How-To Basics of Video and Green Screen Editing for Online Courses

Editing feels almost like sculpting or a form of continuing the writing process.” ~Sydney Pollack

I recently asked Alison Michel, a Sr. Producer at National Geographic, for her best tips for green screen postproduction. She said her best advice was to hire a good editor. We both laughed at that. It’s a logical reply, especially if you’re working on a long or complicated project.

cutting-room-floor   On the other hand, if you only have a few green screen sequences and straightforward shooting otherwise, it’s worth doing the editing yourself. (Especially if you don’t have the money for a video editor—but if you do, hire one—they’re worth every penny!)

Today’s column is for those trying to tackle editing their own video and green screen. I’ll walk you through the basics and provide some professional tips to make the process of editing green screen easier.

The Scary Old Days of Video Editing

You know the phrase, “the cutting room floor”? When I first started editing video, I had to literally cut the film and splice it together. It could take hours, even days, for the simplest scenes. And it was all too easy to snip my best footage just a tad too short and lose the scene altogether.

Then along came digital, thank God. If you’ve been careful with your shooting—using good lighting, sharp focus, smooth screen, and multiple camera angles—as we discussed in the previous article, editing green screen is pretty much just a drag-and-drop activity.

Key Terms and Steps in Video Editing

There are a few terms that video editors and producers toss around. Until you learn them, they’ll cause your eyes to glaze over as you back very slowly away from your computer. Take heart—they’re actually easy to understand.

Here’s a quick glossary, which more-or-less follows the steps you take when edit:

  • Video Clip: Short sections of your recording, the best “take”—best version—of each scene.
  • Import: To download your video from your recording device to your computer and then into your editing program.
  • Bin: Where you keep all your files—video clips, still images, audio. It’s the organization system.
  • Timeline: This is the section of your editing program where you place the clips and images you decide to use, putting them in the order you want.
  • Editing: The process of selecting your clips, putting them in order on the timeline, and then adding, cutting, copying, pasting, and refining your video so that the story and teaching make sense.
  • Preview: An area of the screen where you can watch what you’ve put in the timeline.
  • Transitions: Ways to blend one clip into the next; they’ll vary slightly with your editing program, but most options are standard.
  • NLE: Non-linear editing allows you to access any frame in a digital video clip regardless of sequence in the clip. You need an NLE program to edit video digitally.
  • Visual Effects (VFX): The processes by which your imagery is created and/or manipulated outside the context of your live action footage. Think of things like dissolves, split screens, slow motion, and green screen.
  • Export: When you put all your edits together into one big file so you can share it, it’s called exporting (or sometimes “compressing”). The actual functions can vary by editing program, but essentially this is a saving function, similar to “save as” or “backup” for a file.
  • Compression: Video takes up a lot of space, so it’s compressed to make it workable for editing and then decompressed to make it presentable for viewing. Your NLE program will compress and decompress your video, but here are some key terms in case you want to apply specific requirements:
    • CODEC: COmpressor/DECompressor—one of the earliest processes for handling large video files for editing on the computer.
    • Lossless Compression: After compressing the video, and then decompressing it, you wind up with the exact same data as you put in.
    • Lossy Compression: When you compress the video and then decompress it, you don’t get back 100% of what you put in. 95% of all codecs are Lossy, such as MPEG4.
  • Rendering: The process of creating temporary video and audio “render” files for segments that your NLE program can’t play in real time. Your program subs a render file for the segment during playback (viewing).
  • Composite: Joining images together in your digital space to make one image, almost always after cutting out some of the areas of each.
    • This is when you bring your video and your green screen together into one, seamless experience, after you’ve gotten your timeline and other editing in order.

NLE Programs Most Commonly Used

That’s a lot to absorb, but now you have the essential terms and steps of video editing. You’ll need to pick an NLE program to get started. Here are the most commonly used:

  • Adobe Premiere
  • Final Cut Pro or Final Cut Premier
  • Avid
  • Ultra Key by Serious Magic
  • Sony Vegas
  • Edius
  • iMovie

For the faint of heart, look for programs like the one I mentioned last week by Green Ink, that make it easy to work through your postproduction steps.

Key Steps in Green Screen Editing

Now to learn the actual steps for editing your green screen sections. The process will vary somewhat depending on your NLE program, but here are the fundamentals.

  • In your “Video Effects” option, select “Keying” and drag the “Chroma Key” effect onto the video clip that has your green screen.
  • You’ll have to do this for every such section.
  • Remember that by taking out green (or other colors) in the foreground image with a chroma key filter, those sections become transparent. Then the foreground image is combined—composited—with the background image for the final effect.
  • You’ll have other options within the Chroma Key effects section, and you’ll use them to replace the green in your clip with the video or images that you’ve selected to replace it with.
  • You’ll then fine-tune the key effect with blending and other controls.
  • Save your project.
  • Save again.

Follow the instructions with your program and look online for tutorials. Adam Schreck, a video producer who has worked in every phase from running camera to editing special effects, suggests checking out Creative Cow’s forums for tips. They’re searchable by keywords and provide one of the best post/editing resources on the web:

Here are some additional tips from producer/director Zach Wolfson.

Posting Tips for Green Screen

  • Plan to at least triple the amount of time to edit the video compared to one without green screen footage.
  • Even the simplest visual effects require time to shape and craft the image to make it look its best. From keying out the green (or blue), to color correction and grading, be patient with yourself in this stage.
  • Don’t move onto keying out the green (or blue) of your footage until you have locked your content. Otherwise you’ll waste time.
  • If your backdrop doesn’t go to the edges of your frame, add a picture-in-picture effect and use the cropping sliders to remove the unwanted edges of the screen.
  • Rendering takes a long time, so try to work on the green screen footage for as long as you can without rendering it. This way you won’t have to render it again when you make a change.
  • After you have all the video effects layered onto your footage, hit “save” and render out your video. Depending on your computer, it could take anywhere from “a while” to “a very long while,” so take a break and get some exercise to destress.

As you can see, the steps are logical, but obviously it will take some practice to edit your green screen to your satisfaction. Zach has offered to answer any questions about postproduction, gear, or anything else related to making videos. Leave your questions in the comments of this post and he’ll jump in to answer them.

I hope you found this blog helpful. Please send me your questions for future issues, and tune in next Friday for Issue #24 of “Everything You Need to Know to Create Outstanding Online Courses.” We’ll look at the one writing tip my father gave me that I’ve shared with everyone I’ve coached.

Want to learn how to make great online courses? To get your free copy of “12 Steps to Killer Course Content,” and weekly tips, click here.

Marcy McDonald is an Online Course Producer. She helps Subject Matter Experts and Professors create online courses with better content, delivery, and production, for better teaching. She’s developed ~450 online courses for lifelong learners, worked in video and audio studios, and filmed in the field (literally).

Contact Marcy for help crafting your online course:

‪Please check out my contributors (in alphabetical order):

Adam Schreck, Multimedia Guy,

Zach Wolfson, Producer/Director with zwfilm. I encourage you to watch Zach’s film, “Start Small with Video” It’s a great tutorial for beginners, but even I learned a few tips from it.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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