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What Does a Film Editor Do?

Early film editors had to physically splice sections of film together.
Film editors turn the footage that is shot into a film.
Traditionally, editors worked directly with physical film, though much of their work is done using computers today.
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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 July 2014
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A film editor plays a vital role in the post-production process of film-making. Editors are skilled storytellers, charged with cutting hours and hours of shots together to create a cohesive story. Becoming a film editor typically requires considerable experience with editing software, as well as an excellent understanding of story and an ability to work in harmony with the film’s director to create a finished film.

Perhaps more than any other area of film-making, editing has benefited enormously from the invention of computer technology. In the early days of films, editors did their work by actually cutting and pasting individual film frames together to create a completed work. If anything needed to be changed, the film had to be taken apart, re-organized, and put back together. Since the advent of digital technology, a film editor can create vastly different versions of scenes within minutes, with the computer taking over the laborious function of splicing the images together.

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When shooting on a film has completed, an editor typically does an editor’s cut, also known as the rough cut or first cut. By combining all the footage together in a coherent, cohesive manner, the editor creates a working model that can be altered by working in concert with the director and producers to create a final version, or final cut. The rough cut is an extremely important part of post-production; it can help expose holes in the story and highlight missed moments that can sometimes be re-shot to create a more complete story. Since films are typically shot out of order, the rough cut is also almost always the first time that the completed footage will be seen as a chronological story with a beginning, middle, and end.

Editors typically train for a career through a formal education at a film school or by gaining knowledge through extensive practical experience. Since editing has been around since the first days of film, dozens of books exist about the theories and practices of film editing. Some apprentices looking to gain practical experience can find work as an editor’s assistant, where they can learn the technical basics of the profession while gathering tricks of the trade from a professional film editor.

Some film editors have a natural knack for computer technology, and many cross-train in related fields to improve their own skill level. It is not uncommon for editors to have experience with computer graphics programs, sound editing, directing, and screenwriting. In some ways, the editor must be a jack of all trades: understanding a story, choosing the best shots and takes to express an emotion or explain a situation, and comprehending the importance of visual effects and music are all important parts of being a film editor.

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Discuss this Article

hamje32
Post 3

I always pay attention to the editing of Hollywood films. I’ve never been to film school but I learn a lot by just watching how professional films are edited. For example, in action sequences they have a lot of fast edits in each scene, while in the romantic sequences just the opposite is true.

It’s quite revealing to see the different shots that the editor will cut to in any given scene. Film is a visual medium and editing is certainly part of the storytelling.

everetra
Post 2

I love Windows Moviemaker. It’s an awesome program for anyone wanting to get started with learning how to edit their home movies. It’s a free program that’s bundled with Windows and comes with a lot of utilities that you would normally find in paid home movie editing programs.

It’s not the only tool that I use for editing home videos, but it’s one of the utilities I have for sure. I also have other programs that I use to edit special effects like green screen and “film look” type processes as well. Editing is the one thing that in my opinion gives otherwise amateur films, whether they’re home movies or scripted productions, a really polished look.

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