Tips for Cutting Dialogue

Here are some tips and tricks for taking care of routine dialogue editing problems.

Use cross fades to smooth out problem edits

If you’re having trouble finding an edit point between two audio clips that sounds smooth, try using a transition instead of a straight cut. More information on audio transitions can be found in Refining Transitions Using the Transition Editor.

Figure. Audio track showing an audio transition between two audio clips.
Use subframe audio level keyframes to eliminate pops and clicks at edit points

If there is a popping or clicking sound that you can’t get rid of at an edit point, you can eliminate it by opening the clip in the Viewer, setting audio level keyframes within the frame with the clicking, and fading those few audio samples all the way down to –60 dB. See Example: Setting Subframe Audio Keyframes to Eliminate Clicks for instructions.

Use keyframes to eliminate microphone pops in a voiceover recording

Although you can use the Vocal DePopper filter in extreme problem cases, if you just have one or two pops in your audio resulting from words with the letter P, you can get rid of them by opening the clip in the Viewer, zooming in on the P sound, and setting four keyframes to lower the audio level and soften the sound.

Use room tone to fill in audio gaps in a scene

When you edit dialogue, any part of a scene that doesn’t have dialogue or clean source audio should be replaced with room tone from that scene, as described in Audio Editing Basics. This includes the beginning and the end of a scene, even if nobody is talking. If room tone only happens while people are speaking, it will sound odd. The entire scene should have the same background noise.

If someone mumbles a single word, salvage the rest of the take

If someone messes up part or all of a word, either by mumbling or swallowing it, you can sometimes take part or all of another instance of that word, or of another word that has the sound you need, and use it to replace part or all of the misspoken word.

For example, suppose an actor was supposed to say, “Get those cats out of that tree,” and instead said, “Get dose cats out of that tree,” accidentally swallowing the “th” sound in the word those. If you need to use that take, you could copy the “th” sound from the word that and paste it over the botched beginning of the word “dose.” The change is so small that nobody will notice the difference. The result in your sequence would look something like this:

Figure. Audio track showing a waveform with a selected portion that was copied from another segment of the audio clip.

When you do this kind of edit, watch out for the beginnings and endings of words. Sometimes people run words together if they speak quickly. If you’re replacing a word in clip 1 with the same word from clip 2, make sure the sound that comes before the new word in clip 2 is the same as the sound that comes before the word it’s replacing in clip 1.

Cut away to another image to smooth cuts in dialogue

If you need to remove a word or phrase from someone’s speech, you can use a cutaway shot or B-roll footage at the same point. This allows you to change the audio without viewers noticing an obvious jump cut.

One reason shots of the interviewer are included in documentary-style programs is to give the editor the freedom to edit the speaker’s dialogue without introducing a jump cut in the picture. That way, if the person on camera says the same thing twice, you can cut it out without the audience’s knowing and make the subject sound better.

You can also do this in narrative programs. If you decide to rearrange an actor’s lines by adding or removing dialogue, you can cut to a reaction shot of the person who’s listening to smooth your changes to the speaker’s audio.

Change the pace of off-camera dialogue

As long as the speaker is off camera, you can make other dialogue changes as well. For example, you can easily change the pacing of what’s being said, making the sentence sound more or less dramatic. The key is to have footage you can cut away to that will seem plausible. An audience shot or another actor listening are two examples of plausible cutaway shots.

Remember, if you create any gaps as a result of editing your audio, fill them in with room tone.

Use the video from one take with the audio from another

Sometimes you’ll have multiple takes of a particular shot, each with something good in it. For example, suppose you have a series of takes of an actor saying, “Wow! That’s a big piece of pie!”

Each take is shot from a slightly different angle, and there’s one visual take that you like more than the others, even though the dialogue in it isn’t that great. In another take, the actor said the word “wow” really well. A third take has the best version of the line “That’s a big piece of pie!” If the actor was good and the pacing of each of these takes is roughly the same, it’s fairly easy to combine all three clips into one good take.

Figure. Timeline window showing video and audio clip items from different takes of a shot.
Be careful when combining dialogue from different takes

People use different intonations as they speak a sentence, and it’s important to listen for this. Sometimes, you’ll be unable to combine two sentences because they don’t sound right together.

For example, suppose you have two clips of someone talking. In one clip the actor says, “I’m going to throw that suitcase out the window!” In a second clip, he says, “Should I put the box in the closet?” You want to cut from the actor to a shot of the closet when he says “that suitcase” so you can combine the line “I’m going to throw that suitcase” with “in the closet.” Unfortunately, the second sentence is a question, so the two pieces of dialogue don’t really sound right together. Because the difference is jarring, you’ll have to try something else.

Edit in sound to handle a loud background noise at an edit point

If you’re cutting from one clip to another, but there’s a loud sound right at the edit point, such as a car or a plane passing, you can edit in sound to mask the cut. You won’t be able to eliminate the noise, but if you take another car or plane sound effect that sounds similar to the noise at your edit point, you can edit in just enough of the sound effect in an adjacent audio track to complete the noise of the car or plane passing that was cut off by your edit. You’ll need to play with the levels, mixing up the sound effect prior to the edit point and mixing it down afterward, but you’ll be able to mask the cut so that it sounds completely natural.

Swap onscreen sound effects with new ones using a replace edit

If you want to replace the sound of a door slamming in your source audio track with a more dramatic door-slam sound effect, you can easily and quickly line up the new sound effect waveform with the old one by doing a replace edit, so that the new sound is perfectly in sync. For more information, see Three-Point Editing.