Video Editing on a Zero-Dollar Budget

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I as a (beginner) filmmaker usually produce films on a zero-dollar budget. Part-time work and full-time college doesn’t leave much money to spend on filmmaking. It’s hard to produce a film on a zero-dollar budget, but it is possible. Pre-production is nothing in the pocketbook. Everyone has paper, pens, and an imagination. Actual production is a little tougher. Usually everyone has a camera, whether it is a smartphone, mirrorless, or a DSLR. But if you need costumes, props, or even a good microphone, then the wallet takes a dent. But in post-production is where things get difficult. Creative toolkits like Adobe Creative Cloud offer applications like Premiere Pro and After Effects that the big kids use. There is a free trial, but after 30 days of using it you grow so accustomed to it that everything else looks lame. But there are alternatives out there for editing, and best of all, they’re free!

Non-Linear Video Editors

Non-linear is just a fancy word for editing non-destructively. Which is a fancy word for not damaging the original footage. Anyways, Adobe Premiere Pro is a good example of an Non-Linear Editor (NLE). Usually the standard “free” NLE would be something like iMovie on Apple products or Windows Movie Maker on Windows based products. Although both these NLEs can produce good results, I think they can limit one’s imagination. So here are three alternatives to expensive NLEs.

  1. Adobe Premiere Pro CS2
    Courtesy of www.imgkid.com
    Courtesy of www.imgkid.com

    Yep, that’s right. Premiere Pro is at the top of this list. A while back, Adobe’s licensing servers for CS2 had a technical difficulty, and instead of fixing it, Adobe decided to release that software suite for free. Although it’s 5 versions old, it stills works like a charm. It doesn’t have some effects like Warp Stabilizer, but many of the major features are there like color correction and non-linear editing. There is versions for Windows and Mac OSX, but the version for Mac doesn’t work with newer releases of the OS. The Windows version works all the way up to Windows 10. You will need a free Adobe account to download it, but that’s worth it for the product you get.

    Download: https://helpx.adobe.com/creative-suite/kb/cs2-product-downloads.html

  2. BlackMagic DaVinci Resolve 12
    Courtesy of www.cinema5d.com
    Courtesy of www.cinema5d.com

    DaVinci Resolve is a program designed for color correction and grading but recently has included the ability to edit video like any other NLE. Originally, this software came bundled with BlackMagic’s cameras but now they are offering a free version or a paid studio version on their website. They offer versions for Windows and Mac OSX. The software is resource intensive though, so it is recommended you have a somewhat powerful computer to use it to its full potential. Although you have to register to download the software, that is again a small price to pay for a great piece of software.

    Download: https://www.blackmagicdesign.com/products/davinciresolve

  3. HitFilm 3 Express
    Courtesy of Film Riot (YouTube)
    Courtesy of Film Riot (YouTube)

    HitFilm once started out as a professional NLE, with visual effects, and 3D compositing but now, they split the product into two separate items: Pro and Express. The Express version has all the features of the Pro version like 3D compositing, but to add effects to the program, you need to pay a small amount for a certain package. There is a free built-in effects package that covers a few things, but for serious visual effects you might want to see the next section on compositing software. They have both Windows and Mac OSX versions, but to download it, you need to share a link to their product on a social media network.

    Download: https://hitfilm.com/express

Video Compositing Software

If you are shooting on a zero-dollar budget then you most likely wont have a full-sized set to work with. Instead, you will probably be adding in your environment by keying out green screens and adding in false backgrounds. Any other VFX will need to be added in as well such as muzzle flashes, object removal, and even adding in objects just to name a few. Although popular software like Nuke and After Effects are paid, there are a few great free alternatives out there.

  1. Natron
    Courtesy of www.ubuntufree.com
    Courtesy of www.ubuntufree.com

    Natron is an open source project that uses node based compositing. Even though it’s free, it’s extremely powerful. A demo reel for Natron below shows the ability this program has. For people who have used or seen Nuke before, the interfaces are extremely similar. Natron isn’t that user friendly though. It’s interface is very intimidating, but with the hundreds of tutorials on YouTube, there is no excuse to not learn it. The developers just released the first 2.0 version so there’s lots to see. It’s available for Windows, Mac OSX, and all major Linux distributions.

    Download: http://natron.fr/

     

  2. Adobe After Effects CS2
    Courtesy of www. outside-hollywood.com
    Courtesy of www. outside-hollywood.com

    Yep, After Effects. Remember the free version of Premiere Pro CS2? Well, After Effects went free in that release too! Although it is missing some little features from the newer versions, the main features are still intact. Tracking, masking, color correction, it’s all there. After Effects is a layer based compositing application, unlike Natron or Nuke. It’s user interface is ugly in this older version, but it is much more intuitive to use than Natron or Nuke. Again, to download it you need to have an Adobe account and it is available for Windows and older versions for Mac OSX.

    Download: https://helpx.adobe.com/creative-suite/kb/cs2-product-downloads.html

     

  3. Nuke (Non-Commercial)
    Courtesy www.videoandfilmmaker.com
    Courtesy www.videoandfilmmaker.com

    Nuke is Hollywood level compositing software. Its been used in multiple movies, including Fast and Furious and the animated film Home. Just recently though, The Foundry released a version of Nuke for free, with non-commercial restrictions. Nuke and Natron are very similar, in interfaces and also in their abilities. Although Nuke is more industrialized in operation and well known in the filmmaking world, the free version is limited by the non-commercial agreement. That’s fine if it’s for personal use, but you can’t use it in a production you are going to make money on. Nuke is available for Windows and Mac OSX.

    Download: https://www.thefoundry.co.uk/products/nuke/non-commercial/

    NLE Audio Editors

    Although this article is generally focused on video editing, audio editing is also important in filmmaking. There are multiple audio editors out there for free, but here are a couple that stand out from the bunch.

    1. Audacity

     

    Courtesy of www.wikimedia.org
    Courtesy of www.wikimedia.org

    Audacity is extremely well known in the open source community. For the low price of free, Audacity is a great application to keep in your toolbox. It supports importing of nearly all major audio formats and supports exporting of MP3 files with the installation of the LAME codec. It’s available for Windows, Mac OSX, and all major distributions of Linux.

    Download: http://audacityteam.org/

    2. Adobe Audition CS2

    Courtesy of GermanTutorialsTV1 (YouTube)
    Courtesy of GermanTutorialsTV1 (YouTube)

    Again. Adobe CS2 was released for free with a host of other tools. Audition was one of those tools and works well with Premiere Pro. It has all major features that you would expect of an audio editor, and quite a few plugins. It’s available for Windows and older versions of Mac OSX.

    Download: https://helpx.adobe.com/creative-suite/kb/cs2-product-downloads.html


    That was an exhaustive list (not really) and hopefully that helps you in locating a good, free video (or audio) editor. I’m afraid I’m not much for helping you decide on which one, each is good in their own nature. Anyways, peacing out! ✌

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Joe Turman attended the 2015 Midwest Christian Filmmakers Academy, and has since been brought on as a writer for the MWCFA blog. Joe shares insights from the perspective of a beginning filmmaker!