INSTRUCTION - Filmmaking Word - NLE - Basic Filmmaker EP 217

When you get into video editing, the first term you get hit in the face with NLE.  If you search for what NLE is, you get this nonsense:

“NLE: A non-linear editing system (NLE) is a video (NLVE) or audio editing (NLAE) digital audio workstation (DAW) system that performs non-destructive editing on source material. The name is in contrast to 20th century methods of linear video editing and film editing.”

Seriously, do people get that definitions are supposed to help the person who doesn’t know what it means - to know what it means?


It used to be that a video or film was shot, then turned into a reel of film with all the pictures on it one after another.  Editors would literally slice and cut out the unneeded or unwanted parts, and glue the film back together until they had a whole film.  This in essence was editing, and it was edited frame by frame, one after the other.  It was done in a linear or straight line fashion.

Many people think that NLE, or non-linear editing, means it’s not done in a straight line, one frame after the other, like linear editing.  Although this is true to some degree, non-linear editing actually refers to it being non-destructive editing.

They took the term linear editing, which is destructive editing, and added non to it, meaning nondestructive editing.  In other words, you’re not slicing up the source material, the film or video, which is destructive.

In non-linear editing, think of it as non-destructive editing.  You are editing the recorded film or audio without changing it in any way.  The software you use to edit video is an NLE, non-linear editor, which means it is a non-destructive editor.

This leads us into a common misconception amongst people new to video editing. 

If you open a word processing document, chop out this middle text, and save it. when you re-open it, the text chopped out is gone forever.  This is how most every program you use on your computer works.

When you add a video into an NLE, and chop the middle part out of the video and save it, the original video placed in the editor has NOTHING was done to the original file.  It’s non-destructive, in other words, the original video was not altered or changed in any way.  The same goes for audio in an NLE video editor.

One reason for doing this way is it is very, very fast.  The video editor keeps track of where to start playing the video or audio, to the first cut, then jumps instantaneously to the second part and continues playing that.

If the software had to manipulate these files and actually chop out all the video and audio cut, things would get quite slow and messy.  The benefit is you can always be assured you aren’t doing anything to your original video and audio files, which is pretty great.  Imagine cutting a film reel, and going oops!  If you’ve ever seen an old film and it suddenly jumped awkwardly to another scene, that is exactly what happened, an oops.

In your video editor you can cut, move, dice and slice your video and audio files to infinity and beyond, always safe knowing your original files remain untouched.

This also comes with what might be considered a down side, and that is, when you open your video or audio project, the editor will look for all these original video and audio files as it only keeps track of the editing things you’ve done, such as the cut points, and uses these original files to show them to you.  

That means if you move your video editing project to another computer, you’ll also have to move all the video and audio files along with it, or the video editor won’t know what to do.
It takes some getting used to in the beginning, but many of the editing software programs will let you know when it can’t find these files, and help you locate them.

I have found many beginners trip up on this point, and waste an incredible number of hours afraid of editing their videos, until the light bulb goes off that they are doing nothing to their original precious footage.

When you hear or see the term NLE, it simply means that it is a non-destructive editor, and doesn’t mess with your original files when you are editing.

My Best,

The Basic Filmmaker