The Journey to Modern Non-Linear Editing (Part 1)


Welcome to Filmmaker – Join me as we
track the history of video and trace the journey to our to our modern concept of film and video
editing. Since the earliest filmmakers, there was always
a need for editing – cut out the boring bits and keep the good stuff. With good old fashioned
celluoid film, cutting apart and splicing pieces of film together is a rather intuitive
process. Editing Machines like the Moviola have been around since the 1930s with Steenbeck
flatbed editor becoming popular in the 1970s and still used in specialty circle today. So how did we move to a digital form – the
computer based “non-linear editing” machines that dominate the industry today? To answer that question – we need to dail
back the clock of history and look at the early days of the industry that was the impetus
for computerized editing: Television. Our story begins in the era of electronic
and mechanical engineers. Technologically speaking, the capability of broadcasting live
television signals started rather early in the twentieth century. In fact November 2,
1936 was when the BBC began transmitting the world’s first public regular television broadcast
service. But it had to go off air during World War
II. That war required world economies to switch gears and produce military supplies, prevented
the mass production and adoption of television. It wasn’t until 1948, three years after
the war ended, that the first commercial broadcasts of television began in the United States – the
medium caught on and exploded during the 50s. People could now watch shows and news broadcasts
in their homes… These shows were cut live in a studio that had several cameras hooked
up to a video switcher that could switch between cameras. This signal sent over the air and
through cables to affiliates in other parts of the network for broadcast. But Everything
had to be live as there was no way to electronically record the television signal. That was fine unless you wanted to delay the
broadcast – say for a far away part of the country that was in different time zone. To “record” television, the networks turned
to a device called a kinescope – which was quite simply a film camera focused on a video
monitor. The concept was simple but it was anything but. This process never did result
in really good image reproduction, there were a lot of technological hurdles, like ghosting
and banding – but the kinescope was an essential tool that started connecting the world together
through the medium of television. In 1951, once CBS and NBC had a coast to coast
network, they would produce a show in New York at 8PM Eastern time. Kinescopes in Los
Angeles which were 3 hours ahead would record signal through the network, and film was rushed
into development and then shown at 8PM on west coast pacific time, a process called
Hot Kinescope because the film didn’t even had a chance to cool from the development
process before it was sent to air. The demand for TV was great and by 1954, the
TV networks were actually using more raw film stock in their kinescopes than all of the
Hollywood film studios combined – spending up to $4,000 per half hour – $33,000 in today’s
money. The networks desperately needed a cheaper alternative. Magnetic tape had been used for audio recording
for years, but there were significant technological hurdles to actually getting a video image
on tape. In 1951 Engineers working for Bing Crosby’s production company – yep that Big
Crosby, were the first to record video images onto magnetic tape. Unfortunately they looked
terrible, but it was still an image and it proved it could be done. In 1956, after 5
years of hard work by brilliant engineers overcoming myriad of hurdles, Ampex would
release the first commercially available video tape recorder – the 2 Inch Quadruplex video
tape. Sales of the first video tape recorder went
through the roof when the company showcased it at the NAB convention in April of 1956.
Sales were so strong – they were taking orders on napkins. CBS was the first to put it to
use in a West Coast delay broadcast of “Douglas Edwards and the News” on November 30th,
1956. On January 22, 1957, the NBC game show “Truth
or Consequences” produced in Hollywood became the first television program to be broadcast
in all time zones from a pre-recorded video tape. By the 1959, videotape was almost fully accepted
by television industry and tape played an interesting role in a small Cold War confrontation.
That summer, the US Information Agency set up an exhibit in Moscow to show off American
progress and technology to the Russians. This included a model American home with a fully
decked out kitchen, and a model tv studio with its own Ampex video recorder. On July
24th, 1959 then Vice President Richard Nixon invited Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to
visit the display. Khrushchev was fascinated by the television studio and joined Nixon
for what was essentially a photo op in front of these cameras and new video tape technology.
The two started chatting and before long it turned into a full-blown debate on the merits
of capitalism and communism. Both leaders agreed that the exchange should
be played in full in their own countries – Ampex International president Philip Gundy rushed
the tape back to his hotel and wrapped it in a dirty shirt for his flight back to the
United States. Before it was aired American newspapers had reported the exchange as so
icy it practically started world war three… but when American TV networks played it the
next day what viewers actually saw were two leaders acting like politicians. Here you can see the type of tape which will
transmit this very conversation immediately and this indicates the possibilities of increasing
communication and this increase in communication will teach us some things and it will teach
you some things too. Because after all, you don’t know everything. Certainly it will. In fact. And with the same
token, same token. Everything that I say will be recorded and translated and will be carried
all over the Soviet Union – that’s a fair bargain. This Kitchen Debate as it came to be known
was a milestone for video tape proving the importance of the medium to world events. At this point tape was only being used for
archival and distribution purposes. It was possible to edit these early 2 inch Quadruplex
tapes: it was a similar process to cutting film but extremely more cumbersome: First
the tape had to be “developed” using extremely fine iron filings suspended in toxic and carcinogentic
carbon tetrachloride solution, making the magnetic bands on the tape visible when viewed
through a microscope so that they could be aligned in a specialized splicer which had
to cut the tape exactly during a vertical retrace signal without disturbing the odd/even-field
ordering… and since the video and audio read heads were several inches apart it was
not possible to make a physical edit that would function correctly in both video and
