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I have used iMovie and Final Cut Pro for video projects. I find them easy to work with and intuitive to some degree. After I finish the project, I may want to change one word that appears multiple times, and I have to do it by hand. Also, the projects take a lot of space.

I am looking for a video editor where the video project file is plain text, which I understand to be an edit decision list. My goals are:

  • to separate heavy digital assets from the light edit decision list
  • to put the edit decision list into a version control system like Git and GitHub
  • to automate some parts of editing with the keyboard, e.g. find-and-replace on captions, change times and durations, and adjust multiple dB levels
  • to have a cross-platform solution for collaborators on different operating systems (Windows, macOS, and Linux)

Two examples outside of video production are OpenSCAD in 3D modelling, which generates STL files from plain-text files that are two orders of magnitude smaller; and Inkscape, which reads and writes plain-text SVG files.

I found this article on opensource.com that mentions Kdenlive and Flowblade, but plain-text files seem an export rather than the proejct file itself.

The closest that I found would be Bash scripting based on FFMPEG for video concatenation and effects, and SVG for graphic overlays.

Does such a tool exist?

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    I too am begging for this. I hate that iMovie, Premiere etc. projects can't be easily tweaked years later and with a text editor. I wish SMIL had more interest. M3u VLC extensions are my latest hope. Commented Jul 8 at 23:25
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    @SridharSarnobat I added an answer with what I use now: Kdenlive.
    – emonigma
    Commented Jul 10 at 10:55
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    Thanks. I don't suppose you ever tried melt did you? mltframework.org/docs/melt Commented Jul 10 at 23:51
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    @SridharSarnobat MLT (melt) looks very cool! I have never tried it, no. From your other comments, I realized that it's the basis for rendering in Kdenlive and I edited the answer. If you do try it, please consider adding an answer with sample code.
    – emonigma
    Commented Jul 12 at 7:15

2 Answers 2

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AviSynth seems to be the tool that directly answers your needs on Windows. This is a completely script-based editing approach, with quite powerful instruments (built-in or as plug-ins) for reading, processing, generating titles and general editing.

Coupled with a dedicated editor such as AVSEdit or AvsP, you can have previews, context help, parameter completion and similar things one can expect from an IDE.

A completely different approach is to use an editor that has text-like project files. Adobe Premiere Pro, for example, uses project files (*.prproj) that are essentially XML files. (Newer CC version have it gzip-compressed, but it's easy to unpack them). Now, XML is not quite 'plain-text', and prproj are not made human-friendly, but it's possible to tweak some little things like titles. I wouldn't recommend this approach though.

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    That seems exactly what I want, but it is for Windows only. I updated the question.
    – emonigma
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 12:33
  • Did you try it with Wine?
    – Mawg
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 15:28
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    I'm accepting the answer because the thread got no other answers in 7 months and because I have used Avisynth for a month now and am very happy with it. See this answer for an installation guide that avoids common pitfalls.
    – emonigma
    Commented Feb 12, 2020 at 15:39
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    @MawgsaysreinstateMonica I used a spare Windows desktop computer. I prefer to overload an old desktop with video editing and compression than to shorten the life of the CPU on my macOS computer.
    – emonigma
    Commented Feb 12, 2020 at 17:08
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I've now settled for Kdenlive. It's cross-platform: Windows, Linux, and macOS. It has a GUI, the source files are text and XML (about 50kB) and can be easily copied, version-controlled and edited with a text editor. The program keeps the rendering cache separate from the source files and it can generate scripts to batch-render multiple files at once. I've been using it for a year and migrated all my relevant projects to it.

It is based on MLT (melt):

Kdenlive's project files (.kdenlive files) use an XML format, based on MLT's format (see MLT’s XML documentation and MLT’s DTD/document type definition) to describe the source media used in a project, as well as the use of that media as in the timeline.

