How to Edit a Horror Movie
By Rianne Hill Soriano
Updated September 22, 2017
Items you will need
Video footage and sound and music elements to be used for the horror movie
Editing a horror movie requires understanding of film language. This includes knowledge of how shot size and camera movements affect the scenes in a movie, how lighting, sound, props and sets affect the mood and feel of scenes, how actors’ performances establish and progress emotions in the story, among many other audio-visual elements that allow the story to unfold in the way you intend. For the horror genre, it is also essential to convincingly provide scary and creepy elements on screen.
Read the script and study the storyboard or other production documents related to understanding the story and vision for the movie. Review the shot list used during the shoot to familiarize yourself with the footage shot for the production. This provides you a gist of how to establish your editing work flow. For instance, if there are chroma scenes shot on green screen, this means that the green screen background on these special effects shots will still be replaced by another computer-generated image (CGI) or a separately shot live action background. Most large-scale productions require the editor to coordinate with the movie's special effects team to determine the work flow and schedule acquiring the final special effects scenes for editing.
Create a new project in your preferred video-editing program. Some of the popular programs widely used both in personal and professional productions include Final Cut Pro, Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premier Pro and Sony Vegas.
Gather all video and audio materials you need for editing, then import them in your editing program using the "Import" button. The location of this editing function depends on the program you use. It is usually found under the program's "File" menu.
Assemble your video and sound elements together in your editing program’s “Timeline,” the work area where the actual editing process gets done. Since the footage shot by the production is not necessarily in chronological order, it is your responsibility as the editor to place them in the order the story will unfold in the final movie. From the “Import” or “Clips” window in your project, drag each shot into the “Timeline” for the rough assembly of the movie. Depending on your own judgment and any instruction from the movie’s producer or director, you may or may not place multiple takes on a single shot during this rough assembly. Make sure that all the primary sound elements for the videos are in sync.
Remove the shot IDs and extra parts on each clip. Shooting a movie requires extra few seconds before and after the actual shot needed in the script to serve as allowance when editing. Depending on the editing program used, the basic tool used to trim down your video and audio clips is called the “Razor” or “Cutting” tool.
Start removing any extra takes by deciding which ones will work best on the story. For a horror movie, utmost priority is given not only to the continuity of each shot and the emotional progression reflected on the sequencing of the shots, but also the scare and shock factors that can make the scenes more effective under the horror genre.
Polish the scenes by providing insert shots and even altering the initial order of shots in your edit to create more frightening scenes. Make sure that the story flow is both logical and creative so that the movie’s audience can better appreciate the storytelling. Add transition effects, especially for flashback scenes and scenes that denote passage of time. Include the opening and closing credits and additional special effects required to finalize the video edit.
Lay-in the final audio mix that came from the movie's sound designer. These leveled audio elements are based from the works of the sound editor, sound mixer and musical scorer. Make any necessary adjustment to the video to match it with the audio mix, if needed.
Color grade your video using your editing program's “Color Grading” function. It is also possible to do this outside the editing program by using a separate color grading program. The color grading process is similar to altering the overall look of a photo in an image-editing program. This allows you to change the colors, hues, contrast and saturation of your video. In horror movies, dark and scary visual elements are usually finalized during this process. The use of more shadows and shades that make scenes look more eerie are important in the movie’s final look.
Render the video to generate the final footage based on the effects and video alterations you made in your edit. An editing program’s “Render” function is usually found under the “Sequence,” “Video,” or “Effects” menu.
Export the final horror movie in your preferred movie file format. Some of these popular formats include MOV, AVI, WMV and MP4 files. The “Export” button is typically found under the program's “File” menu.
When editing a horror movie, the scary elements seen and heard by the viewers are essential parts of the movie edit. Match your editing with the scratchy and creepy sound elements and choose the best shots that provide thrilling and frightening atmospheres in your edit.
Pace the cutting and prolonging of your shots according to the nature of the action shown in every scene. Make variations on the pacing and rhythm of your edit to provide more thrill and suspense to your horror movie.
Rianne Hill Soriano is a freelance artist/writer/educator. Her diverse work experiences include projects in the Philippines, Korea and United States. For more than six years she has written about films, travel, food, fashion, culture and other topics on websites including Yahoo!, Yehey! and Herword. She also co-wrote a book about Asian cinema.