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Arts & Entertainment

How to Become a Film Editor in 4 Steps

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 4 min read

A film editor is the person that makes a film or television show come to life. Editors are as responsible for shaping the story, tone, and ultimate impact of a film as the director or screenwriter. For that reason, skilled editors are highly sought after in the film industry.

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What Is a Film Editor?

A film editor is in charge of cutting and assembling the raw footage shot by a director into a cohesive final product. An editor’s job includes watching all of the film footage shot for motion pictures or television programs, selecting which footage to use, and then using video-editing software to assemble that footage into a completed feature film, episode of television, or other piece of work.

Oftentimes, this process involves watching and logging the footage, organizing the the footage by scenes and takes, and then shaping the story alongside the director.

The 4 Critical Skills Every Film Editor Needs

There are a number of skills that editors must possess to be effective at their job. They include:

  1. “Big picture” thinking: The job description of a film editor includes more than just placing shots in the correct order. They must analyze the entirety of the footage, deciding how best to achieve the desired emotional and thematic impact of a film. That means constantly making decisions on a macro- as well as a micro- level.
  2. Problem solving: Video editors work in the business of daily problem solving. Sometimes, an actor’s performance is weak and the editor must cut around it. Other times, the main storyline isn’t tracking and it’s the editor’s job to pitch creative solutions. Editors must be prepared to identify problems and offer solutions.
  3. Being detail-oriented: Editors have to look at every single frame shot by the videographer. With digital video, that can mean hundreds or even thousands of hours of footage. Editors must then take this footage, whittle it down to a manageable length, and make decisions down to the microsecond about how to cut between shots. In other words, editors are constantly focusing on the details.
  4. Communication: Editors must have good communication skills, as they are in charge of translating the director’s vision into a finished product (or at the very least a rough cut). That means that editors need to be able to communicate with their director, as well as articulate creative decisions that they feel passionately about.
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How to Become a Film Editor

Here are some tips that can help you become a film editor:

  1. Watch movies. Aspiring video editors should spend watching as many movies, tv shows, music videos and short films as possible. Pay attention to the rhythm, pacing, and editing techniques used in the film. How long does each scene last? How quickly is the editor cutting between shots? How is the editor using sound effects or visual cues to add tension, drama, or levity to a scene? Paying specific attention to an editor’s work in a film will help you develop your own film editing style and technique.
  2. Go to film school. One of the best ways to begin your career path towards editing is to enroll in a film school, university, or community college that offer degree programs in film production. Though there are certainly great film schools in New York and Los Angeles, there are plenty of places that offer film courses throughout the United States. Pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Film and Video Production will provide you with access to film editing courses and the type of software often used to edit film and video footage (such as Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere). A film school’s coursework will also generally include training in other aspects of film production and the post-production process, including visual effects, cinematography, screenwriting, and general film theory, all of which are essential in giving film and video editors a well-rounded understanding of visual storytelling.
  3. Work entry level jobs. Editing jobs can be hard to come by, but you can gain valuable work experience by working as a production assistant on a film set or a low-level job at a Hollywood production company. These jobs can help you get your foot in the filmmaking door, allowing you to work alongside directors, cinematographers, camera operators, and assistant editors. Though this type of work often requires long hours with little pay, it can also help you familiarize yourself with the film industry and meet a network of people who can help get you editing work further down the road.
  4. Build a resume. In the past, aspiring editors had to have access to bulky, expensive editing equipment if they hoped to produce work worthy of a reel. With the rise of digital media and consumer video editing software, however, the editing process is easier and more affordable than ever. If you aren’t finding video editor jobs, produce and edit your own work. Offer to edit your friends’ work. Even scrappy, low-stakes editing gigs will help develop your editing and computer skills, allow you to experiment in areas that you may not be as strong in like special effects, and give you job training that can carry over to professional work. Either way, the final product will be something that you can add to a reel that could entice a future employer, and you’ll be well on your way to joining the editors’ guild!

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