Modern vs Traditional Film Editing: A Guide
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 8 min read


  1. What is traditional film editing?
  2. Tools used in traditional film editing
  3. Pros and cons of traditional film editing
  4. What is modern film editing?
  5. Software used in modern film editing
  6. Advantages and disadvantages of modern film editing
  7. Comparison between modern and traditional film editing
  8. How to choose between modern and traditional editing

Film editing, whether modern or traditional, is the backbone of the cinematic experience. When done right, it can make or break a film. This guide will take you on a journey through the merits and demerits of modern vs traditional film editing techniques. So, grab a cup of coffee, sit back, and let's explore the intriguing world of film editing.

What is traditional film editing?

Before the advent of digital technology, traditional film editing was the go-to method for filmmakers. This involved physically cutting and splicing film strips to create a seamless narrative. Imagine you're a painter, but instead of colors and brushes, you're working with reels of film. Just like how a painter carefully selects each color, as a traditional film editor, you would carefully select each frame to create a beautiful masterpiece.

Traditional film editing has a tactile and raw feel to it. With each cut and splice, you can feel the film in your hands. It's a process that requires patience, precision, and a keen eye for detail. Here's a quick look at the process:

  1. Footage is shot on film reels: These reels, often 35mm or 16mm, capture the raw footage of your film.
  2. Developing the film: The film reels are then developed in a darkroom, much like how you would develop photographs.
  3. Cutting and splicing the film: Using a specialized tool known as a splicer, the editor would then cut and splice the film to create the desired sequence.
  4. Previewing the sequence: Once the sequence is created, it's projected on a big screen for review and further editing.

It's a laborious process, yes, but for many, the hands-on nature of traditional film editing is a part of its charm. But like any technique, it has its own set of merits and demerits. So, let's dive into those in the next section.

Tools used in traditional film editing

Traditional film editing may sound a bit archaic in today's digital age, but it's far from primitive. It involves the use of some fascinating tools that help achieve the desired cinematic experience. Let's take a look at some of these tools:

  1. Film Splicer: This tool is used to cut and join the film strips. The precision it offers is unmatched, making it a critical part of the traditional film editing toolbox.
  2. Viewer: A viewer is used to examine the film frame by frame. It allows the editor to carefully select the scenes that make it into the final cut.
  3. Moviola: This is a device that allows the editor to preview the edited reel. It's like a mini cinema in your editing room!
  4. Film Reels: These are the physical film strips where the footage is captured. Each reel is a canvas waiting to be painted on by the editor.

These tools, combined with the skill and creativity of the editor, are what bring the magic of traditional film editing to life. But it's not all rosy. Traditional film editing has its fair share of drawbacks, which we'll explore in the next section. Stay tuned!

Pros and cons of traditional film editing

Now that we've got a grasp on the tools used in traditional film editing, let's discuss the merits and demerits of these techniques.

On the plus side, traditional film editing has a certain charm to it. The tactile experience of physically handling the film and cutting it to the desired length can be incredibly satisfying. This hands-on process allows for a deeper connection to the work, which some argue can enhance creativity. Plus, it's worth noting that working with film can produce a distinct aesthetic that digital formats often struggle to replicate.

But let's not forget that every coin has two sides. One of the major demerits of traditional film editing techniques is the time it can take. Manually cutting and splicing film is a labor-intensive process, which can slow down the overall production timeline. Additionally, film stock can be costly and isn't reusable, which adds to the project's budget. There's also the risk of damaging the film during the editing process, and unlike digital files, there's no "undo" button in traditional film editing.

So, is traditional film editing a relic of the past? Or does it still hold value in our modern, digital world? Keep reading to find out!

What is modern film editing?

Stepping away from the world of traditional film editing, let's jump into the realm of modern film editing. Unlike traditional editing, modern film editing involves the use of digital technologies to manipulate film footage. Instead of physically cutting and splicing film, modern editors work with digital files on computer software. This shift has significantly changed the film editing landscape over the past few decades.

Modern film editing, also known as non-linear editing, offers a versatile and flexible approach to film editing. With the ability to move scenes around at will, modern editing allows for a more dynamic and iterative process. You can experiment with different cuts, transitions, and effects without the fear of irreversible changes. If you don't like an edit, you can simply hit the "undo" button and try something else!

But before we get too engrossed in the wonders of modern editing, let's not forget that technology, like everything else, comes with its own set of merits and demerits. Intrigued? Stay tuned as we dive into the pros and cons of modern film editing techniques in the next section.

Software used in modern film editing

In the world of modern film editing, software is the magic wand that makes the magic happen. And there are plenty of options out there, each with its own set of features, strengths, and weaknesses.

One of the key players in the field is Adobe Premiere Pro. This software is highly popular due to its user-friendly interface, extensive feature set, and compatibility with other Adobe programs. From creating simple cuts to complex color grading, Premiere Pro has got your back.

