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Film Editor


When you go to the movies, the film projected on the big screen is an edited version of many hours of filming. Viewers become accustomed to watching films that run perfectly, from start to finish and often take for granted the film editing process. Editors have an enormous impact on the story since one small cut can change the entire plot. Film editors have to be careful not to cut out important information that viewers need in order to logically understand the story, such as names and dates.

When choosing shots, editors look for technical aspects like lighting and sound, as well as performance by the actors. Film editors select the most effective shot from each scene and combine them in sequence to form a logical and smoothly running story. They are storytellers that use film to convey meaning in the same way writers use words. Editors may also discard scenes that do not help plot development or in fact ruin the development. Directors shoot scenes over and over again using different camera angles, close-ups and long shots in order for the editor to choose the best and most appropriate raw footage.

Film editors use various editing techniques such as cuts, which help change scenes, compress time and vary points of view. Since a jump cut is quite abrupt (often used deliberately for dramatic effect), there are other more smooth methods of cutting such as fades, dissolves and wipes. Editors also use different cutting rhythms and speeds, use split screens, such as when two people are on the phone, and work with editing techniques to help manipulate the story.

In the process of selecting and assembling scenes, editors try to achieve the best combination of photography, performance, consistency, and timing. Comedies, for example, require a specific type of timing. Editors must estimate how long audiences will laugh at each gag line or situation in order to space scenes so that one funny incident is not lost in the laughter of the previous one. Editors also use cuts effectively to imply information, so that the film does not take place in real time. For example, showing an airplane taking off when you know a character is about to go on a trip, implies to the viewer that the character went to the airport, checked a bag and is now sitting on the plane we have just witnessed departing. Another important factor is consistency. If one scene involves an actor with wet hair parted on the side, the editor should make sure the next scene corresponds and the actor still has wet hair.

Film editors work with a variety of film professionals such as sound editors, producers, directors, assistant editors and other technicians in order to put together the film in proper sequence. They use editing machines to look at the footage and jump back and forth through the film. Once they choose the shots to be included in the film, assistant editors then join the cut film pieces together on a splicer. Newer equipment allows editors to join film together on the computer, greatly speeding up the process. In major motion pictures, there are usually several editors that work together on a film, whereas one editor may have all control on a small budget independent film.
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  Interests and Skills  
Film editors must be both creative and technical. Therefore, it is the type of job that requires individuals to use both sides of their brains. Editors count frames per seconds, edit 20 to 40 hours of film and must condense the footage into one to two hours of a film. They must be able to work for long periods of time alone, going through images and film on a computer screen.

Patience and organziation are two important qualities to have. Many editors develop personal "filing" systems for their film. They must have a knack at choosing good film and be able to pick out good acting from scene to scene.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Edit film footage and choose the best shots
  • Employ various editing techniques such as jump cuts
  • Work with sound effects editors who view films with editors, directors, and other technicians, and discuss the picture's sound requirements
  • Record needed sounds, or obtain them from sound effects libraries.
  • Work with special effects editors
  • Develop a good filing system for editing boards
  • Arrange film segments into sequences to achieve continuity and desired dramatic, comedic and thematic effects
  • On average, film editors work 40- to 60-hour weeks, depending on their time frame, stress levels and other budget factors. They work in cutting rooms, projections rooms and on sound stages. Since the profession is unionized, there are standards for benefits and overtime work. Freelance editors would determine their required fees with their clients.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Film editors work for film companies, television studios and stations, video production companies and other corporations. Some may also be self-employed.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Since film editors work in the post-production phase, they understand all aspects of the filming process because they put together the final stages of production. They could advance to become directors, producers, art directors and cinematographers. Since they are visual storytellers, editing might spark an interest in scriptwriting. On top of all the film skills learned, editors are also good organizers and managers and could work in that area of any business.

  Educational Paths  
Film editors usually come from some type of formal training. Most have undergraduate degrees in film, journalism or media studies. The university environment will introduce future film editors to a creative and technical circle of like minded people and give students the opportunity to take part in the production and editing of films. Once students get a degree, they should get as much experience as possible, including volunteer work, which is the likely possibility. Some film editors will take on apprentices or offer internships, which may open doors in the long run.

Many film editors have experience as writers, directors, set designers, artists or actors, but this is not at all imperative. The most important advice is to make as many contacts as possible. In this industry, networking is your biggest asset. People must be willing to face rejection, but that is all part of the artistic process. Also, getting a master's degree will introduce you to various industry people. Additional education also allows film editors to teach at the postsecondary level.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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