In Part 2 of our How to Edit Better Videos series, we look at the key  rules for editing better video content, and then we give you some insights on how to break them!

How to Edit Better Videos Series – Part 2
7 Rules of Video Editing (and how to break them) featuring Walter Murch’s ‘Rule of Six’.

When I started to think about this blog and how I would approach it, I did a quick web-surf (as I often do at the start of an article or edit), to see how others had approached the subject. The first thing that became clear is that there is no end of people happy to plagiarize the work of others. The second was that most of them had chosen to plagiarize Walter Murch.

Walter Murch is a sound designer and film editor who has worked on many famous films including The Godfather II and III, Apocalypse Now, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Ghost, The English Patient and The Conversation. Murch is credited with being the first-ever sound designer, according to Indie Wire the term ‘audio designer’ was invented by Frances Ford Coppola, after Murch’s work on “Apocalypse Now” hit the cinemas in 1979.

It’s not surprising that so many people reference Walter Murch, his ‘Rule of Six’ editing techniques is a cool, succinct and descriptive summary of what makes great editing, which is why I am quoting them here. While not in any way pretending to own them, here’s my own interpretation of what his rules mean:

Walter Murch’s Rule of Six:

What the film makes you feel is the most important thing of all. This applies to all types of footage, not just movies. All films and videos tell a story, even if that story is as simple as ‘our product is the best’, and all aim to engage an audience using their emotions. Without that, they simply won’t care enough to watch the movie, buy your product, or sit through your holiday video.


How does editing improve the story or make it move forward? The editing process is all about telling the story or making it clearer. Edits are not placed just to link clips together, each one should be thought out and placed where it will work the best. In general, you want your audience to be able to follow the story easily (although there are exceptions to this rule). This is one of the great things about non-linear editing – you can take the next clip from anywhere, try it out, and move it if it isn’t enhancing the story. This principle even applies to things like using transitions – before you reach for that fancy transition, think about why you are placing it there.


Murch is not talking about music here, he means the rhythm of the film. This is harder to explain and, I think, is the real skill of the film or video editor. I’m not sure how you teach this one, or even if it can be learned if you don’t have a feel for it, kind of the film equivalent of being tone-deaf. But just like playing music, you can certainly improve your editing rhythm with time and practice, and by asking others to review your film efforts.

Ask for feedback, ask for honesty, and brace yourself – you may just get it! It can be difficult to work out the best place for a cut, but viewing someone else’s edit and picking it apart is almost instinctual. Never be upset if someone doesn’t like your cut, you can always do an ‘editors cut’ and it’s only their opinion, you don’t have to agree.


This rule is about the focus on the screen, the place where the audience is looking, and trying to make your edit flow with it (unless you’re after a jarring effect on purpose). Imagine your screen is cut into four quarters. Ideally, you want to try to keep the movement between cuts consistent, by keeping it focused on the quarter where your audiences’ eyes have just been focussed at the end of one clip and starting in the same quarter at the start of next clip. Basically, this just makes it flow and allows your audience to watch the action without disruption.


This is also called the 180° rule, and it’s one of the first things you learn in film school. Think of it this way; imagine that you’re filming a stage play from the front where the audience is. Crossing the ‘line’ would be the equivalent of going to the back of the stage behind the actors and filming from there back towards the audience. Mixing these two angles would be confusing to the viewer and make it hard to understand the flow of motion, for example, someone moves to the right from the front, but when you cut to the view from back-of-stage, they appear to have moved to the left. Murch’s example, where you want two people to appear to be looking at each other, is also covered by this rule (and can be surprisingly hard to achieve).


Similar to rule 5, except that you are now trying to ensure that the relationships in space within the frame make sense, and stick to the same flow of motion and spatial relationships. As an example, maybe the space had a large table in the centre of it. If you then showed the camera motion flowing across/over/through the same space where the table was, it might not make sense. If you showed characters moving around the room in a circle, this might make sense as you know from the previous shot that the table is there. This rule is also about making sure that people within the scene move in a way that makes sense in relation to space, objects in that space, and to one another. Here’s a well-known example of how you can break these last two, the dodge sequence from the Matrix:

Actually, the only part of this which ‘breaks the rules’ is the 360 around Neo, though this was quite a radical departure from convention when it was done. But notice that the exchange between the Agent and Neo is done along a central line of sight between the two – this makes the 360 camera-move ultimately more understandable visually. If they’d taken this eye-line shot from either the left or right of the two actors, the 360 would have seemed more confusing and jarring. Also, note how the rest of the scene pretty much sticks to the 180 rule – the shots are all from ‘stage right’ of the actors, and none from stage left.

You can see why so many people quote Walter’s six rules, they are a great description of key videography and editing must-haves, and perhaps because I’m also both a visual and a sound editor, I think he’s summed it up rather nicely. I also agree with him that the first three are the most important part of editing and that the others can be sacrificed in order of priority, to retain these first three key elements. I’d like to add one last rule of my own. This is a part of the Rhythm rule, and Murch also references this in his excellent book ‘In the blink of an eye: A perspective on film editing’ but I think it bears repeating due to its importance in video editing


Before and after each edit point, its ideal to have a bit of ‘breathing space’ in the footage. This space makes your edit flow much better, allowing the viewer a little time to ‘digest’ what they’ve seen before you move on. The single biggest issue I see in the footage I edit is the failure to leave breathing space either before the action (for instance, the action starts immediately after the director says ‘action’ so I have to edit out the director’s voice), or at the end of the section (the camera cuts immediately after the action, or the person filming taps the GoPro camera, or the actor relaxes their face and comes out of character, or the interviewer or subject makes a comment or any manner of other things).

I often get feedback that I’ve left in something that could be cut out – this is why. I’m leaving ‘breathing space’ in the cut so that the audience has time to digest what they’ve just seen before moving on to the next thing. Generally, when I cut this out and show my client how it looks, they agree that it’s better left in. This rule is also super-useful for videography: if you are filming, before you shoot a sequence, pause. After you finish shooting a sequence, pause again. There is a reason why in old movies or modern series about film or TV making in the ’50s and before, you will see the filmmakers count down from five ‘five, four, three’ and when they reach the number three, they do a silent count ‘two, one’ with their fingers. This was to leave a ‘breathing space’ in each shot for the editor to use, and it is no less necessary now than it was in the olden days of film-cutting.

That’s it for this post, in the next post What do video editors do, I’ll talk about the main elements of video editing. Until next time, happy movie making!

  • Thalia Kemp is the sound and video editor at Sonic Eye video in Sydney, Australia.