audio so the cut was made for video and a portion of audio then re-copied into the correct
relationship. And of course, you had to do all this without
actually seeing what frame you were on because the quadruplex tape was incapable of holding
still frames. NBC developed a work around using the tried
and true kinescopes – not for broadcast but for creating work prints – shows were edited
using these kinescope film prints which had audio cues which the editor could match back
when splicing the video tape. Known as ESG it was a process similar to what would later
be called Offline editing which essentially means editing with a lower quality copy of
the original raw material then assembling the high quality originals based on that edit. This technique would reach it’s height with
Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In in 1968 which required 350-400 tape splices and 60 hours
of physical splicing to build up just one episode. Laugh In ended up to be the only
program to actually use this technique extensively. Sock it to me. Sock it to me. Sock it to me.
Sock it to me. Sock it to yourself. Sock it to me??? There was another technique on editing video
coming into play – using two video decks, you could transfer the video from one deck
to the other and build up a show by assembling a bunch of different cuts one after the other
assembled in a linear fashion – this was linear editing. But again, it sounds simpler than
it was – for one how do you make sure the signals between the video decks matched up?
Before Linear editing became a popular solution it would require a few technological advancements. The first came In 1963 Ampex introduced the
Editec – an all electronic videotape recorder that had simple microprocessor that could
control in and out points marked by audible tones. Helical scan systems coming more into
use, wrapped the tape around a spinning read head. This could fit more bandwidth on the
tape which allowed you to pause and see individual frames making editing much easier. And in 1967 – the SMPTE timecode developed
by EECO and Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers was a way for a video
tape player to locate any frame on the tape as each frame was assigned “address” in
terms of hours, minutes, seconds and frames.. The practice of Timecode accurate Linear Editing
became common place in the 1970. We went from TV networks spending thousands per hour on
kinescope film and development fees, to now smaller market TV affiliates having their
own video editing systems to cut their own shows. But linear editing did nothing to advance
the craft creatively. Editing became almost a strictly technical profession – managing
large EDLs – edit decision lists that marked in and out points of clips to be used. And
because a show was assembled in a linear fashion, any changes to the beginning of a show would
mean everything after would have to be reassembled so there was no such thing as a rough cut. There was alternative starting to emerge – almost
a rejection of the strict time code rules of linear editing and going back to the freedom
of cutting actual film – a system that would eventually be called Non-Linear editing. Non
linear editing was nondestructive. You could assemble a cut in whatever order you wanted
and go back and make changes without disturbing the rest of the assembly. There was no generation
loss that you had with linear editing that required you to copy from one tape to another.
It was a much more natural way of editing. The first NLE was the CMX 600 in 1971 -it
was a beast of a machine that recorded half resolution black and white video files onto
washing machine size disk packs and cost a little over $250,000 in 1971 dollars – which
is about 1.2 million in 2013 money. Only 6 were produced. But the idea of editing nonlinearly was too
good to go to waste. Through the 80s it was really matter of waiting for computational
power and storage capability to catch up. You had a few experiments during this time
– notably the EditDroid which debuted at NAB in 1984 from a George Lucas spin-off company,
DroidWorks. This computer pulled footage stored on LaserDisks which really didn’t work very
well and the company shut down in 1987. Other machines tried using a bank of VCRs but they
were also slow and cumbersome. Then in 1988, EMC2 introduced the first All
Digital Offline NonLinear editor with data stored on optical disks This was followed a year later by the public
release of the Avid1 – a macintosh based Non Linear Editor in 1989. Avid would go on to
become the gold standard for editing in Hollywood. Let’s start with a few fundamentals, I have
a bin on this monitor organized as a list. Much easier to see though as images. As head
frames. I’m going to edit a sequence together very quickly in assemble edit. Grab the first
element, drag it to this window, the record window, and now I’ve made my first edit and
it shows up on this timeline. Second element and third element. In just a few seconds,
I put together the beginnings of a program. Storage was still a issue and these machines
could only edit short music videos and commercials. But In 1993, engineers added more storage
to an Avid System – debuting a 7 terabyte system capable of handling a feature length
film. Now these films were being cut “offline” – the reverse of NBC EGS method. They used
low quality tape to create a work cut and use the timecode to create an EDL which was
given to the Film Lab to assemble the original film prints. The first studio film cut on an Avid was Lost
in Yonkers in 1993 and just a few years later in 1996, editor Walter Murch would accept
the Oscar for Best editing for the English Patient which he cut offline on an Avid. Harry -what’s happening? Can’t see sir – over the road. Corporal?? Tank sir, I don’t know what it’s about. Stop them! Stop!! Harry! What is this? A bloody carnival?? The fuse has snapped! What’s happened? Is it armed? Hang on. I’ll be right with you. Can you see the detonator? You’ve got to cut it, that frost won’t last. Stop! Stop!! Slow down. Go away. Yes sir. This is making me incredibly angry. I know sir. Watch out birds. Can you feel them? Cut it sir. You gotta cut it. I don’t even know if this is the right wire. Choose, just choose a loop and cut it. From clumsy kinescope film to bulky magnetic
tapes which finally bring us to the first NLE systems which proved to be an important
creative tool just a few yearrs after it’s release, the path to modern editing in this
period has been dominated by some amazing achievements by electronics engineers. But
story is only half finished, as it enters the last part of the 20th century, computer
scientists, programmers, and mathematicians would pioneer the revolution that would join
film and television as more or less interchangeable visual mediums – a medium now accessible to
nearly everyone – It’s the story of digital which we’ll pick up in part 2 as we trace
the journey to modern editing.


