How To Become a Film Editor (With Tips and Salary Info)
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The role of a film editor is integral to the production of any film. Whether it's a Hollywood blockbuster or a smaller independent production, filmmakers typically end up with many hours of footage. A film editor's role is to cut everything down and knit it all together to create an engaging, coherent and entertaining story. In this article, we take an in-depth look at exactly what a film editor does and what it takes to become one.
How to become a film editor
Film editing is a specialist career. As well as creativity and an understanding of filmmaking techniques, you may need to acquire a practical education in the use of film editing software and develop a network. Here are some key things to think about when considering how to attain the role of a film editor:
1. Understand your craft
Anyone embarking on a career as a film editor is likely to have an inherent passion for film, television and video. It's important to have studied the craft and understand how editing techniques differ and how they shape the telling of a story. As well as watching and analysing plenty of films, this could also involve attending filmmaking seminars and doing background reading.
Social media can also be a useful tool in learning and understanding more about how film editing works. Many editors, videographers and filmmakers post behind-the-scenes content onto their social media channels. This provides first-hand insight into what they do. Not only is this an invaluable way to learn more about the craft, but it can also guide and inspire you to put what you've learned into practice.
2. Get an education in film editing
There are numerous college and university programmes that provide at least an introduction to video editing. However, many courses, particularly those at well-respected institutions, can be very competitive. Applicants may need to be able to demonstrate an aptitude and passion for film. This could mean that you may need to provide examples of your work, either from a project you've been involved in or work that you've produced independently. The types of courses available include:
visual arts or visual storytelling
screenwriting or scriptwriting
basic and advanced video editing
In the past, aspiring filmmakers needed access to a video camera and editing software to practise their craft and produce examples of their video-editing flair. However, most cameras and phones can record video now, and editing software is readily available online. This has made the art of film editing more accessible, so you want to be able to embark on any filmmaking course with a strong foundation upon which to build.
3. Build a network
In many creative careers, people believe that 'it's not what you know, it's who you know'. However, when it comes to film editing, both are important. It's essential to have the technical know-how, a creative vision and hands-on experience. However, filmmaking is a collaborative endeavour. Producers and directors often like to work with people they know and trust. In this respect, ‘who you know' is just as important as ‘what you know'.
When undertaking any film-related course, your lecturers and tutors may have useful connections within the industry. This is a good place to start. Take the time to discover what opportunities your teachers might know about or if there are any people they could put you in contact with. You can also find online communities and attend networking events to gain connections, understand the industry and discover opportunities.
4. Consider an internship
It's also worth exploring the option of an internship. Such opportunities could be available as part of a university course, or you can source them independently. Internships are beneficial within any creative industry. Many film editors have undertaken at least one internship within their careers. It's a powerful addition to your CV and helps develop your practical skills. Furthermore, you may come away from it with contacts in the industry and good quality examples for your portfolio.
Related: How To Write a Creative CV
5. Practice makes perfect
After you've completed a film course or internship, your education is not over. Filmmakers are constantly learning and honing their craft. This is particularly true of film editors. While you may have a comprehensive knowledge of how to use editing software, the art of telling a good story is something that continues to develop over time.
Consider collaborating with contacts or fellow students on independent projects or volunteer your services to local businesses or charities. This can give you hands-on experience of telling different kinds of stories and adopting a range of styles. Social media is also a useful outlet for visual storytellers to present their work. You can practise new techniques, experiment with different styles and sharpen your skills. And, again, this provides you with useful content to include in your portfolio.
6. Build your portfolio
In your journey, you want to aim to keep building upon your experience by regularly creating new content. As you work on more and more projects, you may need to become familiar with more diverse techniques and demonstrate more creativity in your work. It's important to showcase this to any potential employer, collaborator or educational institution.
You want to aim to keep your portfolio as up-to-date as possible. Make it available online if you can. This allows people to access it from phones, tablets and desktops without downloading hefty files. Having your own website also allows you to present your work as you want and provide insight or background alongside each project. By regularly updating your portfolio, you may soon have a diverse range of work that lets people see your development and talents.
7. Apply for a role as a film editor
With a strong portfolio and a bank of experience, you may find yourself in a strong position to begin applying for roles as an editor in film. Create a detailed CV, with a link to your portfolio front and centre. Whether it's the hiring manager of a production company or a film producer from an independent project that reviews your application, the portfolio is likely to be one of the first things they look for.
They may also want to see what hands-on experience you have gained, so mention any internships, part-time roles, or voluntary undertakings. In addition, it's worth writing a detailed cover letter. This is your chance to link your experience to relevant areas for the role or project for which you are applying.
What does a film editor do?
The role of an editor in film usually starts after all the actors have gone home and the cameras have been put away. Once filming has finished (wrapped), the editor receives dozens, sometimes hundreds, of hours of footage. Their job is to extract the right pieces of footage to tell a compelling story. They usually collaborate with the film's director for some or all of the process to ensure the final edit is in keeping with the overall artistic vision.
The same process takes place for short films, advertisements, television programmes and music videos. The editor receives raw footage after the filming process is complete. They must carefully review every piece of film, cross-referencing the footage with the script and directorial notes. The editor decides which angles and shots to use as they piece together each scene. They then cut, edit and arrange each sequence to bring everything together into a complete, coherent story.
What can a film editor expect to earn?
The average salary for a video editor is £24,508 per year. Two main factors determine the expected salary of a film editor. Firstly, as with most careers, salary is dependent on experience. But in a creative industry, the amount people make is also guided by the quality of their previous work. This can also be a factor for an editor in film. The typical tenure for a film or video editor is less than 1 year, but it's important to note that many operate as freelancers on a project-by-project basis.
Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.
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