Video editing with Shotcut

Fast Cut

Article from Issue 159/2014

With Shotcut, you can edit videos, add effects, and point and click material together to create a new movie in next to no time.

The complete functionality of Shotcut [1] can be described easily: The tool edits videos, adds effects, joins the videos to create a new movie, and returns the results in a freely selectable video format. For a year, Dan Dennedy has been working hard on a small, relatively easy-to-use video editing program that newcomers to video editing and the occasional filmmaker will really appreciate. The feature scope and concept are somewhat reminiscent of the now defunct Kino [2] program, to which Dan Dennedy incidentally also contributed.

The software is currently in a process of rapid change: Almost every day a new version appears with fixes and minor new features. Nevertheless, this development does not prevent production use – if you are aware of the pitfalls. For this article, I used the release from September 13, 2013.


To set up Shotcut, first install the packages for Qt4, SDL 1.2, libsox, and libexif from your package manager. Under Ubuntu, enter the following command to install all the dependencies:

sudo apt-get install libqtcore4 libsdl1.2debian libsox2 libexif12

On the Shotcut homepage, look at the Download section at the bottom right of the page.

If you are running Ubuntu 12.04, Debian version 7, openSUSE version 12, or a version that builds on one of these distros; Kubuntu; or something more recent, then click the 64-bit Linux or 32-bit Linux link, depending on your computer's architecture. If you are unsure, call uname -i in a terminal. On a 64-bit system, you will then see x86_64 in the output.

Users of Fedora, as of version 16, currently only have a package for a 64-bit installation. To download, click on 64-bit Fedora. If you still want to use the 32-bit version, contrary to the recommendation by the Fedora developers, you can try one of the other versions, but you should be aware of a risk for crashes.

Clicking on one of the links gives you a tarball that you simply unpack in your home directory. In the Shotcut/ subfolder, run the shotcut script. It is a good idea to launch the script from a terminal window. In this case, you not only see a list of all video and audio formats supported by the program, you also see whether any libraries or other dependencies are missing.


After launching, the clear-cut Guide window shown in Figure 1 appears. To load a video file, click the Open File button in the toolbar (or press Ctrl+O) and select the desired file. (Warning: The interface takes quite a lot of space, so you need as large a monitor as possible to edit videos in Shotcut.) If your camera uses the modern standard AVCHD, look for the appropriate file in a subdirectory of the memory card. The files typically reside below AVCHD/BDMV/STEAM and have the .MTS extension. You can expect the file you need to be quite large.

Figure 1: The main window looks extremely tidy after the first launch. This changes quickly. Shotcut also opens a video file if you drag it from the file manager onto the help text.

Shotcut can read and edit videos in the old DV format (file extension .avi). To retrieve the data from the camera, you need a different program. One of the potential candidates here is Kino [2], which most distributions still have in their repositories.

Shotcut plays the movie directly, and you can use the space bar to pause it. At the very bottom of the main window, you will see several small buttons at the center that let you to control playback (Figure 2). The left-bar and right-bar triangles jump to the beginning and the end. The icon in the middle starts and stops playback.

Figure 2: The film snippet in this figure runs for just 21 seconds and a bit; in the preview, Shotcut shows you just 6 seconds.

The two small double arrows start fast-forward or rewind. Because processing high-resolution HD video costs a large amount of computing power, the playback might be jerky and could even stop.

To the left of the playback buttons is an input field. The time shown here pertains to the clip running in the preview. Using the small icons in the input box, you can navigate backward and forward one frame at a time. The number to the right of the input box indicates the total running time of the film.

To adjust the volume, click on the upper or rightmost (depending on your version) of two buttons situated on the right edge of the window. Shotcut then displays a controller that lets you adjust the preview volume, as shown in Figure 2. The other button mutes the audio input. Incidentally, you may increase or decrease the window size or view in full screen. Under certain circumstances, however, this can slow down the playback speed.

Lean Movie

Below the video is a narrow timeline with a vertical line indicating your location in the preview. By pushing this time needle to another location ("scrubbing"), you can move quickly through the video.

At the beginning and end of the timeline, small triangles let you set the beginning and end of a video as needed. If the end of the video is a shot of your feet, because you forgot to turn off the camera, hold down the mouse button on the trim button on the timeline at the far right and drag it to the left (Figure 3).

Figure 3: If necessary, you can trim the beginning and end of the video. The numbers in the bottom right-hand corner of the window (e.g., 00:00:00:00 and 00:00:16:02) tell you the time the video begins and ends.

As soon as you no longer see the unwanted part in the preview, position the triangle. Following the same principle, you can trim off unwanted material at the beginning, if necessary. Depending on your computer's performance, the preview might not be able to follow the mouse. In this case, move your mouse a little more slowly.

In the timeline, Shotcut uses colored bars (blue in Figure 3) to mark the active part of the video. You can adjust the new start and end points at any time with the mouse and restore the parts you edited out.

If you open a new movie, Shotcut ditches all the settings you have made without a warning. To change this, you need to add the movie to the playlist. When editing, then, you initially want to focus on a single video.

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