76 Responses

  1. Filmmaker IQ

    May 20, 2013 11:47 am

    It's a mix of stuff found in articles on the web, videos – all put together to try to tell as coherent a story as we can.

  2. Gonçalo Costa

    May 20, 2013 9:18 pm

    Montage. Or maybe talk about the importance of the french school or my favourite , the sovietic school .

  3. Jarrod Tetreault

    May 20, 2013 10:03 pm

    I just LOVE the way you present the information. I don't know exactly how to say it, but it's like I start watching any of your clips, and I can not NOT watch. As if it's something I didn't know that I needed to know it, but once I start watching it, I realize that it will make me smarter…. not only that, but I also really enjoy learning from you. I once heard a quote about an author, when somebody said "You're like eating vegetables, and having it taste like dessert"… you're like that 🙂

  4. Victor Nguyen

    May 20, 2013 11:49 pm

    I love your videos because it provide new information and not the 3 point lighting guide like most others youtube channel.

  5. Nelson Smith

    June 13, 2013 1:50 pm

    Thank you so much. I'd never seen the Kitchen Debates before. It's rather remarkable that a medium so full of promise at it's outset has degenerated to reality television in our generation.

  6. tbip2001

    July 12, 2013 9:18 pm

    I have only just discovered this channel, but let me say these videos and your presentation skills are simply wonderful. I have just passed 2 hours without realising! Please keep them coming 🙂

  7. VoiceoverIsland

    July 19, 2013 4:45 pm

    Congratulations on an outstanding presentation. I spent the years from 1977 to '07 as a commercial producer in New York. You've neatly compressed the evolution of video editing that I lived through in those 30 years. The first TV spots I made were on 2" quad; the last used mini DV for source material. I appreciate that you gave credit to Bing Crosby. He may or may not have been a good dad, but he is the father of both audio and video tape, through his funding of Ampex research.

  8. xxiya521

    September 13, 2013 8:31 am

    I love ur what are u teaching about ,And the way better than my Proffessor,thanks so much ur video,hope u can make more nice film video to teach us,Can i have a suggest?see, i cam a Asian ,and I love ur Teaching Video,But i am not good at english ,must of time only can under stand Can u post video with the english subtitles ?then many pepole all over the world who doesnt read english well still can understand ur video show ,thanks so much ^^

  9. Filmmaker IQ

    September 13, 2013 5:43 pm

    Check out the link in the video description – it links to the course we have on the site and the written page is essentially the script that I'm reading off:

  10. matt2ology

    October 22, 2013 7:07 am

    In regards to offline editing are there any differences between that and what is now proxy file-editing?

  11. David Campbell

    January 13, 2014 10:44 pm

    in all seriousness, this video should be playing in the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit Michigan…and if they don't have a film area (which if remember correctly, they do have some sort), then this should be the FIRST!

