Making a movie is not difficult. Making a good movie, on the other hand, requires a decent editing tool. You’re probably not going to be cutting a new version of Ben Hur, but as long as you have an editing tool that meets your requirements, you should be able to produce something that is at least watchable.
One of the most popular current options is Shotcut, a free and open source video editor for all three desktop operating systems. It’s no surprise: Shotcut is ridiculously simple to use. It took me just 30 minutes on the very first use to produce a short video. Interested? Here’s what you need to do.
Prepare Your Video Files
It’s always a good idea to gather the source files for your video project together in one directory. This doesn’t only make it easier to find the files for import into the movie editor. It also gives you the opportunity to review the files.
Often, video files are not 100 percent useful. Rather, certain chunks can be used, rather than the entire clip. By reviewing the files, not only do you get to review the full set of footage, you give yourself the time to make note of the timestamps of the shots you want to use in your video project.
Also, remember to give the folder a relevant, meaningful name, so you can easily find it.
Get Started With Shotcut
Before editing the video, you will of course need to download and install Shotcut, which you’ll find at shotcut.org. As it’s free and open source, you won’t need to part with a single cent. As well as offering installers for Windows, macOS, and several Linux operating systems, the Shotcut source code is available at GitHub.
Upon launching Shotcut for the first time, you’ll see just a simple application window, awaiting your commands. No popup boxes, no welcome screen. It’s all there, waiting for you to use it. Take the time to browse the menus to see what features are available before you get started.
Import Video and Arrange on the Timeline
When the time has come to start your video project, import the files you need via Open File. Wait as the files are imported — note that the first video will autoplay, so get ready to pause this if necessary.
As soon as the files are imported, and before you do anything else, hit Ctrl + S (or open File > Save) to save the project. Remember to give it a meaningful name, too!
Back in the main Shotcut window, you’ll see how the imported files are listed in the left-hand pane (the Playlist), and the currently-selected file is displayed in the main window. Look for the player controls, which you can use to play, pause, nudge back and forth through the video, and even drag using the playhead (the white line that displays the current position of the video).
Before you start editing your video together, you’re going to need a timeline. This doesn’t appear by default — to view it, open the View menu and select Timeline. All you need to do now is start arranging your video clips along the timeline, perhaps with some still images and audio. By default, you will see a single, linear timeline, but you can add new tracks if required. This is useful for developing a video that has a choice of shots for the same moment, for instance.
To add a video or audio track, right-click on the timeline head and select Add Audio Track or Add Video Track.
Remember to save your work regularly!
Trim and Cut
Need to trim a clip? The best way to do this is to simply drag the placeholders at the beginning and end of the clip, until it meets the desired length. If you want multiple sections from the same clip, simply import it again and again, trimming each shot as needed.
Meanwhile, you can cut or split a clip. Simply place the playhead where you want to make the split, and click the Split At Playhead button (S).
Need to change the speed of your video clip? Select it, then click Properties. You’ll find a lot of detailed information here, across the Video, Audio, and Metadata views. Most importantly, you’ll see Speed, which by default is set to 1.000x. Use the up and down arrows to adjust.
Make the Right Transitions
Creating a clip transition is simple: just drag two clips over each other so they slightly overlap. You should see a transition box, consisting of four triangles. Click this, then Properties. Here, you’ll find a dropdown menu with a wide selection of transition types. Select one, then adjust the settings for it. Note that you can also cross-fade between audio tracks on videos, which should prove useful.
In the Filters menu, you have a number of effects choices available to you. For instance, there are Instagram-style filters, stabilization tools, chromakey, and much more.
To add one to a clip, open the Filters menu, click + (plus), and choose your preferred filter from the three views (favorites, video, and audio). Here, configure the settings for the filter, and watch as the change is applied.
Multiple filters can be added to a clip, but don’t go crazy, especially on longer videos! Should you need to disable a filter effect, clear the checkbox. You can also remove it from the clip entirely with the – (minus) button.
Sort Out the Soundtrack
If you’re chopping up footage, there’s a good change that your video will benefit from having a unified soundtrack. This might be just a few atmospheric sounds, or it could be a piece of music in the background. Shotcut will let you mix the existing audio with the additional soundtrack, which often sounds good. Should you prefer, the audio from the clips can be muted instead. (At present there is no granular audio management, so reducing volume in a clip is tricky.)
You might even record a voiceover to add to the video. Note that if you’re doing it this way, however, you’ll probably want to match the videos to the audio, and to the length of the audio track.
Whatever the case, once the audio is ready, import it into its own track.
Many videos need captions, if only to add a title. Shotcut enables you to add two types of caption, standard Text, and 3D Text. Both are available from the Filters > Video menu.
For the Text option, you can simply input the phrase you want to use into the box. Some preset options are also available, such as the option to display the video’s timecode. The font, color, and weight can also be set, and you can drag the text around the screen to sit in the preferred position.
To display 3D Text, once the text is inputted, you’ll have a choice of fonts and colors. Use the sliders to adjust size, depth, tilt, and horizontal and vertical positions. It’s that simple.
Export Your Video in the Right Format
Eventually, you’ll be ready to export the finished video. Click Export to begin here, sticking with the default export options. While you’ll have a vast selection of output formats, it’s best to stick with the simplest, default option. If this isn’t ideal for your planned upload, try an alternative format.
Producing an export file can take a while. Even for a one-minute video, you’ll need to go and find something else to do. Note that you can adjust the resolution and aspect ratio prior to export, as well as change the codec and make some changes to the audio bitrate.
Eventually, the export file will be ready for you to view. If you’re happy, go ahead and save it. Otherwise, go back and export again in a different format.
You’re Done: Don’t Forget to Share Your Movie
With your video successfully exported to your specification, it will be ready to share. Perhaps you’ll just view it on your PC, or maybe you’ll share it over your home network. Rather than exporting the video, you might prefer to Stream the finished product locally. You’ll find this option in the Export screen.
Note that there are no social sharing buttons in Shotcut. If you want to upload your video to YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo, or whatever, you’ll need to do so manually. This isn’t ideal, and falls short of what other video editors offer. On the other hand, it makes sense to put you in full control of what video upload services you do or don’t use.
Here’s how my video turned out:
A Free Video Editor Anyone Can Use
And that’s all there is to it. Okay, so things can get complicated if you’re choosing too many options in the edit, but Shotcut is a straightforward video editing tool. It may not have the same depth of options as a tool like Adobe Premiere, but you’ll get the results you need. These are beyond what should be expected from free software!
Have you tried Shotcut? What did you think? Or are you using a different free or low-cost video editor? Tell us about it in the comments.
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