Here is example project file from the GitHub documentation:

<mlt producer="main_bin" ...>

  <!-- the profile - definition of the project profile (frame size, aspect ration, etc) -->
  <profile frame_rate_num="25" .../>

  <!-- definition of master and timeline clips used in the first sequence clips -->
  <producer id="producer0" .../>
  <producer id="producer1" .../>

  <!-- then comes the playlist definition - a list of the empty spaces and clips on a track -->
  <playlist id="playlist0">
    <!-- entries linking to the producers defined above -->
    <entry producer="producer0" in="00:00:00.000" out="00:00:04.960">
      <property name="kdenlive:id">3</property>
    </entry>
    <blank length="00:00:03.720"/> <!-- space between clips -->
    <entry producer="producer1" />
    ...
  <playlist id="playlist1"/>

  <!-- After that we have the tracks embedded in a tractor. Each Kdenlive timeline track is made of 2 *tracks* to allow mixes-->
  <tractor id="tractor0" in="00:00:00.000" out="00:02:20.840">
    <property name="kdenlive:..">...</property>
    ...
    <track hide="audio" producer="playlist0"/> <!-- hide audio, because this is a video track -->
    <track hide="audio" producer="playlist1"/>
  </tractor>

  <!-- After the tracks definition, we have the first timeline sequence tractor that has a kdenlive:uuid attribute, and transitions between the tracks -->
  <tractor id="tractor6" ...>
    <property name="kdenlive:uuid">...</property>
    <track hide="audio" producer="tractor0"/>
    <track hide="audio" producer="tractor1"/>

    <!-- all transitions -->
    <transition id="transition0"/> <!-- user transitions -->
    <transition id="transition1"> <!-- internally added transition (for example audio mix) -->
      <property name="internal_added">237</property>
    </transition>

    </tractor>

  <!-- If we have multiple timeline sequence clips, we repeat the above steps -->
  <producer id="producer3" .../>
  <playlist id="playlist3" ../>
  <tractor id="tractor7" .../>
  <tractor id="tractor11" ...>
    <property name="kdenlive:uuid">...</property>
    <track hide="audio" producer="tractor7"/>
    <track hide="audio" producer="tractor8"/>
  </tractor>

  <!-- The *main bin* playlist, keeping all project settings, and a list of all project bin clips, including the sequence clips  -->
  <playlist id="main_bin">
    <property name="kdenlive:documentproperty...">...</property>
    <entry producer="producer0" .../>
    <entry producer="producer1" .../>
    <entry producer="tractor6" .../>
    <entry producer="tractor11" .../>
  </playlist>

  <!-- the last tractor of the xml file only contains one producerm is a the main tractor, containing the default sequence clip that will be played -->
  <tractor id="tractor23" in="00:00:00.000" out="00:00:45.000">
    <property name="kdenlive:projectTractor">1</property>
    <track producer="tractor11" in="00:00:00.000" out="00:00:45.000"/>
 </tractor>

</mlt>

With some luck, you can export XML from iMovie to Final Cut Pro and then to Premiere, then to OpenTimelineIO, and import into Kdenlive (see a series of threads on StackOverflow about it:

https://stackoverflow.com/questions/77846715/monkey-patching-opentimelineio-adapter-to-import-final-cut-pro-xml

https://stackoverflow.com/questions/78238366/opentimelineio-fcp-xml-import-fails-to-find-clips

https://stackoverflow.com/questions/77974108/opentimelineio-error-from-exporting-a-final-cut-pro-file-with-the-kdenlive-adapt

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    ...and apparently it's cross-platform. Thanks for sharing your experience, I need to give this a try. Commented Jul 10 at 23:47
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    Example project file: github.com/KDE/kdenlive/blob/master/dev-docs/… Commented Jul 10 at 23:49
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    Thanks, I added these details in the answer. And today I learned that Kdenlive is based on Melt!
    – emonigma
    Commented Jul 12 at 7:14
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    thanks for researching. It feels too good to be true, I'll proceed with cautious optimism and like you say I will come back with any sample code that might be simpler than this github example, so that more people can evaluate it as their solution. Commented Jul 12 at 20:11
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    @SridharSarnobat I'm very happy with it and regretful that I didn't find it sooner. Please share your impressions and feedback after testing, whether positive or negative, so that other people can benefit from your experience.
    – emonigma
    Commented Jul 13 at 14:15

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