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A Day in the Life of a Film Editor

Film editors assemble footage of feature films, television shows, documentaries, and industrials into a seamless end product. They manipulate plot, score, sound, and graphics to refine the overall story into a continuous and enjoyable whole. On some films, the film editor is chosen before cast members and script doctors; people in Hollywood recognize that the skills of a good film editor can save a middling film. In the same way directors use certain actors they appreciate over and over again, they also use film editors they know and are comfortable with. Martin Scorcese, Spike Lee, and Robert Wise are a few of the directors who work with the same editors over and over again. Such relationships lend stability to a film editor’s life; otherwise, they must be prepared to submit video resume after video resume, in the struggle to get work. Editors can express themselves through their unique styles; Spike Lee’s editor, for example, is well-known for his editing style. The hours are long, and the few editors who had the time to write comments to us tended to abbreviate their thoughts. “Dawn/Dusk. Rush jobs. After test audiences, do it again. Lots of frustration. Lots of control, though,” wrote one. Just as directors do, film editors spend a long time perfecting and honing their craft. Like most industries, the film industry has embraced new technology. Assistant editors must now have strong computer skills to work in the industry. While some editors stay removed from the project during the filming process so as not to steer the director away from his or her concept of the film, many of them do visit the director on set while production is under way. Nevertheless, the majority of a film editor’s work is done alone. Despite that solitude, interpersonal skills are just as important as endurance is in an editor’s career. Film editors work closely with sound editors and musical directors as the film nears completion. Long hours and significant isolation while actually editing can make even the most positive-minded film editor question the career choice. But an interesting, well-edited film can restore faith in the profession.

Paying Your Dues

Film editors need extensive academic and professional experience. Standard coursework should include filmographies, basic editing, and commercial editing. Some aspiring editors may take directorial courses and direct plays or films; this training typically proves helpful in the working world. It costs a lot to borrow film-editing equipment from the university and graduate school film departments that have it. Most aspiring film editors work as interns, production assistants, or animation-editing assistants while in graduate school. Once out of school, editors usually work in the production field or for an established film editor for little money. People who want to pay their dues and become independent, self-supporting film editors take note: 4–10 years of on-the-job training before making enough connections, building up a significant body of work, and being able to start your own editing service is more than common. For the most part, it’s the only way to succeed in this profession.

Present and Future

In 1980, the average feature film had one film editor assigned to it, and that person, for all intents and purposes, exerted as much influence over the final product as the director of the film did. Now, with the increasing complexity of film editing, graphic overlays, computer animation sequences, and rising budgets, an average of nine editors are attached to each feature film. Editors will continue to enjoy strong demand for qualified professionals who produce quality work. Editors who have ability and a willingness to work with others will be rewarded with good jobs. While there are editing jobs to be found among the communications and entertainment industries throughout the country, most career opportunities for editors will continue to be found in Los Angeles and New York.

Quality of Life


Beginning film editors are expected to bring some proficiency in computer editing tools to the trade even as they get their first on-site training in the technical skills of editing, cutting, splicing, and seamlessly integrating different scenes. Long hours and low pay are mitigated by a rapid learning curve. Beginners gain valuable experience by working with sound and music editors. This collaboration is a must for editors who wish to continue in the profession. What little responsibility you do get is important; individuals who don’t demonstrate maturity and quickness are encouraged to leave the profession.


Five-year veterans have gained more responsibilities, a network of contacts, and enough editing experience to begin a solo career, join an existing editing company as a partner, or go under contract for a large production house. By now, editors specialize in commercial, industrial, or software/Internet work, or in drama, comedy, or thriller genres. For editors to be successful, forming close relationships with directors and producers is significant. Pay, responsibilities, and hours increase.


A film editor now has a solid reputation, a healthy paycheck, and reasonable hours. Most work as independent contractors, editing films and video releases of films. Some editors act as consultants to other editors. Contact with other editors becomes important at this stage, and duties become more expansive in general.