How do I become a film editor? How long does it take to become a film editor? Where do I begin a movie editing career and what does that film editor career path look like? If you have found yourself asking any of these questions, then you are in the right place. In this post, we’ll be answering all of these questions and outlining steps you can take if you are interested in starting a movie editing career. This is: how to become a film editor.
How do I become a film editor?
The role of an editor
Editing a film is a highly technical craft but also extremely creative as well. These days, the vast majority of films are edited digitally using what are known as “non-linear editing programs.” Gone are the days of physically cutting and splicing together celluloid, though some productions still occasionally do things the old fashioned way.
This video gives us a look at the history of film editing and how to become an editor requires the combination of technical as well as creative skill.
In modern editing, a mastery of editing software is a must for a video editor. Editors work alongside the director to assemble and shape the film in post-production out of all of the materials recorded during principal photography.
How to become a film editor
Step 1: Study Films
The first step in learning how to become a film editor is to study films. Before you can begin editing, it is vital to have a strong understanding of how films are shot and why they are assembled the way that they are.
Study the editing of scenes from your favorite films to figure out how they work and why. It can be helpful to download movie clips so that you have greater control over the playback and go frame-by-frame through the footage.
Don’t just study good editing. Look at bad editing as well and figure out what isn’t working and how you could do it better. Here's a breakdown of a particularly bad editing job in Bohemian Rhapsody. It's only when you see how editing can fail that you begin to appreciate all the times it works.
What do you need to be a film editor?
Step 2: Learn Editing Software
What do you need to be a film editor? There are both hardware and software film editor job requirements. And the most important of which being a mastery over your editing software. There are many video editing software programs on the market but only a handful are used regularly by professionals.
For a long time, Avid Media Composer was considered the only industry-standard editing program. But that mindset has been shifting in recent years with the rise in popularity of editing programs like the Adobe Suite and Final Cut. Take a look behind the scenes of Gone Girl, one of David Fincher’s best movies, and see how the Adobe Creative Cloud was used to edit the film.
When you are just starting out, it is okay to begin learning on any free video editing software and apps at your disposal. But you will need to upgrade to a more professional editing program before you can find any serious editing jobs. Professional editing software can be a bit daunting, but there are plenty of post-production tutorials online that will help you get the hang of things.
This is where you can start practicing the various editing techniques such as the match cut. This is one of the most common and useful editing transitions and a foundational technique in continuity editing.
I want to be a film editor
Step 3: Start Editing
If you are wondering how to become a movie editor, the simplest way is to just do it. You can start editing on your own, but don’t jump into the deep end right off the bat. Start small and begin by editing anything and everything with low stakes. Practice leads to improvement, so get as much no-pressure practice in as you can when you are just starting out.
Use this time to get familiar with the principles and techniques of film editing and to learn how you control the rhythm of a film as the editor. It is also important to understand essential film grammar like the reaction shot in order to edit cohesive scenes.
The YouTube channel ‘This Guy Edits’ is full of helpful insights and tutorials for learning to edit at beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels. For your first edits, focus more on the act of editing than on the end result.
Get a hang of the process, get a grip on the software and its keyboard shortcuts. Start to figure out your personal editorial taste. You can begin by re-editing movie scenes or by shooting simple footage yourself and cutting it together.
If you ever get stuck, you can always fall back on tutorials or look to the greats like Thelma Schoonmaker for advice on how to become a movie editor.
If you want to shoot your own footage to edit, be sure to think a few steps ahead. Directors often think about how things will cut together before they shoot any footage. And you should do the same from an editor’s point of view.
Robert Rodriguez offers some excellent advice for shooting low-budget footage with editing in mind.
When you feel ready to begin collaborating, try to find someone with a YouTube channel and offer to edit their videos for them. Or, if you are confident in your abilities, team up with indie filmmakers and offer to edit their short films.
If you get any good material edited, start putting together a demo reel that becomes a tight, attention-grabbing package that sells your abilities.
Film editor degree requirements
Step 4: Consider Film School
Step 4 is an optional step. Film school is not mandatory for a film editor career path. But it can help to refine and expand your skill set and it may lead to important industry connections. Film schools can be a great place to network with both established and up-and-coming industry professionals. The most common question about this subject is: is film school worth it?
A degree might be listed in some film editor job requirements but there are also plenty of editing gigs where there are no film editor degree requirements whatsoever. Some studios, producers, and filmmakers will take a film-school education and degree into account when choosing who to hire onto a project.
Others only care about experience and won’t care what any degree says about your abilities. Some filmmakers will swear by film schools while others will call it a waste of time and money. Robert Rodriguez certainly falls into the latter camp. Movie editor education can vary widely from person to person.
The quality of a film-school experience will vary greatly depending on which film school you attend. Look at our guide to the best film schools and decide for yourself if a movie editor education is a good fit for you.
Film editor jobs
Step 5: Work as a Freelance Editor
When it's time to look for film editor jobs, it will almost certainly be easier to find work as a freelance video editor rather than jumping right into a full-time gig. Freelance editing work can pay the bills, is good practice and experience, and can help you flesh out a compelling resume and a good-looking demo reel. Be sure to only include professional-looking footage in your demo reel and be sure to keep it snappy and engaging to wow anyone who watches it.
Freelancing websites like Upwork.com and Fiverr.com are good places to start looking for freelance film editor jobs. You can also search on industry specific websites for film editor jobs such as productionhub.com and staffmeup.com.
Editing for commercials, videography projects, real estate videos, and social media content might not exactly deliver on your dream of editing movies. But experience is experience, and working in the freelance sector can help you get to the movie editing career you want in the long run.
Film editing career information
Step 6: Become an Assistant Editor
Becoming the editor on a mainstream film is virtually impossible if you have never edited a feature film before. It is easier to secure the role of editor on an indie film but still a challenging and competitive field to stand out in.
You have a much better shot at landing a job in the editorial department in an entry-level position. Here's a deep dive into the nuts and bolts of the assistant editor job description when it comes to logging and organizing footage.
The assistant editor role is typically considered an entry-level position and some projects may even have more than one assistant editor spot open. Editors commonly start out as assistant editors before climbing the ranks.
Consider beginning your professional editing journey in the assistant editor’s chair and seeking out any and all opportunities to advance higher up the ladder. The job boards mentioned in the last step can be a good place to look for assistant editor jobs as well.
Outside of job boards and connecting with individuals, your best place to find work as an assistant editor is likely within an editing house. Editing-house websites such as trailerpark.com, whitehousepost.com, cabinedit.com, and moonshinepost.com and many more are all potential entry-points into a career as a video editor.
Check in periodically with these websites and others like them for job postings or to reach out directly to those in charge. This is a competitive industry, so you will need to work hard to stand out from the pack and land a coveted position.
You should now be equipped to know how to be a film editor in Hollywood or anywhere else. If you are still saying, “I want to be a film editor,” then get started on these steps.
Best Laptops for Video Editing
Now that you have the necessary steps outlined to become a professional video editor, you can begin your journey. You will need both good software and good hardware if you plan to take video editing seriously. Take a look at our rundown of the best laptops on the market for the purposes of video editing, coming up next.