An editor should be able to walk in, sit down at the Avid and start cutting, not have to load stock and toil over the tedious task of compiling footage for multi-camera shots; the assistant editors manage the day-to-day details to streamline the post-production process and maximize productivity.
Assistant editors literally do everything except cut the film. The editor is most productive when another set of hands is available to prep the editing system each morning and minimize distractions like constant phone calls from the associate producer. Arriving at the post-production studio at least two hours before the editor, the assistant must confirm receipt of new dailies and digitize the footage; this takes at least one-quarter real time. Even if dailies are digitized at a post-production house, this person must still copy the images to the editing system. It is also necessary to verify the scenes against the script supervisor’s notes, check for discrepancies in time code or sound synchronization, and be sure that takes have come in on an A-frame from the telecine house.
Organization of footage and logs, communication with production units, and technical support all fall under the assistant editor’s job description; though this is generally regarded as an ambiguous role in the film and television industry, it is not for a lack of responsibility. Rather, the lengthy and diverse list of functions the assistant performs leads to some uncertainty of their duties—even for the producer that hired them. Through the finalization of the film, the assistant must continue to monitor continuity and timing of scenes, keep detailed logs of negative cut lists, and note dubbing, sound effect, and visual effect information. In some cases, she or he may be given the authority to assemble rough cuts and make certain initial creative decisions to speed along the editor’s process; this is an opportunity for the assistant to show a bit of creative flair.
Skills & Education
Editing requires creativity and an innate knack for storytelling; the assistant should work to develop these skills, but also must be technically proficient in the use of Avid and Final Cut systems. A college degree in film and television production is encouraged, as it is the most comprehensive education toward a career in editing and a thorough understanding of the post-production process. Additional training can be attained through the American Cinema Editors internship program or as an apprentice with the Motion Picture Editors Guild, an organization of IATSE Local 700. The assistant editor must understand sound synchronization, telecine and film exposure, and both linear and non-linear editing. Excellent computer skills and meticulous organization are imperative. As digital technology becomes more sophisticated, it is necessary to keep up with emerging innovations.
What to Expect
On a small or medium-size production, there may only be the need for a first assistant editor; larger projects can require a second assistant editor who works under the supervision of the first assistant. Your office is a small, dark room with no window, and most work is solitary. Shifts between the editor and assistant editors are staggered when possible, to maximize time on the editing machine, so you might end up keeping odd hours. This role is the standard path to work as a full-fledged editor, but to move up the ladder, you must make your passion and ambition known. Positions on feature films are strictly freelance, but full-time opportunities do exist with television production companies, news stations, and at post-production houses.
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