4 minute read

Film and Video Editor Job Description, Career as a Film and Video Editor, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: High school plus training

Salary: Median—$43,590 per year

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Film editors are an important part of the film staff and are responsible for the technical quality of a film. Editors, with the guidance of a director, edit film until it meets with the director's approval. The director tells the film editors how to rearrange the scenes that have been shot, what footage to cut, and where to insert music, sound, or optical effects. Film editors order these special effects from specialists.

Most film editors use computers or nonlinear digital editing systems to edit film. They work with copies of images called work prints to organize the scenes and transitions that make up a film. When the film is complete, the film editor will create an edit decision list, which is an outline of each shot in the film as well as its length. The list corresponds directly to the edge numbers (numbers that are listed on the edge of the work prints), which are stored on the computer. This list is sent to the negative matcher, who makes a negative of the film, which is then sent to a film lab.

Television film editors use computer software and nonlinear digital editing systems to edit film for commercials, station identification, and public service messages on television films and tapes. They also check all films that come into the television station for damage.

Film editors generally specialize in either theatrical or nontheatrical work. Theatrical film editors edit the films shown in movie theaters. Nontheatrical film editors work for television companies and companies that make educational, documentary, and industrial films. More than 75 percent of all nontheatrical editors work on television films.

Film editors are skilled technicians. They do not make any directorial decisions, such as determining the quality of acting or whether a scene fits into the movie. They must follow the orders of the director.

Education and Training Requirements

Some film editors have a college degree, but a degree is not necessary for the job. A few schools, including the University of Southern California, the University of California at Los Angeles, New York University, and the University of Miami in Florida, offer programs in filmmaking. High school and college courses in English, art, and photography are valuable for prospective film editors. However, the best training is experience. Editors need to know how to use film projectors and computer and digital editing systems. They should also have a general knowledge of cameras and digital camera technology.

Getting the Job

Most aspiring film editors intern or apprentice with assistant film editors, which allows them to make contacts and receive training until they can get a position as an assistant film editor.

Individuals interested in working as a television editor should apply directly to broadcasting stations. Smaller stations require less training than large ones do and offer more on-the-job training and opportunities for advancement.

A limited number of union apprenticeships may also be available. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Moving Picture Technicians, the American Cinema Editors, or the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians can provide more information on apprenticeship programs.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Assistant film editors begin by synchronizing sound and picture, ordering special effects, filing film, breaking film down into individual scenes, and, in general, assisting the film editor. Assistants may have to work many years before qualifying for the position of a full film editor. Both union and nonunion workers advance in the same manner and at just about the same rate. Very few film editors become producers or directors. Film editors are limited by their specialization.

The employment outlook for film editors is good. Once a small field with limited opportunities, film editing will expand due to the growth of cable television and the increasing number of independent film studios. Those with talent and experience will be in greatest demand and will have the best chances for employment. Large studios will also be offering competitive salaries for the top editors in the field.

Working Conditions

Film editors often work under a great deal of pressure. It is not unusual for editors to work more than twelve hours per day, especially when they have to meet a deadline. Editors use their eyes constantly and work late at night in front of computers, causing many of them to suffer from eyestrain. Since they work closely with producers and directors, they must remain alert, even-tempered, and responsive in spite of the demands placed upon them. Television editors who work on news shows must work rapidly and accurately so that their programs meet broadcast deadlines.

Where to Go for More Information

American Cinema Editors, Inc.
100 Universal City Plaza, Bldg. 2282, Rm. 190
Universal City, CA 91608
(818) 777-2900

International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories and Canada
1430 Broadway, 20th Fl.
New York, NY 10018
(212) 730-1770

National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians
501 Third St. NW, Ste. 880
Washington, DC 20001-2797
(202) 434-1254

Earnings and Benefits

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, motion picture film editors earned a median annual salary of $43,590 as of 2004. Experienced and successful film editors can earn more than $90,000 per year. Film editors are employed on a picture-by-picture basis, while those who work in the television industry typically have more steady work.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCommunication and the Arts