Storytelling in the Edit: 5 Essential Principles | Dandan Liu | Skillshare

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Storytelling in the Edit: 5 Essential Principles

teacher avatar Dandan Liu, Filmmaker | Contemplative Creative

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      Course Intro


    • 2.

      Class Project


    • 3.

      Show, Don't Tell


    • 4.

      Letting Visuals Breathe


    • 5.

      Creating Continuity: Sound


    • 6.

      Creating Continuity: Closeups


    • 7.



    • 8.

      Bonus: Everything Serves the Story


    • 9.

      Bonus: Invisible Editing


    • 10.

      Thank you!


    • 11.

      Exciting Updates


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About This Class

Just learned how to edit your footage, but want to take your storytelling to the next level? 

This class is a companion course to the more technical, Power Video Editing course. While the latter course addresses the nuts and bolts of how to use Adobe Premiere Pro, this course is story-based, addressing 5 essential principles you can apply to your edit to make your story more powerful. 

This course features a mini assignment for each lesson, so you can directly apply every principle to your edit. It will guide you to step back and view your film critically to make better creative revisions. 

By the end of this course, you will have a re-edited version of your work-in-progress ready to post!

These principles were learned on the field from award-winning industry film editors. 


  • How to show, not tell 
  • How to use visuals to their maximum potential
  • How to enhance continuity with sound
  • How to take advantage of close-up shots
  • How to think creatively and critically about your transitions 
  • How to refine your edit 
  • Bonus tips!


A revised version of your work-in-progress to post on the community page for review. 

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Dandan Liu

Filmmaker | Contemplative Creative

Top Teacher

Hi there! I'm Dandan, an Emmy award-winning filmmaker and contemplative creative living in Italy.

As a self-taught filmmaker, I love foraging for unique stories around the world that illuminate the interconnections among us. I started making films while on a 4 year journey living in monasteries around the world. One film led to the next, and after persevering for many years, I found myself working full time on film crews and streaming my films on Roku, Apple TV, museums, trains, and airplanes.

My highest work is helping others craft an authentic, creative, and mindful life- your unique work of art. I believe that knowing who you truly are is the foundation for flourishing in every area of life. So, I founded Unravel, a playful journey of self discovery, which has... See full profile

