crossing the line

12 Video Creators on Their Hardest Edit Ever

It’s all fun and games until you need to shrink a horse.

Photo: by Vulture; @lubalin; @kevinatwater; @mneelzy
Photo: by Vulture; @lubalin; @kevinatwater; @mneelzy

Internet culture has been defined by amateurs and messy personalities, a lot of whom also happen to be multi-hyphenate creators. Over the years, apps like YouTube, Vine, and TikTok have not only made video-editing techniques more accessible, they have allowed users to establish new genres of editing that push the art form to new levels of absurdity. We spoke to 12 online-video creators — often acting as their own self-taught sound editors, animators, actors, and engineers — about the toughest job they’ve done in postproduction.

The Challenge: Multiplying Yourself

Ton Do-Nguyen

“Countdown (Snuggie Version)”

Ton Do-Nguyen went viral in 2012 at 16 for a shot-by-shot re-creation of “Countdown,” one of Beyoncé’s most technical music videos, beginning his career as a video editor.

I have been proficient with the editing program Sony Vegas since middle school. My friends and I were always making fun videos for ourselves. But it did have limitations. Like, okay, you’re dealing with a video that’s nine screens at the same time, but you can only have four video tracks. I would have to render, re-render, export, and use the exports to layer all of them. The effect that took days — literally, days — to get down is the one where there’s ten of me in a row. Having ten of me all laid out and then panning across all ten of them, going into close-up — that was a nightmare. I was learning so much as I was making the video. After you learn a certain sequence, it’s like, Okay, I can repeat that. It’s not as hard when you know what you’re doing. With the end of my video, at first I was shooting it point blank with the music and then I looked back, and I was like, Wait, that doesn’t look great. I learned in real time: Oh, they shot it by slowing down the music and then speeding up the footage in post.

The Challenge: Throwing a Party for One

Mary Neely


Neely is an actress and video editor who re-created love scenes from her favorite musicals at the beginning of the pandemic and posted them on Twitter to viral success.  

I started editing longer-form comedy sketches, which led to short films, web series, and music videos. And I never really thought of myself as an online video creator. When I was making the Hamilton video, I was in the midst of making a video every day, which was something I had never done before. For this video in particular, the challenge was the framing and movement, trying to emulate being at a party with a bunch of people. I took two skirts I have, set the camera up on a coffee table, and flipped the skirts to look like they were people dancing at a party. Same with the guy playing a tennis racket. I was really trying to find these props to breathe life into the space, so I could edit these little clips together to make it seem like there was a lot more going on than there actually was.

When I started editing, I realized I had crossed the line for a couple of shots of the coverage. I desperately tried to fix it. You can flip the clip horizontally, you can do all these tricks, but it wasn’t working. Because I had shown so much of my apartment in all of my other videos, it would have been really obvious had I manipulated the clip. I couldn’t punch in. There was no way to really salvage it. I woke up super early and I got dressed back in the costumes to reshoot multiple characters’ coverage for really, like, a couple seconds in the video. It does make such a difference. Another challenge was I really wanted to make it convincing, adding clothing to the shots to make it look like the characters were actually sitting next to each other. There was a lot of manipulating in the edit, really precise zooming in.

The Challenge: Creating Your Own Stock Footage

Jeff Maccubbin and Ron Hill

UNHhhh, “Halloween IV”

On their YouTube series UNHhhh, drag queens Trixie Mattel and Katya Zamolodchikova share their unfiltered opinions while editors Maccubbin and Hill turn their green-screen background into a house of horrors — literally in this case.

Jeff Maccubbin: Since this is the fourth UNHhhh Halloween episode, we knew, “They’re going to compare it to the other ones. So we have to go bigger.” The way me and Ron edit is we always want to outdo each other. We always want to make each other laugh. We were like: “What’s the craziest thing that we can do?” In every single scene, we pulled out all of the stops. I warped Trixie’s face and made her look like a little kid and then made it look as much like a horror movie as possible. Anytime I can murder either of them, it’s fun.

