The Kids Are Learning Video Editing From TikTok
The first time you sit down with video editing software like Premiere and Final Cut, you realize that the experience runs counter to everything intuitive about modern conventions of UI design and functionality. There are so many buttons, dials, knobs, settings, and keyboard shortcuts to remember that learning how it all works becomes in and of itself an exercise in patience and resolve. The barrier to entry is also steep — you have to own a capable machine and know how everything works. And what happens when you’ve finally edited your video masterpiece? You’re going to need connections, possibly a film-school degree, and it also helps if you live in New York or L.A., which obviously isn’t accessible to most people in the world.
And then, there’s TikTok.
Following in the footsteps of now-defunct Vine, TikTok is pitting an entire generation of youngsters in fierce competition against each other for popularity. But along the way, they’re learning how to cut video in a short span of time, and it’s making them better video editors and storytellers in the process.
What is TikTok?
TikTok is a video sharing platform that operates similarly to Vine, the company that Twitter bought in 2012 and then discontinued in 2017. Whereas Vine was trying to be “Instagram, but for short videos,” TikTok embraces what it delivers front and center. You simply open the app and a TikTok video immediately plays. You don’t need to follow anybody — you just immediately start scrolling. What distinguishes TikTok from virtually any other platform is the unspoken understanding within the community that making good TikToks is what’s going to get you noticed amongst the impossibly large pile of content on the platform’s discovery channels. And for that, a TikTok creator must have a basic understanding of how to tell short stories and edit video.
What distinguishes TikTok from virtually any other platform, is that there’s an unspoken understanding within the community that making good TikToks is what’s going to get you promoted.
Think of old cars and their lack of safety features. They still performed the basic task of carrying you from point A to point B, but the newer stuff does it with more useful assistance in place. TikTok is like that for video editing — it curtails the unnecessary complexities of conventional video editing by streamlining the experience from recording to output. None of the bells and whistles of flagship editing software are TikTokkers’ main domain of expertise, yet they manage an output that’s just as competent as a short Premiere Pro edit… with a fraction of the effort involved.
And just as traditional car aficionados look askance at self-driving vehicles, there are Premier Pro experts who look down on TikTok. But does it really matter how you got from point A to point B, if you end up with an entertaining video?
Early YouTube vs. Early TikTok
YouTube’s early days did not provide us with a lot of good content. Searching through the earliest posts, you’ll find an entire deluge of old videos pieced together with spit and glue on iMovie and Windows Movie Maker. Still others bear the watermarks from trial versions of paid editing software. But because of the rising ubiquity of good smartphone hardware, TikTok is able to rally its community of young filmmakers in-training around its app’s ease of use. TikTok is where you go to watch videos, where you go to film them, and also where you go to edit them. It’s a feat that established video giants like YouTube and Twitch can’t claim to have accomplished as quickly, nor as well.
Other startups have attempted to make video editing accessible on mobile, but none of them replicated the functional usefulness of TikTok. If you’re old enough to remember the janky editing software on your smartphone whose functionality was limited to creating slideshows with a stock country music soundtrack, you’ve pretty much seen the worst of it all.
TikTok isn’t just building a generation of good TikTokkers — it’s reshaping the way we consume media and recalibrating what we can expect to see online.
TikTok hands its creators a comprehensive set of tools to make their best content. There are visual and audio effects, licensed music options, filters, and — taking a page out of Snapchat’s playbook — a beauty mode. “It’s reminiscent of Vine’s earliest “magic” days, when editing outperformed slapstick humor, and six-second videos with impressive magic tricks went viral… TikTok’s editing suite allows for similar videos, but with even more pizzazz,” says Verge’s Julia Alexander. This, in conjunction with an incentive structure that ties creativity with notoriety, ensures that creators are always looking for ways to further reinvent the wheel within the very short window of time they’re allowed.
This knowledge is similar to the skill set required to make higher-production-value content on YouTube, or even in Hollywood. In order to capture compelling short stories on video, creators are forced to accustom themselves to basic film theory concepts — color, lighting, continuity, comedic juxtaposition, among many others — to maximize consumer engagement. The application of these concepts can be just as whimsical as the ideas inspiring them in the first place, and that plays to the demonstrable ability of creators to transfer that know-how of film editing into a skill they can further cultivate to cast a wider net of brand and sponsorship deals. It’s the first step in fostering a much-needed sense of entrepreneurial autonomy that boomers and Gen Xers accuse Gen Z of lacking. In a way, it’s this generation’s way of reclaiming freedom from archaic conventions of accruing wealth.
Just as the transition from radio to television before it, many Gen Xers are reticent to embrace TikTok. But radio and television still manage to coexist and have bloomed into their own sophisticated mediums of entertainment. TikTok isn’t just building a generation of good TikTokkers — it’s reshaping the way we consume media and recalibrating what we can expect to see in online video sharing platforms such as YouTube and more traditional media, like HBO’s Euphoria. We also see the evidence in the rapid way in which ex-Viners and even current TikTokkers are able to gain subscribers on the platform. TikTok-style editing was the internet’s invention, and its staying power has everything to do with its users’ ability to turn their skills into a lucrative business opportunity.