Then there's Final Cut Pro, an Apple-owned software which is known for its speed and efficiency. If you're an Apple user, you might find Final Cut Pro a perfect fit for your editing needs.

Another software that deserves a mention is Avid Media Composer. This software was designed specifically for film and television post-production. It's a bit trickier to master but is a favorite among Hollywood editors.

For those who are just starting their editing journey or working on a tight budget, software like DaVinci Resolve and Lightworks offer free versions with an impressive array of features.

Remember, the choice of software can significantly impact your editing process, so choose wisely. But also, keep in mind that it's not just about the software. It's about how you use it to bring your vision to life. So, are you ready to discover the merits and demerits of these modern film editing techniques? Let's move on to the next section.

Advantages and disadvantages of modern film editing

Just like a coin, modern film editing techniques come with two sides — the advantages and the not-so-advantageous aspects. So, let's break down the merits and demerits of modern film editing techniques.

On the brighter side, modern software provides a vast array of tools that make the editing process faster and more efficient. You can cut, crop, merge, add effects, and color grade with just a few clicks. Also, with digital editing, there's no risk of damaging the original film, and it's easy to make and revert changes.

Additionally, modern film editing software often includes features for sound editing and visual effects, eliminating the need for separate software. And with the advent of cloud technology, collaboration has become a breeze. You can share your projects with team members anywhere in the world — all in real time.

However, it's not all sunshine and rainbows. One of the main drawbacks of modern editing techniques is that they require a significant investment in software and hardware. High-quality editing software can be pricey, and you also need a powerful computer to run them smoothly. Plus, there's the learning curve. Mastering these tools takes time and practice.

Another downside is that the ease of use can sometimes lead to over-editing. It's easy to get carried away with all the options and end up with a final product that looks overly polished or unnatural.

In conclusion, modern film editing techniques have their share of merits and demerits. It's about finding the right balance and knowing when to use which tool. But how does this compare to traditional film editing? Let's find out in the next section.

Comparison between modern and traditional film editing

Now that we've looked at both traditional and modern film editing techniques, it's time to bring them face to face. Let's compare the merits and demerits of modern vs traditional film editing techniques.

First off, speed and efficiency are major factors. Traditional film editing involves physically cutting and splicing film strips, which can be time-consuming. Modern film editing, on the other hand, is done digitally, making the process faster and more efficient. With the right tools, you can edit a scene in minutes that would take hours using traditional methods.

However, traditional film editing has a tactile quality that some editors find satisfying. It's a hands-on process, like sculpting or painting, which can feel more creative and personal. Modern film editing, while efficient, can sometimes feel detached and mechanical in comparison.

When it comes to flexibility, modern film editing takes the cake. With digital, you can experiment with different edits without permanently altering the original footage. In contrast, changes made in traditional film editing are permanent — once you cut a film strip, there's no going back.

But here's an interesting twist: the permanence of traditional film editing can actually be a plus. It forces editors to think carefully before making each cut, potentially leading to a more thoughtful and deliberate final product.

Lastly, let's talk about cost. The initial investment for modern film editing can be high, considering the price of software and hardware. However, once you have the tools, the cost per edit is virtually zero. Traditional film editing, while cheaper to start, involves ongoing costs for film stock, chemicals, and other supplies.

In conclusion, both modern and traditional film editing have their pros and cons. It's not about which is better overall — but which is better for you and your project.

How to choose between modern and traditional editing

Now, you might be wondering: "So, how do I choose between modern and traditional film editing techniques?"

Good question! The answer really depends on your specific needs and preferences. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Your Budget: If you're on a tight budget, traditional film editing might be the way to go. It requires less upfront investment as compared to modern editing, which often necessitates expensive software and hardware. However, do remember that traditional film editing has ongoing costs for materials.
  • Your Time: If you're pressed for time, modern film editing is definitely faster. Thanks to digital technology, you can make and undo edits at the click of a button.
  • Your Craft: If you enjoy the tactile nature of traditional film editing, it might be worth the extra time and effort. There's something deeply satisfying about physically cutting and splicing film strips.
  • Your Flexibility: If you like to experiment with different edits, modern film editing gives you room to play. You can try out different cuts and transitions without making any permanent changes to the original footage.

Remember, there's no 'one-size-fits-all' answer when it comes to choosing between modern and traditional film editing techniques. It's about finding the method that best suits your project, your working style, and your artistic vision. So, take your time, weigh the merits and demerits of each, and make a decision that feels right for you. Happy editing!

If you enjoyed exploring the differences between modern and traditional film editing, we highly recommend Jessy Moussallem's workshop, 'How To Edit A Movie: Guide To Film & Video Editing.' Delve into the intricacies of film and video editing, and enhance your skills as an editor by learning from an industry expert. Don't miss out on this opportunity to elevate your editing prowess!