Level: Beginner

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1. Course Intro: You just came from editing your first film and feel comfortable using editing suites, but what can you do next to grow as an editor. I remember wondering the same thing after making my first phone, but feeling overwhelmed and bewildered at all there was to learn in the editing sphere. I created this course to share five key editing insights and techniques that will help you deepen your storytelling, and take your editing to the next level. Let's get started. 2. Class Project: Your class project will be to re-edit one of your short films using the lessons learned in this course. Then, post a "before" and "after" version on the community page. 3. Show, Don't Tell: Number 1, show, don't tell. The biggest mistake I've made and see in first-time editors is relying too much on dialogue to tell the story. While the dialogue is great, it's often the case that if there is a visual that can express the same thing that is worth more than a 1, 000 words, it's more powerful to just let the visual speak for itself, unhindered by words. Here's an example of a before version of a scene where this really guy talks about the conflict between Israel and Palestine and how much the land means to him. What is surprising is that the village Arabs believe in what I believe. He loves the land and he won't be willing to give it up. For me, land is much higher than money, for me land is much higher than a lot of other stuff. It's for having a family. Family is a value I suppose. Although I want to live, for what? I want to live for my land and I'm willing to facet, and I understand also that it has a side-end for charity. But we both love the land and we both want different things for the land so fact about them. As you saw, there was a lot of talking in there and a lot of repeated sentiments. To boil it down which, Shay was essentially expressing was how much the land meant to both the Palestinians and Israelis, and how the desire to keep this land for the communities and families leads to fighting between them. Because I had footage that expressed all of this, I removed Shay's talking and let the visuals express themselves. Notice how much more powerful the film becomes. If you work in the land, and I worked, and I built a spring, and I planted trees. You cannot just give it up. What is surprising is that, the village Arabs believe in what I believe. He loves the land, and he won't be willing to give it up. Your assignment is to go through your film and look for any redundancy. Is there anything said that can instead be expressed with a visual? If so, try removing the talking and see if that enhances your story. 4. Letting Visuals Breathe: Two, let your visuals breathe. An interesting study has shown how the average shot length in cinema has been shorter and shorter over time. However, as this has happened, it's often the case nowadays that shots are not given enough time or space to fully express themselves, which can either cut off from the emotional potential of the story or not let your story develop enough. In contrast, longer shots can give viewers time to think, absorb what just happened in your story, and let your story mature. Pauses can add power. The Coen brothers are great examples of storytellers who let their visuals express themselves. Your assignment is to go through a film and see whether adding extra space to your visuals or adding a pause, can add power to your story. 5. Creating Continuity: Sound: Third, using sound to create a seamless transition. Here is a neat trick known as a J cut, which is basically when you take a little bit of the sound from the following scene and underlay it under the previous scene to create a sense of continuity. To smoothen my cut, I use the sound from the following scene or lower takes a ballet class, an underlay it under the preceding shot where she's entering the building. Take a look at the effect. Or you can do with Director David Lean was famous for, which was cutting on a sound effect to create a seamless transition. Your assignment is to go through your film and see whether playing with sound can help create a sense of continuity between your scenes. 6. Creating Continuity: Closeups: Number four, using close ups shots to create a sense of continuity between cuts. One of the biggest mistakes I've seen in first-time filmmakers and one that I made myself when starting out was only getting wide shots or mid shots to get coverage but leaving no close up shots to cut to. Besides creating a sense of continuity between cuts, close up shots can also add key detail and make us feel like we're right there with your character. So your assignment is to go through your film and see whether adding any close up shots can heighten the emotionality, plot or help create a sense of continuity between two cuts. 7. Transitions: Five transitions. While transitions are the silent storyteller of film they're often neglected with a simple cut to black or dissolve. However, transitions can be powerful opportunities to tell your story. Just as the famous composer Claude Debussy said, that music is in the space between the nodes. So start thinking out of the box with your transitions. For example, you can go from aloud, intense seem to one that is still in silent. Whoever wins the war, the land is, his As a Palestinian, peace to me means equality. You can also get pretty darn creative and witty when it comes to your transitions and use them to drive your story forward in space and time. Here are some examples from the show, Stranger Things. Your mom doesn't knock? So your assignment is to go through your film and see whether you can add any type of creative transition, such as the one revolving around contrast to further develop your story. 8. Bonus: Everything Serves the Story: Bonus tip, but this is probably the most important. Everything serves the story. When it comes to editing, less is more. Even if you have a beautiful shot, if it does not serve the story, then your story is better without it. I know it can be really painful to cut your babies, especially if your shots took a long time to get or just beautiful. But trust me on this one. If your shot does not serve the story, then your story is better without it. Your assignment is to go through a film, and see whether every shot serves your story. To help you do this, mute your film and look at your sequence of shots. If you find one that does not serve your story or weakens the momentum of it, then try removing it and see whether that makes your story more powerful. 9. Bonus: Invisible Editing: Another bonus tip, invisible editing. One way you know you did a good job with your edit is if no one can tell that your film has been edited in the first place. Your assignment is to go through your film, maybe with a few friends and see whether there are any cuts that are still visible or anything left that still distracts the viewer's attention away from your film. If there are, smooth that cut, keep refining your film until there are no trace of the editor left. 10. Thank you!: I hope you found these tips and tricks helpful and feel like you can now apply them to take your editing to another level. If you have any remaining questions, feel free to send them my way as I am here to support you. Thank you so much for taking this course, and I wish you all the best in your editing journey. See you next time. Bye. 11. Exciting Updates: If you like this course, I invite you to sign up for my newsletter where I share exciting updates, high value insights, and curated inspiration. Link on my course instructor page.