Ron Hill: My favorite moment of Jeff’s was one of my favorite moments ever: Katya as a ketchup bottle. Every time I see that, it cracks me up. It’s so seamless. It’s one of those things that you would never write. It’s so twisted and weird, it’s only something you’d come up with after the fact.

JM: I had to find a hand holding a ketchup bottle in the right way, I had to find footage of ketchup being squirted out on a hot dog. That ends up taking the longest — searching for the right stock footage.

RH: The hardest moment for me is related: It’s Trixie standing at the end of that hallway as a killer is approaching her. I wanted it to be a shot from the point of view of the killer. But I couldn’t find any stock footage of a point-of-view knife shot. So I literally just went into my living room, grabbed the kitchen knife, hoped my roommates weren’t gonna walk out on me, and filmed myself raising a knife in the frame and walking around. Then, I cut out my own hand and the knife. Sometimes you get desperate and you have to create the stock footage you need.

JM: I immediately called Ron and was like, “That’s your hand?” And he’s like, “Yeah,” and I’m like, “Because there’s no way you found stock footage.” With this show, there are things where I was like, I don’t even know how to do this. And suddenly, I had to look up some tutorials and figure some things out.

RH: I was getting messages from Jeff, like, “Ugh I’m making [Trixie] play her boobs as bongo drums and I’ve been spending hours on this in After Effects.” We’ll both just start being like, “I don’t know if this is good. I don’t know if this is working.” Then, there’s always that moment where it crystallizes and you watch it and you’re like, “This is perfect. This is amazing.”

The Challenge: Shrinking a Horse


“15,000 pound horse — internet drama part 5”

Musician Lubalin created a series of songs and music videos out of text from random internet conflicts, ending with this Facebook argument about a horse’s weight that went viral on Reddit in 2017. 

This was the most technical one I’ve done so far. I was a little more ambitious than with the previous Internet Drama ones. This is the first time we really had to cut down the actual meme it’s based on. There’s so much content to the original screenshot, I couldn’t fit it all into a song without doing a speed rap, which I didn’t want to do. There’s a part later on where she talks about how they got the horse from prison. I just wish I could have fit that in.

If you go back further in my archive, there are more layers in my videos. There are ones with all these different heads doing different harmony parts. I wanted everyone to see every detail. But what I’ve been learning through TikTok is it’s always better when you keep it simple. There’s this balance of having enough stuff in there that it’s layered, so it has rewatchability, but not so much that you don’t know what to look at. For this video, we shot it first and then tried to figure out what we would green-screen behind me. I searched some different 3-D-asset websites to find a horse. We decided to have the horse grow and shrink to inject humor into the drama. It could have worked as a PNG that scales up and down, but I wanted that feeling of it getting bigger above us, so I learned just enough on Blender, a 3-D program. With each video, I watch a few more tutorials. I feel like a TikTok try-hard. I wish I could just do a quick thing. Maybe one day I’ll get there.

The Challenge: Moving Tom Cruise’s Mouth

Chris Ume

“And bubblegum?!”

Visual-effects professional Chris Ume and Tom Cruise impersonator Miles Fisher collaborated on a series of TikToks parodying Cruise’s persona using deepfake technology. 

The problem with deepfakes is when you see someone smile or make a funny face, the deepfake is never fully going to translate it. It’s always going to be a little bit different because you only have as much as your data set has. With a lollipop, you’re actually interacting with an object. When he puts it in his mouth and he pulls it out, that’s the difficult part. Tom Cruise doesn’t have these expressions. Jim Carrey probably would have these expressions in his data set, but Tom Cruise doesn’t. I had to tweak some motions in his mouth. I had to do a lot of masking because when he put the lollipop in his mouth, it was like he was putting it next to his mouth. To me, it still doesn’t look perfect. Even his face looks too young, so I’m not quite happy with it. I think when we look back in ten years’ time, you’ll say “Do you remember back then when we didn’t have AI?” It’s going to open up so many creative possibilities in the movie industry alone. When they started making The Irishman, the deepfake technology wasn’t even close to where we are now. It’s evolving so rapidly.

