In attics and garages across the country, there are boxes marked “VHS Tapes.” Back in the day, families would shoot hours and hours of Christmas mornings and ballet recitals, Grand Canyon vacations and grade school birthday parties. Few of these video tapes were ever watched more than once, and they were all exiled to some dark corner of the house.
Digital video changed all that. Thanks to “nonlinear editing,” regular folks could upload their footage and chop it into a coherent short film. Families no longer had to fast-forward to the “good parts.” An aspiring cinematographer could take the best clips and arrange them on the editor, adding titles and music.
Still, editing software can be expensive. The cost of Final Cut Pro has dropped considerably in recent years, yet the $300 price tag may still scare a lot of people off. Avid and Premiere use subscription services can get costly over time.
Unfortunately, YouTube is dissolving its online editing service. But you’ll find plenty of other inexpensive options for chopping down your masterpieces.
So what kind of editor can you get for free (or on the cheap) that still gives you impressive movie-making tools? You might be surprised how impressive these programs can be, especially for the amount you have to spend on them.
For millions of amateur filmmakers, iMovie was the software that made video editing seem possible. The platform has always been simple and welcoming, and each version is more versatile than the last. You can piece together any kind of movie on iMovie, but the program also boasts a range of handy templates, so you can make a trailer, a vacation roundup or even a narrative film without needing to know very much about video. Better yet, Final Cut Pro X was modeled on iMovie, so if you’re feeling ambitious, you can easily export your iMovie project into FCPX for fine-tuning. The downside: While iMovie is free, it only works on iOS.
If you’re wondering what Lightworks can do, check out “The King’s Speech” or “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Lightworks has been used for so many major Hollywood films, it’s hard to believe the software is free and available for anyone to download. Lightworks is another miracle of Linux programming, placing powerful tools in the hands of everyday people, regardless of their computer brand or operating system. If it’s good enough for Martin Scorsese, it’s good enough for pretty much anybody.
Like the YouTube editor, WeVideo empowers you to edit your films online. There are some drawbacks to this kind of platform, but if your projects are generally shorter and your Wi-Fi signal is strong, you’ll love being able to instantly access your work on almost any device on the planet. Understand, WeVideo is ideal for schools and workplaces, and you won’t mind shelling out $4.99 per month if you only need to export 30 minutes of video every four weeks. But if you’re looking to produce longer projects with unlimited volume, the annual subscription costs quite a bit more (just under $100.)
Filmora is already a beloved video editor, with powerful features and lots of nifty effects. The suite is pretty simple, so almost anyone can figure it out, but it’s powerful enough to turn out some sophisticated films. Meanwhile, there’s FilmoraGo, a separate free version designed for mobile devices. If you’re the kind of filmmaker who likes to shoot and edit from the comfort of your phone, this is one of the sharpest products available.
Not sure about FilmoraGo? Click here to learn about Magisto, another great mobile editor.
If you’re looking for top-tier software, HitFilm Pro has earned its stripes, even if the company hasn’t been around very long and doesn’t have major motion pictures to its name. (We expect it will.) But HitFilm Express is free and fun to use, and the company takes pride in its 180-plus visual effects, such as lightsabers, futuristic computer displays and shotgun blasts.
Adobe Premiere is an industry standard, and editors routinely use this heavy-duty software to assemble feature-length Hollywood films. Not long ago, Adobe changed its business model, taking the ultra-expensive Premiere and turning it into a monthly subscription service. (Projects can be saved to a cloud.) But if you’re looking for a simpler version of Premiere for a one-time price, look no further than Premiere Elements. This package gives you all the most essential Premiere functions without all the bells and whistles, which may make your projects even easier to put together. It isn’t free, but for around $60, you’ll get every feature you’ll ever need.