How to Become a Film Editor in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a film editor. Learn about employment outlook, salary and degree requirements to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Digital Cinematography degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Information At a Glance

Film editors select the most appropriate recorded material to represent the major ideas for movies they are working on. The table below provides an overview of career details to help you decide about this career.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Broadcasting, film
Key Skills Hand-eye coordination, attention to detail, computer literacy, creativity
Job Growth (2012-2022) 1% (for all film and video editors)*
Median Salary (2013) $54,490 (for all film and video editors)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Film Editor?

A film editor is a creative specialist who assembles raw footage into a finished sequence of moving images that tell a story, present a viewpoint or demonstrate an activity. The editing process typically entails organizing footage into a rough cut, then refining it by expanding, reducing, removing or rearranging the order of scenes. Editors often make major decisions about content in collaboration with a production's director, but otherwise have a lot of latitude in the shots, angles and lines of dialogue they choose to include. On larger productions they may also collaborate with sound editors and music editors on the composition of the soundtrack. Although the career used to entail cutting and splicing actual film stock, today the vast majority of film editing is accomplished digitally on computers.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

You will need a high school diploma or GED to enroll in a college or university that teaches film editing. While in high school, you might also take advantage of any relevant courses or clubs your school has to offer. For example, many high schools have production programs that expose you to the basics of shooting and editing videos. Some schools also have audio visual clubs that can familiarize you with video equipment. You might also take computer science courses that include content in motion graphics and animation.

Step 2: Earn a Degree or Certificate

Bachelor's degree programs in film provide comprehensive training in all aspects of film making, such as pre-production and planning, scriptwriting, cinematography, lighting, set design, sound, post-production and distribution. If a program allows for flexibility in its curriculum, you should try to weigh it in favor of editing and post-production courses. Montage, linear sequences, shot relation, visual effects processing and editing software programs are among the topics editing courses are likely to cover.

You might not have to complete a bachelor's degree in order to obtain a job as an editor. Technical schools, private trade schools and community colleges often offer associate's degree, diploma and certificate programs specifically related to video editing skills. Such programs often cover the foundational skills of editing and can prepare you for an internship or entry-level position in the field.

Step 3: Participate in an Internship

An internship provides real-world work experience and contacts that can help you obtain a job as an editor. Having a network of contacts is especially important in the film industry. You may be able to obtain an internship through your school or through non-profit organizations, studios and industry trade groups. The projects you work on could include Internet videos, music videos, TV shows, features or documentaries.

Step 4: Obtain a Job

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the motion picture and video production industry employs the vast majority of film editors ( Editing work can range from feature films to low-budget projects and Internet media. About 28,100 people worked as film and video editors in 2012. For the 2012 to 2022 decade, the BLS projected that employment will reach 28,300. However, you should be prepared for intensive competition as job candidates outnumber available positions in the editing field. Keeping your knowledge of editing technology up-to-date will give you the best prospects. The median salary of film and video editors was $54,490 as of May 2013, per the BLS.

Step 5: Advance Your Career

In the film industry a typical career path takes you from apprentice editor to assistant editor to full editor. The most skilled editors sometimes become directors or transition into production. Consider joining a union to improve your chances of advancement. In a union, you could move from apprentice to assistant in three years or less and from apprentice to editor in five years. Most film editors who join a union become members of the Motion Picture and Videotape Editors Guild of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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