The Challenge: Making Viewers Care About a Show They’ll Never Watch

Jenny Nicholson

“THE Vampire Diaries Video”

YouTuber Jenny Nicholson makes lengthy pop-culture explainers indoctrinating viewers into her latest obsessions. 

The Vampire Diaries was a show that lived rent-free in my head for a while. There was so much to it, and I had all these observations and inside jokes about it. I thought, What’s the best format to communicate a full encapsulation, a full retrospective, of the entire show so that people who haven’t seen it can enjoy it the same way? That was the hardest part: putting it in an order where people would follow along if they hadn’t seen it and didn’t care about it.

I ended up watching the series probably four times in total, skipping around episodes for things I knew what I was looking for. Sometimes I would have a specific line in mind, and I would just write it in brackets into the script so that I could edit it in. But, other times, I would go into my folder. As I was doing my initial watch, I would make clips with certain titles — I knew I was going to talk about Elena being upset all the time, so, as I was watching, I would just pull clips of Elena being upset. And then I would type “upsetelena1” and have all of those in my folder ready to drop into it when I needed them. At the point where I’m editing, I am going in order for the most part, so I’m able to sense, like, Okay, I’ve told this joke too recently, I shouldn’t put it again, or It’s time for another one.

The Challenge: Creating a New Kind of Motion Picture

Pax & Q

“Welcome to the Flex Vortex”

Partners Pax & Q make trippy video art using smooth camera rotations and labor-intensive visuals that they post on Instagram and TikTok. They’ve gone viral with their signature spiraling shots, using natural light or glow-in-the-dark effects

Pax: This video was kind of a remake of a prior one that we did. For that one, we actually used all real Polaroids, but for this particular one, we took all the pictures and some videos and put them into Polaroid frames.

Q: We animated them. It was definitely a lot of time. We mainly edit in After Effects. We have a notebook that I carry that’s dear to my heart — I was freaking out yesterday when I didn’t find it [laughs] — where we write down our edit plan so that, you know, it just runs smoothly. Some of these things really need planning.

P: And precision.

Q: What we write down in our notebook about how we’re going to edit it is exactly how we’re gonna shoot it. I think it took us like 30 minutes, maybe an hour, to shoot this video, to really get the exact vision of what we wanted. Once we’re locked in on editing, we just edit for hours. This one took eight, nine, ten hours.

P: We do have our own individual styles and ways of looking at things, but it’s cool because that kind of enhances whatever project that we’re currently working on.

Q: We basically just merge it together and it comes out really nice. It gets annoying at times — he is my husband. [Laughs] For [the neon rotating TikToks], it’s about setting everything up and really seeing that everything aligns. There’s definitely an edit process, but after a while, when you gain the practice, it’s not that hard anymore.

P: Yeah, and those particular ones, that’s our language. That’s just how, naturally, the art flows through us.

Q: It’s amazing. At this point, it’s not even about the numbers anymore. We realized this is who we are, so this is what we gotta do. We just wanna have fun with it. I get dizzy a lot.

The Challenge: Picking the Perfect Audio

Kevin Atwater

“thanksgiving dinner with some of my closest friends <3”

Actor, singer, and TikToker Atwater’s stan-culture edits use song lyrics to put pop queens (and sometimes himself) into random, hilarious situations. 

I thought of the idea for this video when Megan Thee Stallion’s album came out because she had a lyric in “Shots Fired” where she was like, “I just thought it was another Thursday.” I heard that, and I was already thinking about doing a Thanksgiving video where Megan didn’t know it was Thanksgiving because she just thought it was another Thursday. I thought, What if I took a bunch of different singers and rappers and artists and hosted them at Thanksgiving? And they’ll only respond with lyrics. Two weeks before Thanksgiving, I was like, “I’ll just slam it out in a day.” And then it took me two weeks.

I went into Logic — which is what I use to edit audio — and I isolated all the quotes. There were more than 100 of them. I put them together, and then I recorded a video of myself speaking to no one. When it comes to animating the photos, I’m partly preplanning and partly seeing what outrageous movement would be funny in that situation. A lot of the time, I’ll write down something like, “Dua Lipa seizes.” Because a line won’t make sense unless she’s doing something along with it. And if they say “apples” or something, I’ll make a note to animate an apple over it. Sometimes I look at it afterward and think, There’s not enough happening. Maybe somebody should jump off the roof. I associate personalities with specific people — I have it as a running joke in all my videos that Adele always shows up, and she’s never really allowed and gets kicked out.

