What Is the Typical Process of Film Editing?

Film editing is a painstaking process that involves three film versions: the rough cut, the director's cut, and the final cut that goes to theaters. The film editor and the film director piece the movie together from thousands of feet of film, working frame by frame to ensure quality and continuity. Schools offering Digital Cinematography degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Industry Overview

The bulk of film editing on a feature film occurs after all scenes have been shot and the cast and crew have gone home. Together, the film editor and the film director decide how the finished movie will look on the big screen.

Important Facts About This Occupation

Median Salary (2018) $58,990
Work Environment Studios or office settings
Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Job Outlook (2016-26) 13% (faster than average)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Process

Film editing happens on an editing machine or on a computer. Under the film director's supervision, the film editor chooses the frames that will be included in the final version, or cut, of the movie. One second of film contains 24 frames. For a 2-hour film, the editor selects more than 170,000 frames. However, the film editor has lots of footage to choose from; for every foot of images used, 30 or 40 feet of footage may have been shot. This extra footage includes, for example, shots of the same scene recorded by cameras at different positions.

The Rough Cut

Whether working with film stock or digitally, the first round of film editing begins with the script. Film editors assemble the footage into a rough, or editor's, cut that follows the script by cutting and splicing various shots together. Film editors don't cut original film; they use match prints, or copies, instead. The rough cut shows the film editor where the movie needs changes and corrections. The film editor will point these problematic spots out to the director.

Director's Cut

Working closely with the film director, the film editor begins the second version, the director's cut, to smooth out the rough cut and deal with any flaws. The film director makes the creative decisions, but the film editor suggests solutions for problems or issues.

Final Cut

After the director's cut, the producer or movie studio reviews the film. The film editor then makes a third version: the final cut. This version is reproduced and sent to theaters.

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