Film editing is one of the most creative aspects of movie making, and also one of the most challenging and demanding. The process of cutting film can be a laborious process and is largely overlooked in the exciting film industry.  Film editors work long hours in dark rooms trying to piece to together footage to make a great movie only to see directors get all the credit!

If the pay of an editor is relatively low compared with other professions within the film industry and others get all the credit, why would anyone choose this career? Most film editors will tell you that they do this work for the pure enjoyment and satisfaction of knowing that they are the ones who are actually making the movie—not the director, not the actors, but the editors who slice and dice to create footage to create an entertaining movie.

Editors create the movie out of the raw footage, piecing each scene together in such a way that it moves the narrative forward in a logical yet entertaining way. Film Editors often delete segments of film, transpose dialogue from one scene into another, and change the order of events to build tension or create a dramatic ending.  They also select the music to play in the background and reinvent entire scenes to mask mistakes in continuity and flow. Once the editor has created the first cut of the entire film, the director then collaborates on creating a final cut – a process that can take weeks or months.

An editor’s job provides a unique blend of solitary work with collaboration and a good relationship with the director is essential in creating a successful film. This is why directors often remain with one editor for their entire careers.

Summary of tasks:

  • Evaluate and select scenes for dramatic presentation and entertainment value
  • Cut film segments to specified lengths and rearrange sequence of segments to foster story continuity
  • Use editing equipment to insert music, dialogues, and sound effects
  • Review edited film on screen to make any needed corrections
  • Work collaboratively with Directors, Sound Effects Editors, and Music Editors.

Union Membership

Most Film and Video Editors belong to the Motion Picture and Videotape Editors Guild of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). The IATSE has over 110,00members and is the largest union within the entertainment industry.  For a list of local offices in California visit http://www.iatse-intl.org/directory/search.asp.

Career Outlook

As per the California Occupational Guide:

The projected growth rate of 27.3 percent indicates that Film and Video Editor occupations are growing faster than average compared with all occupations.

Film and video editing has changed radically over the last few years and should change even more radically in the years to come. Already, DVD, streaming media, interactive television, and the constantly changing film and video editing software involved have transformed the occupation (and contribute to the steady demand for workers in this field).

Education and Training

Film editing is a highly technical profession and there are two main software programs you will need to learn in order to obtain an entry-level job as an assistant editor. These are Avid and Final Cut Pro (FCP). FCP is the less expensive of the two and used more frequently by editors. Both programs are digitally-based; very few editors make physical cuts to film any longer.

The best preparation to begin a career as a film editor is by obtaining a degree in film studies from a four year college or university. The curriculum will be based on theory and history, as well as the technical aspects of filmmaking. Specific coursework could include the History of Film and Television, Screenwriting, Introduction to Film Editing software (such as AVID and FCP), Video Production, Foreign Cinema, and Film Theory. Aside from attending a specialized film school, many community college and four year colleges also offer majors and classes in film studies.

Film and video editors need to be creative, able to communicate effectively and work collaboratively, and possess good judgment and decision-making skills.

Film editors may find it necessary to enroll in formal continuing education coursework to keep current with regard to technological changes in the professional, especially since her is little on-the-job training.

View a list a schools in California that offer programs in film >

Licensing and Certification

As per the California Occupational Guide, there are no state licenses or certifications required to work as a Film and Video Editor in California.

Internships and Apprenticeships

If you want to get a foot-in-the-door and learn the craft of film editing, the best way is to apply for an internship or apprenticeship with an experienced editor. As an intern or apprentice you won’t do much aside from running errands and other clerical tasks but you will have the opportunity to see the inner working of an editing room and how the editor performs his or her work.

Each year American Cinema Editors (A.C.E.) accepts applications for its annual A.C.E. Internship program. Two American applicants and one international applicant are chosen to participate in its 6 week program which starts in July and ends in August.

Work as an Assistant Editor

The next step in becoming an editor is to first work as an assistant editor. As an assistant editor you will digitize hours of footage, as well as search for specific scenes, sound effects, and music.  If you are good, you will begin to develop a nice working relationship with the editors who may over time ask for your opinions and suggestions with regard to the editing process. Once you have gained the trust of the editor you may be asked to cut a scene on your own. Over time these editors may hire you as part of their own staff or recommend you for openings with colleagues. Keep in mind that it takes years to advance from assistant film editor to editor so patience and persistence are important attributes for anyone interested in this career.

Assistant film editors usually find employment through registration with the union, but direct application to employers remains one of the most effective methods of obtaining a first job. Job postings for film editors are advertised on the Web site of the Motion Picture Editors Guild.

Networking for jobs

Once you have gained some experience, many film editing opportunities will come to your attention via word-of-mouth and networking. For example, if one editor is busy with a television movie, he or she will gladly recommend a talented colleague for an available opening. If you are an assistant editor looking to rise up to editor, be sure to remain in contact with any editors you have worked for, join social media groups, and attend screenings, conferences, seminars, workshops and mixers. Stay apprised of networking events through American Cinema Editors, some of which are open to non-members. Make sure you let everyone you meet know of your work experience and what type of job you are looking for.

Salary of Film Editors

As per the California Occupation Guide:

Pay rates in the motion picture industry tend to be somewhat higher than rates in television because of the type of editing and the degree of skill involved. The pay scales are contractual and subject to a percentage increase each year. Contract negotiations occur every three years.

Since motion picture work has seasonal fluctuations, Film Editors may work only a few weeks a year. Much of the work in the industry is freelance, which often pays a high salary because of the short-term nature of employment.

As per Salary.com the median salary of entry level assistant editors in Los Angeles, California (where the large majority of film editing work is based) as of November 2011 is $35,488 with the lowest 10 percent earning $30.649 and the highest 10 percent earning $40,328.