The Challenge: Posting for Money

Yasmine Sahid

“Feeling like the main character this holiday season”

Actress and musician Yasmine Sahid is known for injecting herself into #relatable situations, such as in this TikTok sponsored by Starbucks. (Sponsored posts are a common way for popular TikTokers to make money.)

I wish I had a cooler story — like, I was editing on Adobe and I had to make myself look like I was floating. But this one, it was my first interaction with a big company, which I’m super-grateful for, but it was overwhelming. My type of humor is pretty self-deprecating. So I kept dialing it back. My email chain with the company had like 100 emails back and forth. There was one scene where it was Christmas, and I gave a kid a cup of coffee. They’re like, “We can’t use this because we don’t want people to think we’re advocating for kids to drink coffee.” And I’m like, “No, that’s the joke. You’re not supposed to give kids coffee.”

Some companies want to pay for the photos you use so they don’t get in trouble for using someone’s images. So they actually sent me a lot of money, like $100 or something, to buy the photos so that they don’t run into legal fees. But usually I just Google for whatever setting I need. And then I crop it to be vertical, and have it be as high-res as possible. I do all my green screens through the TikTok app. I want to learn how to do actual green screens; those always look dope. But the way TikTok works, you have to sometimes reformat the whole thing after you edit it on another app. So I do all my editing and sound on TikTok just to make things easier. TikTok basically launched my career as a creator. I’m starting to get to the level where I could probably live off of it financially, which has been my biggest goal.

The Challenge: Sifting Through Trash

Vic Berger

“Pastor Mike Bickle and Hudson and the only bottle that removes radiation from water”

Editor, musician, and podcaster Vic Berger’s unsettling yet amusing edits of televangelist Jim Bakker’s show reach new heights of mania in this clip featuring a young kid. 

The Jim Bakker videos I’ve done are the most time-consuming. I’m spending hours watching episodes of the shows. You can tell, as you watch, that they would shoot a full week’s worth of episodes in one day — the first hour they film is Monday, the second Tuesday, and so on. So, he’s filming five or six hours straight a day. I started to notice that by hour five and six, “Friday,” he’s been filming all day, he’s drained, and that’s when the bonkers stuff happens. I go in and distill these days and countless episodes into something that’s funny in a few minutes. At some point, I came across Mike Bickle and his grandson Hudson, and it looked like he had a ventriloquist dummy on his lap. I was working with footage of Mike Bickle by himself without the boy on his lap and different moments from a random interview with Jim and his wife, Lori, commenting on something else. It’s all out-of-context stuff.

Watching it, you probably wouldn’t be like, This was tough work to do, but it was — working with the clapping and applause that I have to hide in there and make it sound natural. I really wanted it to feel like it’s a regular conversation. I made it so he’s getting really in his grandson’s face about things and he’s antagonizing his grandson, and obviously that is not there in the original clip. He’s not complaining about abortions to him. I wanted to fit in Lori talking about these bottles that will “filter radiation.” It’s the “only bottle on Earth that will filter radiation.” Thankfully, I found a part where she’s talking to Mike Bickle’s grandson. I wanted to build toward that. She gives his whole family these bottles.

Ultimately, for this video, I was trying to show that these are con men. Nobody’s off-limits when it comes to who they will use to promote themselves, even their own grandson. Who knows if the bottles even filter out radiation? I would assume they don’t. I hope it doesn’t come across that I’m mocking this kid. The kid is innocent. Jim Bakker’s grandson is a fan of mine, so there’s hope for Hudson.

More From This Series

Positioned the camera so that successive shots would look like they were shot from different directions. Confusing to the viewer. Zoom in on the footage. A technique that allows you to target effects at a certain part of a video. Atwater likes to put a shaking effect on the characters in his videos.
12 Video Creators on Their Hardest Edit Ever