How to Become a Film Editor in 5 Steps

Film and video editors take the shots and scenes recorded on movie sets and assemble them together into a cohesive story, working with the director and the script to do so. Learn how to become a movie editor and find your role in Hollywood. Schools offering Digital Cinematography degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Film Editor Job Description

Film editors are the professionals responsible for taking the footage that directors shoot and turning it into the movie that will be watched by the audience in theaters or on television. A big part of what film editors do is go through the different takes, which may be hundreds of hours, and work with the director to select the best ones and then placed in order according to the script using computer video editing software. Editors also must work closely with the special effects teams and sound designers, who will create effects on chosen shots and compose the musical score for the edited film, respectively.

How to Become a Film Editor

While video editing job requirements rarely call for a degree, instead preferring experience, there are numerous types of film and media degrees available from universities. This can leave open many paths to a career as an editor, and the step-by-step path below is just one of many you could take.

Step 1: Obtain Film Editing Education

Understanding what you will be working with is key to landing a job as a film editor. Editors need to understand the 'visual language' of cinema, the basics of how cuts between shots function, and the effect they will have on the audience. There are numerous books, scholarly articles and online video editing courses and tutorials out there which can explain these, outside the context of a formal university program, but completion of a degree or certificate program can be beneficial when just starting out.

Film editing majors are rare, but courses on video editing are found in a variety of other degree programs, including general film studies, communications, and multimedia arts degrees. Certificate programs in film editing are shorter and much more focused, getting the essential information across quickly (some video editing certificate programs are even available online. Some high schools may even offer introductory courses, allowing students to perform duties like editing the school news.

Step 2: Find Film Editing Internships or Apprenticeships

Since much of the industry relies heavily on experience, acquiring some sort of professional experience early is critical. Internships can be found across the country, such as in local news studios, firms that shoot commercials and other advertisements, and with digital media companies creating direct-to-consumer video for streaming sites. Internships can also allow you to begin networking with professionals in the industry, who may be able to find a more permanent, paying position for you afterward. These internships often offer the ability to work hands-on with expensive video editing software, such as:

  • Final Cut
  • Avid Media Composer
  • Adobe Premiere

In areas with a high volume of film work, such as Southern California, it may also be possible to find apprenticeships with production companies. These are often more guided, with an experienced professional teaching the ropes that you will assist directly. Both apprenticeships and internships in film and television are highly competitive, so a film editor degree and professional-grade work are often required.

Step 3: Develop a Portfolio of Work

Film editor job listings on employment sites will often ask for a demo reel or examples of past work that proves your experience and ability as an editor. This work can be from any number of areas, including commercials, student films, short films for festivals, and news pieces. Building up this portfolio or reel is essential for landing better paying and more stable jobs.

For those just starting out, much of the work showcased is likely to be from internships or hobby work created with friends in the industry, but as one progresses, they may include particularly impressive work from television series and theatrical films. Reels often showcase different styles of editing, such as the rapid cuts seen in action movies or the slower, more dramatic editing common to dramas, to demonstrate an editor's range and skill. It may be necessary to curate one's reel or portfolio to the particular needs of a project in order to get the best shot at securing the job.

Step 4: Join the Film Editor's Union

Hollywood, and American film production in general, relies heavily on unions, and film editors are no exception. The Motion Picture Editors Guild (MPEG) is the union used by editors and joining it is often a requirement to obtain work on major productions like theatrical films and regular TV series. Applicants will need to be able to prove they have performed a certain amount of paid work for non-union productions in recent years, as well as pay an initiation fee to join. Union membership comes with benefits such as inclusion on lists of experienced professionals provided to producers, guild rates for film editor salaries, and access to training courses and facilities.

Step 5: Advance Beyond Film Editor

While editing theatrical films and popular television programs are certainly prestigious roles, many editors may wish to work on projects of their own. The level of understanding of cinematography and film construction that experienced editors possess makes them highly qualified to direct films, especially documentaries. Editors may be able to leverage relationships they've built with directors and producers over time to help them secure funding for a project or have their name considered for an existing script. Directors often receive greater public attention than editors and can secure more lucrative deals with studios, such as percentages of the box office.

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