  12. zhatdude

    January 20, 2014 4:24 pm

    This is an absolutely amazing video! It was well-made with great visuals, and kept my attention the whole time.

  13. KarlBunker

    February 2, 2014 12:59 am

    I got so caught up by that scene from The English Patient that I was zoned out for the next few sentences of John Hess's lecture when he came back. A nice demonstration of the power of editing.

  14. Noah DeBonis

    March 31, 2014 4:52 pm

    Great stuff from you guys!  I'm a film professor and I use your videos as educational resources to supplement my lectures.  Great work and thank you for the smart, informative, and entertaining videos.

  15. nictheartist

    April 8, 2014 9:57 am

    My first go at editing was copying from camcorder (those giant things back then) to VHS tape. So grateful for digital, so convenient, and you can add titles and music, and do green screen, and….

  16. Becky Morris-Ashton

    February 11, 2015 7:57 pm

    Please I need help like right now, I just wanted to know, is everything that he mentions in this video all non-linear or are some parts linear?

    If anyone knows please could you help me out and leave a reply, thanks 🙂

  17. Filmmaker IQ

    February 11, 2015 8:18 pm

    @Becky Morris-Ashton – everything mentioned up to about 12:55 is what would be considered Linear editing.

  18. Artist Film

    March 18, 2015 10:59 am

    I used windows movie maker to edit on for the longest time but moved on to premiere pro in late 2014. Both were and are a fantastic learning experience. I don't care if I wasn't around when the old fashioned editing machines were being used, I'll always have a deep appreciation for them. The old b&w films we watch today to learn from were most likely cut on those machines.

  19. JP Kloess

    December 3, 2015 12:52 am

    Oh you jerk. You let the tension build and then cut before we could see the ending of the bomb clip. Did they make it!?

  20. Too Much Candor

    January 12, 2016 5:52 am

    After reading the title of this video I was expecting a lecture on Tarantino's narrative style. Still wasn't disappointed though 😛

  21. johneygd

    February 3, 2016 12:35 pm

    Editdroid and the avid/1 may be the most advanced NLE systems from the 80's,whoooaaah dit 7 terabyte of disk space already existed back in 1993?,holy sh!t.

  22. Steven Noblin

    March 7, 2016 8:28 am

    Ah, The English Patient, I hated that film, I worked in a theater during its debut and at times every 10 mins or so it would break. If I recall a lot of other theaters had the same problem with that film. one day I will watch it and hopefully something does not break.

  23. SkuldChan42

    May 12, 2016 7:07 am

    I first started editing in the early 90s – all linear, but one thing that helped was video LAN (rs422) and computer control of the switcher and the VTR. Reassembling the entire production for changes was as easy as popping all the tapes in and hitting go.

  24. sarnobat2000

    May 23, 2016 6:25 am

    4:00 One thing I don't understand – if movies existed in the 1930s why was it not possible to record videos onto tape until the 1950s?

  25. roy Yung

    August 12, 2016 6:08 pm

    I actually worked on the very early quad machines doing physical editing. I have worked on every machine Ampex made. And WABD was a network is the longest on-air broadcast network in the world. It is still on the air as the Fox network now. I must point out, the electronic editing on quad machines had two modes of editing: assembly and insert. if you were building a show in a "linear" fashion, you would choose assembly mode, if you were modifying a show, you used insert mode. the difference was thay in assembly mode, the record machine layed down a new control track, where in insert mode, the control track was preserved. also in assembly there was not really a defined "out" point as it didn't matter because the next segment was going to write over the last bit of previous segment. Also the Editec system invented by Ampex, never had a microprocessor. Edited was merely a tone on the question track that signaled the in/out point of the edits. After editec came a timecode editor that used thumbwheels to set in/out points on Ampex equipment. Ampex was king of broadcast video tape. In fact the word "video tape" was copywrited by Ampex. RCA had to call it "television tape"
    also I must comment on the CMX 600system (which I worked on) it was the first system to use a light pen interface, I can only store 20 min of b&w images onto a sea of 300mb disk drives. the result was an edl on an 8" floppy to be used in an online CMX online edit system, where the actual edits took place. you could NEVER use the video output on the CMX 600 system, only output was an EDL.
    One of the companies I worked for obtained to source code for the online CMX editor and Re wrote it to use up to 26 video/audio sources (even film projectors) that used timecode.
    to standing a room with over 20 2" video tape machines, either playing back or locating thier cue points was a thing of beauty. if one machine could not reach its que point in time, the sysyem would stop the record and first input machine, wait for the second input machine to reach its cue point, then it would rewind the first input machine and the record machine to do an automatic "match cut", then do the edit it was supposed to do.
    At the time, I was the youngest ever to be nominated for an Emmy for editing. I remember when the world switched to tape from live. Sad moment.

