lamenting 'if only I had a better camera', I edited the visuals to accentuate the grungy vibe as an aesthetic choice.

 

 

Lean into limitations by developing a 'what CAN I do here' mindset rather than focusing on missing gear. When a capture opportunity strikes, don't hesitate - work with what you have on hand in service of fun, in-the-moment creation. Roll with whatever equipment is available to you and mould imperfections into an intentional look. I’m actually rather proud of that silly video I made

 

By pushing boundaries through fearless experimentation, you gain skills and perspective. You uncover what your tools can do when taken to extremes. And you develop the creative confidence to turn challenges into windows for innovation.

 

Be Yourself! (sorry)

 

I apologise for the flat-feeling platitude, but with the rise of AI-powered video creation, it’s more important than ever to share your unique voice.

Many express concern that AI will take over editing tasks, allowing anyone to generate high-quality video effortlessly. Some worry this renders human video professionals obsolete.

But here's the upside to keep in mind - the one thing AI can never replicate is your unique creative fingerprint, all of you. Even as machine learning aids streamline technical processes, there remains immense value in the human touch. That personal blend of taste, vision, and life experience that makes you, well, you.

Your distinctive voice and sensibilities are impossible to digitise. So while hacks may leverage AI to solely make things, there will always be demand for creators like yourself who infuse visual media with humanity. Clients and audiences connect with artistry born of lived wisdom, compassion, wit and insight.

The most compelling stories are those that resonate on a profound emotional level - those that move us deeply or speak truth about the human condition. And for that, one must draw from the rich well of their own within.

No robot could have made this masterpiece: 

 

This masterpiece is unsuitable for young audiences.


So I say welcome the advancement of tools that make video creation more accessible. They will never replace the need for talented editors who harness high-tech with high-touch... who balance technical skill with creative soul. Yours is a gift only you can give.

So stay focused on sharing your perspective through visuals. Continue refining your one-of-a-kind viewpoint to share far and wide. Rest easy, knowing AI can support your process but never replicate your heart.

 

 

Conclusion

 

After two decades of working/playing with video, I can actually say with some authority that the journey brings as much joy as the destinations. While I'm proud of my later client work and online content I now create, I'm just as fond of those early stepping-stone projects.

The technical flaws or creative missteps disappear like tears in rain over the happy memories and lessons I take from those videos. Had I waited until my skills were "good enough" to start sharing my voice through video, I'd likely still be waiting.

 

Making videos is hard. You’re out in the wild with a billion things that could go wrong, most of which are not in your control. Remember that we are all human, and things feel crappy enough without you being crappy to yourself. Be patient, remember things take time and that you can only do your best. And then you do it again. Don’t forget to look back and appreciate all you’ve learned. Every mistake is just another lesson and another step to making something even better!

 

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.