Freelance work and using your creative and digital technology skills are key aspects of a career in film and video editing
As a film or video editor, you'll be responsible for assembling recorded raw material into a finished product that's suitable for broadcasting. The material may include camera footage, dialogue, sound effects, graphics and special effects. This is a key role in the post-production process and your skills can determine the quality and delivery of the final product. You'll usually work closely with the director to achieve the desired end result.
You'll probably be employed on a freelance basis, working on short-term contracts for post-production studios, television companies and corporate employers.
Digital technology, specialist computer software and high-quality digitisation of sound and pictures have effectively replaced the traditional manual method of cutting film. In some instances you may be given creative freedom, while in others you'll just be required to operate the necessary machines.
Types of film/video editor
You may work on a variety of productions, including:
- corporate training videos
- feature films
- music videos
- television programmes.
Your work as an editor will involve:
- receiving a brief, and maybe an outline of footage and/or a shot list, script, or screenplay
- assembling all raw footage, with camera shots either recorded or transferred onto video tape in preparation for inputting into the computer
- inputting uncut rushes and sound, and synchronising and storing them into files on the computer
- digitally cutting files to put together the sequence of the film and deciding what's usable
- creating a 'rough cut' (or assembly edit) of the programme/film and determining the exact cutting for the next and final stages
- reordering and fine-tuning the content to ensure the logical sequencing and smooth running of the film/video.
Additional tasks may include:
- overseeing the quality and progress of audio and video engineering and editing
- experimenting with styles and techniques including the design of graphic elements
- writing voiceover/commentary
- suggesting or selecting music.
You may also carry out online editing duties, which involve finalising technical aspects such as correcting faulty footage, grading and colouring and adding special effects.
- Starting salaries for assistant editors employed by a television or post-production studio are in the region of £18,000 to £25,000.
- With experience as a film or video editor, you could earn £21,000 to £35,000.
- At a senior level, your earnings could potentially reach £37,000 to £70,000, but the higher end of this scale is only available to senior editors working on big-budget projects.
A film/video editor is not an entry-level job. You'd usually start at a lower-paid level, possibly as a runner where salaries could be around the national minimum wage. You may then progress to assistant editor where you could expect to earn more, before reaching the full editor position.
The majority of editors work as freelancers and are paid on a contract basis. Rates vary, so it's best to check for current freelance rates with individual companies or the Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU). If you get work through an agency, they will negotiate rates and then take either a percentage or flat fee.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Hours of work vary depending on the production. You may be able to do standard office hours for some employers, but a 50-hour working week is likely if you're working on television or feature film projects.
Shift work may be required if editing studios are booked at night. When there are deadlines to meet, you should expect to work long hours and overtime.
What to expect
- Freelancing involves periods of intensive work, but there may be times of inactivity between projects, which you can use to follow up on potential work. You'll often have to compete for work with other freelance editors and you may be involved with several productions of different sizes at any given time.
- Work is usually conducted alone or with a director. On a large project you may work with a sound effects editor, music editor and assistant editors. The role may be pressured, for example, when working intensively to strict deadlines or on limited studio time.
- You'll spend most of your time in editing suites, which are typically small but comfortable environments. A lot of time is spent working on computers. As a freelancer, it's possible to work from home if you have your own equipment.
- While the majority of television and film editing work in the UK is London-based, post-production and facilities houses and independent production companies can be found in most cities.
- You may have to travel to different editing suites, but it's unlikely this will involve working away from home. There may be opportunities abroad once you're an experienced and established editor.
You don't need a foundation degree, HND or degree to be a film or video editor, but it's important that you show commitment and determination to get into the industry.
You need to be able to demonstrate that you have the necessary skills, and so a degree or HND that offers film or media production experience may be helpful. The following subjects are relevant:
- communication and media studies
- fine art or visual art
- graphic design
- information technology/multimedia
- photography, film or television.
You'll need to be proficient in using specific editing software packages, such as Avid or Final Cut Pro. Courses that cover these applications are available at varying levels but they can be expensive, so make sure you research them fully to find a course that matches your career and training aims.
Having experience of the very latest technology may help you stand out from the competition. General computer literacy and an aptitude for working with digital equipment to achieve results are also important.
A postgraduate qualification isn't essential but there are relevant courses available that will provide you with extra skills and may give you an advantage over other applicants. Search for postgraduate courses in media production.
You'll need to show:
- a keen eye for detail and a critical mind
- creativity and a passionate interest in film and video editing
- patience and concentration
- the ability to listen to others and to work well as part of a team
- a high level of self-motivation, commitment and dedication
- organisational and time management skills
- the ability to work under pressure and to deadlines
- communication skills, both written and oral.
You need to be extremely determined to succeed in editing, so you'll have to show a willingness to get involved and be prepared to do the most basic of tasks. Carrying out work experience, for example in other areas of media production, will give you the chance to demonstrate this and help you to decide if the precision and intensity of the work is for you.
You'll be expected to have pre-entry experience and will need to show evidence of having worked on film or video production or post-production, preferably via an up to date and well-prepared showreel.
Film and video editors are employed by:
- animation companies
- broadcast companies
- film companies
- independent production companies
- post-production companies/facilities
- video/computer games companies.
Some post-production companies and larger independent companies offer long-term contracts and employ a few editors in-house. Broadcast and film companies employ their own editors but they all use freelancers on a regular basis, with some companies only using freelance editors.
The television industry is increasingly project-based, and as a result there has been a rise in the amount of freelance staff employed at all levels. You may apply for freelance opportunities to build a portfolio of work and accompanying reputation.
Look for job vacancies at:
Vacancies for film and video editors are rarely advertised and competition is fierce, even for entry-level jobs such as a runner. Send speculative applications, which detail your specific skills, to as many production companies and post-production houses as possible. To help identify relevant contacts use key industry resources such as:
Getting to know people in the industry and building good working relationships are important for finding work. Once you have experience of working on a freelance basis you can also advertise your services through dedicated websites.
Learning while you're working in the industry is the most effective way of developing relevant skills. A combination of observing experienced professionals and experimenting with your own work is the best way to develop the necessary technical and creative skills.
A variety of short courses are available that cover relevant topics, such as:
- the use of software editing packages
- post-production audio
- visual effects
- finance for freelancers.
You can search for these courses in the Creative Skillset Courses Directory.
It's also important to keep up to date with technology and new equipment. You may choose to extend your skills into camera or sound work in order to open up more employment opportunities and to maintain a network of contacts. A range of courses are available through BECTU.
You'll typically start as a runner or trainee before working your way up to a position as an assistant editor. You can expect to work as an assistant editor for around three to four years before moving on to become a qualified editor.
A proactive approach and willingness to start at the bottom are essential in order to forge a career in this fast-changing industry. If you're able to relocate for a job this may also be helpful, especially in the early stages of your career.
In post-production or broadcasting companies, progression may be from runner, digitiser or assistant editor to senior editor. Larger employers provide well-structured career paths. Experienced in-house editors may ultimately move to management roles.
For freelancers, career development takes the form of progressing from small productions to larger or more prestigious projects. It's vital to establish a good reputation and develop your networking skills to succeed. Building strong working relationships with freelance directors, production managers and producers is valuable, as they're often able to take preferred editors with them onto new projects.
While relevant qualifications may be beneficial, career development is based more on experience and practical involvement within the industry and on developing a strong network of contacts.