What is a Film Editor? Skills, Salary, Job Description

Written by: Yuri
Credit: Variety

Editing is surely one of the most crucial pieces of the filmmaking puzzle. It’s the process that enables you to properly organize the image and sound pieces of a film in a way that fits a preconceived atmosphere of the story, while also providing a time structure to it.

And the film editor is the person who will make sure the film achieves these proper “organizational” goals, let’s say. They have to control the pacing of the story, as well as the way information is provided (and not provided) to the audience. All of that while still satisfying the creative vision of the director.

The editor might just be the most important member of the post-production team. They tend to work only after receiving all of the material captured during the shooting schedule, however, in not so common cases, they can work during the filming of the production. That happens if a director sees this as a more appropriate way of working on a specific project.

Editors usually work extremely close to the project’s director. If you’re not a fan of working closely with another person for long periods of time, while they’re giving you feedback basically all the time, asking to change small things here and there, testing thing A with thing B, well… Then film editing isn’t your thing. The job is definitely a team effort.

Aside from that, there’s other important aspects regarding the position. And we hope to clarify some of them ahead. We'll let you know about some of the job’s main characteristics, such as skills required, a brief job description, average salary per year, and more.

What Are a Film Editor’s Skills?

To achieve success in becoming a film editor, one must acquire some specific skills, such as:

● Ability to work under pressure

An editor has to be able to deal with the pressure both from the studio’s schedule, as well as from the director, who will probably be alongside the editor personally for almost everyday of editing work. Editors must be patient and confident throughout all of this, discussing possibilities and new ideas with the director while also staying within the deadlines.

● Good knowledge of cinematic language

Having a good baggage of films watched is really important. Referential knowledge is never enough. Also, a solid photographic and techinical eye is essential to identify what shots can make a good match, as well as what editing techniques could be more appropriate for working on certain scenes.

● Flexibility in work hours 

If filmmaking was done in an office, the editor (with the director’s company) would certainly be that guy that skips happy hour to do some more work.

The timeframe that an editing process occupies can be really tricky. Simply ‘cause editing really is a complex process, where both the director and the editor can make discoveries about the film they weren’t expecting to handle. But they still have to work on top of that. And that, my friends, takes time and extra time.

● Editing software knowledge

Last but certainly not least, an editor must know how to; well… Edit. A deep knowledge of any of the major editing softwares available out there is absolutely essential for any editor to be successful. The most used software in the industry is Avid Media Composer, but we also have other solid and reliable choices that are frequently used, such as Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro.

Credit: Editor at work

What’s a Film Editor’s Salary?

When you choose to work as a movie editor, you’re opting for, essentially, a freelancing position. Having said that, you shouldn’t be entering this particular area expecting the world’s most stable job.

The income you’ll receive from your editing work you’ll directly depend on how many films you worked on within a year. Not only that, we have to take into account the budget of these films and for how long you actually worked on them.

And the variables don’t stop there. The amount of films you actually manage to work on will depends on things like:

● Years of experience

● Work efficiency

● Availability

● Connections made with other people in the industry along the way

Typically, the average income a feature film editor gets (in the U.S.) falls between U$60,000 and U$80,000 a year. That would be like working on three to four decent-sized films over a year period.

If you’re working in the state of California (that typically pays industry people higher rates compared to other U.S. states) on big-budgeted films, your average per year income can rise up to U$100,000.

Film Editor Job Description 

● Reading the required material.

Editors have to do a thorough reading of the film’s script to be completely on par about all the main aspects of the story and its characters. They also have to read the shot list and brief given by the director. The brief serves as a sort of instruction manual and relevance-meter to certain shots and/or scenes filmed, providing guidance about how the editing process should work.

● Curation of the best footage captured.

It’s the editor’s responsibility to go through all of the material shot and select the most effective takes to work on top of. That also includes getting rid of all unusable video and audio material captured.

● Synchronize the audio material with the video.

If you didn’t know by now, audio and video in cinema are captured separately and it’s the editor’s responsibility to make sure they’re synchronized.

● Assembling all the film pieces in order to produce a rough cut of it.

When it’s all curated and synchronized, it’s time to do some proper editing. That means assembling the film in the script’s chronological order while following the brief provided. Usually, in this stage of the editing, the director isn’t that present in the editing room. They tend to show up (a lot) more after the rough cut is done.

● Provide the final touches on the editing.

This part of the work involves constant talks with other members of the post production team, such as sound editors and sound effects directors, in order to properly edit segments with the best audio available.

It also involves constant talks with the director in the editing room, experimenting multiple possibilities to scenes, with differentiates takes, angles and timing. After the director and the studio are satisfied - that’s usually the way it goes if the studio doesn’t take over - the editor is free to release the final cut to be distributed.

Credit: Adobe Premiere’s interface

How To Become a Film Editor

After all this clarification about the main aspects of the job, you could be interested or not interested in becoming a film editor. But those interested are probably wondering: “Well, what should I do to start my way up?” Lucky for you, it’s really not that complex.

The thing is, a major portion of editors out there are mostly self-taught. That happens ‘cause basically all it takes to officially declare yourself as a film editor it’s learning to operate an editing software and some footage available. In practical terms, it doesn’t require much, in financial and material terms, to get things going. 

Don’t get me wrong, some type of formal education in the area would be a great plus to your resume and would provide you with a ton of cool technical insights. However, if your wish is to start practicing right now by cutting some random footage together, paying a small price to use a editing software…Well, then you totally could do that.

Learning More About Editing Softwares

If you want to learn more NOW about the main editing softwares out there, then you certainly should check out our article on best film editing softwares, where we talked about all of their main characteristics, such as price, which operational systems they’re available in, and main pros and cons. It would definitely help you choose the best option for your current circumstances.

You can also check out our article on film editing techniques, where we let you know about some of the most important (and popular) techniques used by film editors. We talk about how they’re usually utilized, how they can improve scenes, and show examples of them being used in famous movies.

Podcast to the Rescue

Let’s not forget about our very own Red Carpet Rookies podcast and how it’s constantly helping out aspiring filmmakers out there!

You should definitely listen to episode 15, where we had a great talk with editor Julian Clarke, responsible for the editing of films such as District 9 and Deadpool, and also of the TV series The Handmaid’s Tale.

There was some chat about his upbringing, what led him to pursue editing, whether film schools are the better option for editors or not, and general advice to aspiring editors about how the work should be done and important relations should be built.

To wrap it up... 

Film editors should be people passionate about filmmaking, and willing to work crazy hours to help the film to achieve its maximum potential.  

It’s an extremely collaborative position, where you are in constant contact with the director and other film crew members in order to get the best results possible.

It’s also a very interesting way of telling a story. A whole other movie can present itself in the editing process and you could be one of the people responsible for witnessing that magic, at the same time that you become a part of it.