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.
Present and Future
In 1980, the average feature film had one film editor assigned to it, and that person, for
all intents and purposes, exerted as much influence over the final product as the director of
the film did. Now, with the increasing complexity of film editing, graphic overlays, computer
animation sequences, and rising budgets, an average of nine editors are attached to each
Editors will continue to enjoy strong demand for qualified professionals who produce
quality work. Editors who have ability and a willingness to work with others will be rewarded
with good jobs. While there are editing jobs to be found among the communications and
entertainment industries throughout the country, most career opportunities for editors will
continue to be found in Los Angeles and New York.
Quality of Life
PRESENT AND FUTURE
Beginning film editors are expected to bring some proficiency in computer editing
tools to the trade even as they get their first on-site training in the technical skills of
editing, cutting, splicing, and seamlessly integrating different scenes. Long hours and low pay
are mitigated by a rapid learning curve. Beginners gain valuable experience by working with
sound and music editors. This collaboration is a must for editors who wish to continue in the
profession. What little responsibility you do get is important; individuals who don’t demonstrate
maturity and quickness are encouraged to leave the profession.
FIVE YEARS OUT
Five-year veterans have gained more responsibilities, a network of contacts, and
enough editing experience to begin a solo career, join an existing editing company
as a partner, or go under contract for a large production house. By now, editors specialize
in commercial, industrial, or software/Internet work, or in drama, comedy, or thriller
genres. For editors to be successful, forming close relationships with directors and producers
is significant. Pay, responsibilities, and hours increase.
TEN YEARS OUT
A film editor now has a solid reputation, a healthy paycheck, and reasonable hours.
Most work as independent contractors, editing films and video releases of films.
Some editors act as consultants to other editors. Contact with other editors becomes
important at this stage, and duties become more expansive in general.