Guy editing film

What is Non-Linear Editing

Non-Linear Editing is the modern form of editing, where the user can use digital editing software to rearrange and to edit raw footage. If you have only started editing in the last 15 years then you may not know any different, however, before the Non-Linear system editing was a lot more of a laborious task. 

In this article, we’re going to talk about the path that led to the Digital Non-Linear Editing movement, as well as looking at how it is done today. 

However if you are looking to learn a bit more about the techniques of video editing or about the craft of video editing(yup, they are separate subjects) you can check our article on best video editing tutorials for beginners.

The History of Editing 

In the Beginning…

To understand what Non-Linear editing is, we have to go write back to the beginning of Motion Pictures. The story of Non-Linear editing goes back to the early 1950s when American TV stations were looking to record live TV they were showing in New York, and rebroadcast it 4 hours later in California.

Through this, the idea of pre-recording TV shows was born, and the first pre-recorded show was aired in 1957 (it was called Truth or Consequences). 

From the late 1950s through to the early 1970s there was a huge development in how TV was edited, jumping from form to form as new developments appeared on the market. 

Something New…

In the 1970s a form of editing called Linear Editing was developed. This involved two video decks transferring footage between each other. This would be done by adding one cut at a time, in a linear fashion,  until the full show was put together. 

This was a quick process that saved the TV companies a lot of money, as the editors could follow a set formula. By the late 70s, the development of the time-code system (the hour: minute: second: frame stamping system we are all used to seeing now) pushed Linear editing to the forefront of editing suites by the end of the decade. 

Linear editing has two major flaws. Firstly, when using the Linear editing system you can only work in one direction. If you made a mistake or forgot to include a shot – you would have to start again. There was no room for error, as any error would waste expensive film and time. 

Secondly, the lack of room for error also meant that there was a lack of room for creativity. Every choice was final so editors were often working to a formula to avoid wasting resources. The rough cut of the past no longer existed.

The Birth of Non-Linear

The development of a Non-Linear editing system began in the early 70s, however, it wasn’t until the mid-80s that technology had developed enough to make this a viable system of editing anything longer than a music video. 

The invention of Optical Discs provided computers with enough storage space to digitize a whole movie.

The Non-Linear system mimicked the original film editing techniques – where editors were able to physically splice and reattach the film reel at any point. This digital system allowed the user to work in a (you guessed it) Non-Linear fashion. 

There was no longer the pressure for editors to get the cut right the first time and many editors have praised this invention as bringing creativity back to the industry.

The method reintroduced the rough cut to the process and allowed editors to have complete control over it. The footage could be edited in any order, and it was possible to go back to earlier parts of your cut and edit those.    

One of the first award-winning films to be made with this method was The English Patient.

By the early 21st century films were beginning to be made in a fully digital manner, cutting out all need for any physical film – the first major film to do this was Star Wars: Episode 2 – Attack of the Clones. 

By 2020 Non-Linear editing has become the standard, both for professionals and amateurs. 

Pros of Linear Editing 

Whilst we do recommend using the modern Non-Linear method for editing, there may be a few projects that benefit from using Linear editing. 

When should I use Linear Editing?  

  • When you’re looking for simplicity. Whether you simply want to merge multiple videos together with little editing required. Or you need software that will be compatible with a tricky computer.  
  • Some people argue that Linear editing is easier to learn, however, younger filmmakers may find the method counterintuitive. 

It’s hard for us not to sound biased against Linear editing, but in our opinion  Non-Linear really is the superior form of editing – it can do everything Linear can, and extra on top of that. 

  • No editing restrictions – you don’t have to worry about doing things in the right order, if you forget to add something, unlike Linear editing, you don’t have to start again to fix it. 
  • Reduces the amount of space needed to store backups. 
  • You can see the results of your actions instantly – if you move a segment of the film, you can immediately see how that would affect your final cut.  
  • This method of film making will be intuitive for all up and coming generations of filmmakers 
  • Most computers come with free Non-Linear editing software pre-installed on it. 

Non-Linear Editing Software

So, now that we’ve sold you on the benefits of Non-Linear editing, now it’s time to choose which piece of software you want to use. 

There are many different options when it comes to choosing the perfect Non-Linear editing software. We have put together a list of some of our favorites.

The first group is a selection of software that is great for beginners, or someone who wants to just play a bit with video editing without having to understand too much and being confused by too many buttons. and the second set is software that its worth a bit more time to invest in.

For Starters:

  • ShotCut
  • Adobe Premiere Elements 

Below, is a list of some more professional non-linear editing software: 

  • Adobe Premiere Pro 
  • DaVinci Resolve  
  • Final Cut Pro X
  • Avid Media Composer (Avid were one of the leading companies that lead to the development of Non-Linear editing software) 

Written by Rick@