With an artful eye and technical skill, the editor painstakingly pores over hours of footage to select the best takes and links them together. This artist/technician creatively draws out the emotion of the story, building suspense, humor, melancholy, and joy.
The editor is supported by a staff of assistants and assistant editors, and is responsible to the director and producer. He or she is hired during preproduction; at this stage the editor reads the script and discusses the director’s vision for the film or television show. This person can make a significant impact on principal photography by collaborating with the director and cinematographer. He or she may make suggestions concerning unnecessary scenes to be cut from the script, additional scenes to be shot, or specific camera angles. Rarely will the editor visit the set during production; he or she reports to the cutting room to review dailies and begins putting together a rough cut of the story. Scenes are shot out of order based on logistics, so the editor works with detailed notes from the director and script supervisor to piece the shots together and establish continuity. A bit of clever editing covers technical mistakes during photography, and can even hide a few poor performances.
After principal photography has wrapped, the editor works closely with the director to review the initial rough cut, discuss notes, and begin the final cut. This person also collaborates with the visual effects team, sound editor, dubbing crew, and other post-production technicians to bring together all of the finishing touches. The editor works scene by scene, frame by frame, to weave together a series of visual images that support the director’s vision and tell a coherent story.
Skills & Education
A college degree in film and television production is preferred. An editor should understand photography, lighting, color theory, and the exposure process of various types of film stock. It is also necessary to have experience with implementing visual effects in postproduction, sound editing, and dubbing. Expertise with Avid and Final Cut is required; an editor should be skilled in the processes of both linear and non-linear editing. As digital video becomes more sophisticated, it is imperative that editors continue to educate themselves on emerging tapeless technology (though the old-school skills of a film and tape cutter are still in demand). That being said, it all comes down to storytelling. Regardless of technical skill, an editor must have a distinctive visual aesthetic, a highly evolved sense of pacing, and a meticulous attention to detail.
What to Expect
This job is best suited to someone who doesn’t mind working in solitary confinement. Most of the editor’s day is spent in a small, dark room. The hours are long and toiling over months of footage can be a tedious process—but the reward of seeing your finished product on the screen is worth it. To pursue a career as an editor, you should first gain experience in the second, then first assistant editor positions. The American Cinema Editors education program offers internships, and rookies can get their feet wet working as an apprentice at a post-production studio or as a production assistant. Editors can become members of the Motion Picture Editors Guild, an organization of IATSE Local 700.
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