What is Three-Point Editing and Four-Point Editing?

Three-point editing has a bad rap for being confusing, but in fact, it’s the easiest thing in the world. This article will explain what 3-point and 4-point editing is, and how it should be used.

What are these ‘points’ anyway?

Let’s start by defining two terms:

  • A Clip is one video file on your media card or drive. Usually, for every shot you’ve recorded (from the moment the record button is pressed to the moment the stop button is pressed) you have one clip.
  • A Sequence is a series of clips on your editing timeline that tell a story or at least make some kind of logical sense.

Before you edit clips you need to review them first. The questions you ask on reviewing each clip are:

  • Does this clip belong in my finished sequence at all?
  • Which parts of the clip deserve to be in the sequence?
  • What’s the quickest way to get what I want from the clip into the sequence?

The answer to the first question rests entirely in the hands of the editor and director, and is primarily an aesthetic decision.

The answer to the second question is also tied in to the first. Most clips have ‘loose ends’ or moments that are irrelevant for whatever reason. Therefore, you will have to select the important moments from these clips and discard the rest.

The answer to the third question is important. If you’re editing a long project like a feature film, you want to be efficient when reviewing and trimming your clips. You don’t want to waste time looking at unimportant parts of any clip more than once. If you’ve decided a part of a clip is unnecessary, it must be gone forever out of your sight. If you can perform this activity like a robot, you will be rewarded by getting to the creative parts of editing faster.

Three-point editing and four-point editing helps an editor weed out the bad bits in an efficient and fast manner, like a factory assembly line. The name of the game is efficiency. I edited an entire movie without knowing either; and wasted a lot of time going back and forth, covering the same ground over and over again.

This is how a clip looks:


As you can see, there are two good ‘bits’ in the above clip. The beginning and end of each bit are called Points (marked with red dots).

Now, here’s how a sequence looks like:


Here, the sequence already contains many clips, and there is a gap in the middle for one clip, waiting to be filled. As with clips, there are two points in the sequence (marked with red dots) marking the beginning and end of the gap.

Now you know what ‘points’ are.

What is four-point editing?

If there is an exact gap in your sequence, and you know just the right clip for it, you select the clip, mark the first and last point, and try to align it with the first and last point of your sequence, like this:


If you can mark four points (two in the clip and two on your sequence), you can then just hit one more command and the trimmed portion will magically arrive on your timeline.

The first point of a clip or gap is called an In Point and the second is called an Out Point.

Is this fast? Let’s see:

  • You must scrub through your footage (clips) at least once.
  • You must mark the In and Out points in a clip at least once.
  • You must know the In and Out points in a sequence and mark it so the clip knows where to ‘fall’.
  • You must give the order!

That’s five keystrokes. This is almost the fastest way to make an edit, and is called four-point editing – because you need to mark four points to make the edit. Why ‘almost’? Because there’s a faster way.

What is three-point editing?

We’ve seen that there are a total of four points to any edit. In practice, most of the time, an editor only really needs three. The software allows you to pick any three:

Version One In-point of Clip Out-point of Clip In-point of Sequence
Version Two In-point of Clip Out-point of Clip Out-point of Sequence
Version Three In-point of Clip In-point of Sequence Out-point of Sequence
Version Four Out-point of Clip In-point of Sequence Out-point of Sequence

Every situation is different. Here are some examples:

  • When to use Version One: When you have to trim a clip on both sides. It’s the last clip in the sequence or you’re building it as you go along.
  • When to use Version Two: When you have to trim a clip on both sides. You know that anything after the Out point in the sequence is important and must stay where it is.
  • When to use Version Three: When you don’t need to trim the entire clip, but just the beginning. The clip must fit exactly in a gap in the sequence.
  • When to use Version Four: When you don’t need to trim the entire clip, but just the end. The clip must fit exactly in a gap in the sequence.

These are not the only reasons, mind you. Modern NLEs give you way more power to decide how the clips should ‘behave’ when they are dropped into the timeline using this method. E.g., if the gap in the sequence is small, you can choose to overwrite an earlier or later clip or even change the speed of the incoming clip to squeeze into the gap.

So, if four-point editing gets things done with five keystrokes, three-point editing gets it done in four:

  • Set three points.
  • Order the trimmed clip to fall into the sequence – one stroke.

This is the fastest way for an editor to build a sequence in an editing program. Once you’ve trimmed your clips, you no longer need to look at the bad bits again, and then it becomes a matter of rearranging your clips in the sequence to tell the story in the best possible way.

Before we wrap up, three point and four point editing has one more advantage – precision. You can drag a clip from your bin or project panel or whatever and manually put it ‘somewhere’ on the timeline, but it’ll be almost impossible to get it to fall into a precise point. By marking points before you drop the clip into the timeline, you are also ensuring the clip falls in the right place.

In no time, 3-point editing and 4-point editing will become second nature to you and you can get on with your editing. It’s almost like playing the piano.