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.

What Does a Film Editor Do?

Film editors play a major role in transforming raw footage shot for movies, TV shows or other film projects into a finished product. As editors, they will help select and organize the footage that best conveys the storyline, the theme and the characters of the project while cutting material that is extraneous or that contains errors. This responsibility is important because it also ensures that the film meets any time constraints that may be placed on it. In addition, the editor collaborates with other crew members in adding soundtracks, special effects and other creative touches that enhance the director's vision. Creativity and an eye for detail are therefore important, as are computer skills since digital software is the primary tool utilized by film editors.

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 (2014-2024) 18% (for all film and video editors)*
Median Salary (2015) $80,300 (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 (www.bls.gov). Editing work can range from feature films to low-budget projects and Internet media. About 33,500 people worked as film and video editors in 2014. For the 2014 to 2024 decade, the BLS projected that employment will reach 39,400. 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 $80,300 as of May 2015, 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.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Camera operators also work in the film industry, and these individuals help create the raw footage that is provided to film editors. They use cameras to capture moving images on video. Individuals interested in specific aspects of filmmaking may opt for careers as sound engineering technicians, animators, photographers, or scriptwriters. Directors and producers oversee the crew and are ultimately responsible for the finished product. Outside of the film industry, editing roles are available in media outlets such as broadcast news, newspapers, and in magazine or book publishing.

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