  26. framedheart

    October 17, 2016 5:52 pm

    Is there any video in Youtube that shows film editors from the first era of Hollywood working? Where you can see the old cutting machines and tables in action.

  27. Leo Comerford

    December 22, 2016 12:05 pm

    4:02 Broadcast-quality audio tape hadn't been around all that many years by then. According to WP Crosby's 1947 radio broadcasts from high-fidelity tape were the first ever in the US. Transcription discs and older tape and wire systems had existed before, but the quality was poor, and that (plus limited recording time on transcription discs) had limited their use by radio stations. Bing had had to push ABC into letting him record his 1946-47 show on transcription discs, and the result had been poor sound quality.

    (While Bing Crosby hated the limitations of live broadcast, they turned out to be the making of Benny Goodman! In 1935 his struggling band was given a 12:30AM graveyard slot in New York, but that happened to be 9:30PM Pacific, and so the band developed a strong West Coast following without even realising it. )

  28. Otacílio Ribeiro do Amaral Neto

    April 27, 2017 2:44 pm

    The first company that was able to record the image on tape was the BBC with the Vera system and not the Bill Cosby team, and the BBC system was created a decade earlier.

  29. Toasted Synapse Gaming

    July 29, 2017 2:19 pm

    Speaking about editing, your cut after the 18:05 mark came over the climax of the film 😛

  30. Wallace

    September 1, 2017 9:06 pm

    Somewhere in my loft, I have a 2" editing block….I seem to remember you could make edit points 'on the fly' by pressing the 'cue tone' button on an AVR2 that would record a blip of audio tone on the 2" cue track. This would show up under the microscope when treated with the 'edivue' iron fillings solution so you could literally cut the tape in the right place !
    It seems a long, long way away from where we are now with Avid and FCP !

  31. Stephen Baldassarre

    October 21, 2017 8:08 pm

    To be exact. Helical scan has little to do with bandwidth. Quad scanned the tape transversely, limiting the number of lines that could be read by the rotating drum. It required 4x heads on the drum to get a whole frame per rotation, hence the name "quadruplex". Helical scan allowed one head to read the entire frame in one pass, but the bandwidth is similar to quad decks. BTW, I still think 1" Type-C can look quite good under the right conditions. It was a staple of television production till the late 80s.
    Any way, great work as always.

  32. Christopher Prentice

    August 26, 2018 2:19 am

    (Gah, so close to being your thousandth like!) Again, thank you for all the great knowledge you share in your vids. Must cut this comment short to get to part 2!

  33. BilisNegra

    January 15, 2019 9:38 am

    13:55 I'll lay in my grave without having earned that much during my entire life even if I lived to be 90! (Granted I have a junk job, but that's remarkable anyway).

  34. Peter Bacon

    February 5, 2019 8:44 pm

    One thing to note: even though EditDroid never became a commercial success, it still played a large part in the advancement of NLE systems by selling their software to Avid, which became the foundation for Avid Media Composer.

  35. MrTim63

    February 23, 2019 2:04 pm

    I was fortunate enough to have started working in television when I was 16, in 1980. My father started 20 years before me and spoke about the major pain of developing and cutting video tape. This was the 1st time I ever saw an image of the process. Thanks, even if I'm 5 years too late.

    I've edited on all these devices and more. This brought back so many memories.

  36. gpwgpw555

    February 25, 2019 4:15 am

    It is worth mentioning that before the coast to coast network, kinescopes were made in New York and shipped to the west cost to be broadcast one week later. And they were flown to Hawaii. . . And the old "I Love Lucy" show was filmed live with multiple cameras in LA edited and shipped to the east coast for broadcast.

  37. videolabguy

    March 5, 2019 9:32 am

    I was lead engineering technician on the assembly line of the Sony BVE-3000 electronic editor in Palo Alto California, 1984. Three one inch type C VTRs (at my work station), built in audio and video switcher SEGs it was a full college education worth of knowledge for me. It was not even the best loved controller of the Sony series. But, it means a lot to me. I collect old video gear today and I have one of these editors in my collection. Long past its due date, all we can do is look at the silent carcass with love and longing. I'm good friends with the founder of Avid and know or met many of the big names in the industry, especially the VTR design team at Ampex.

  38. BrennFilm

    September 17, 2019 3:23 pm

    I cut my first short film, shot on 16mm, scanned to video and EDL turned to cut list in 1991. I used a demo system from Avid. Blown up stamps for video, but still… 🙂


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