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Career: Film Editor

A Day in the life of a Film Editor

Film editors assemble footage of feature films, television shows, documentaries, and industrials into a seamless end product. They manipulate plot, score, sound, and graphics to refine the overall story into a continuous and enjoyable whole. On some films, the film editor is chosen before cast members and script doctors; people in Hollywood recognize that the skills of a good film editor can save a middling film. In the same way directors use certain actors they appreciate over and over again, they also use film editors they know and are comfortable with. Martin Scorcese, Spike Lee, and Robert Wise are a few of the directors who work with the same editors over and over again. Such relationships lend stability to a film editor’s life; otherwise, they must be prepared to submit video resume after video resume, in the struggle to get work. Editors can express themselves through their unique styles; Spike Lee’s editor, for example, is well-known for his editing style. The hours are long, and the few editors who had the time to write comments to us tended to abbreviate their thoughts. “Dawn/Dusk. Rush jobs. After test audiences, do it again. Lots of frustration. Lots of control, though,” wrote one. Just as directors do, film editors spend a long time perfecting and honing their craft. Like most industries, the film industry has embraced new technology. Assistant editors must now have strong computer skills to work in the industry. While some editors stay removed from the project during the filming process so as not to steer the director away from his or her concept of the film, many of them do visit the director on set while production is under way. Nevertheless, the majority of a film editor’s work is done alone. Despite that solitude, interpersonal skills are just as important as endurance is in an editor’s career. Film editors work closely with sound editors and musical directors as the film nears completion. Long hours and significant isolation while actually editing can make even the most positive-minded film editor question the career choice. But an interesting, well-edited film can restore faith in the profession.

Paying Your Dues

Film editors need extensive academic and professional experience. Standard coursework should include filmographies, basic editing, and commercial editing. Some aspiring editors may take directorial courses and direct plays or films; this training typically proves helpful in the working world. It costs a lot to borrow film-editing equipment from the university and graduate school film departments that have it. Most aspiring film editors work as interns, production assistants, or animation-editing assistants while in graduate school. Once out of school, editors usually work in the production field or for an established film editor for little money. People who want to pay their dues and become independent, self-supporting film editors take note: 4–10 years of on-the-job training before making enough connections, building up a significant body of work, and being able to start your own editing service is more than common. For the most part, it’s the only way to succeed in this profession.

Associated Careers

Film editors sometimes become directors and sound editors, but more often, the switch occurs the other way around. Individuals who leave film editing often go into video promotion and sales, film-equipment sales, and editing-equipment sales and development. A few editors enter animation companies, in which there is less footage. In this case the film editor’s mission is to ensure that every single piece fits together and that everything “flows” as it should.

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