Final Cut Pro: What are Edit Decision Lists?

When you're exporting a project from Final Cut Pro, you might notice something called edit decision lists. If you're not familiar with the history of editing, you might be a little confused as to what it is. Here is a brief explanation:

The Film Days

An edit decision list is a list that you're program can export that details every single editing decision. Edit decision lists were first used in film. Productions would shoot on expensive high quality film. When that film became exposed, it was referred to as the negative. Lower quality copies were made from the negative and editors would use those copies to edit with. There is a lot of decision making that goes into editing. You end up cutting something, splice it with another clip, don't like how it turns out, and then you have to start the process over again. The film goes through a lot of wear and tear. You don't want to subject the negative to that. 

So, once you've finally decided on which cuts to make and which takes to use from editing with the lower quality film, you would compile a edit decision list. The edit decision list details every cut that needs to be made to the negative. A person whose title is negative cutter would then take the list and carefully cut the negative. When they were done, the movie was ready to be copied and distributed.

Non-Linear Editing

When non-linear editing started to appear, it retained the edit decision list function. Back then, computers were not advanced enough to smoothly play back high quality video. Instead, the master video tapes had to be transferred to lower quality copies. These tapes were digitized by the computer when you captured your footage. For every tape you captured, you would name it tape 1, tape 2, etc. This process is called off line editing.

Once the edit decisions were finalized, an edit decision list was compiled that would say which clip is from what tape and what time code it corresponds to. You would then load your high quality footage into the computer and make your cutes according to the list. This is called on line editing.

Edit Decision Lists Today

Computers have become advanced enough where we can edit out high quality video files easily in our editing programs. There is no longer the need to transfer to lower quality video, make an EDL, and then edit the high quality files. This has made the editing process much faster and affordable.

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