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Become a Film Editor

Get advice on becoming a film editor from working professionals who have edited films for Apple and Nike

Illustration by Inga Ziemele

A film editor is an essential part of the production process. On a basic level, their job is to go through the material that has been shot, assembling it in a way that builds narrative, with a style that best achieves this and the director’s vision. Film editors can find themselves working on all sorts of moving image projects, from Hollywood blockbusters to music videos and ads. They might work freelance, in a dedicated edit house, or within a production company. However they work, the editor’s job involves close collaboration with directors, DOPs, sound and SFX and other professionals in the production chain.

There are lots of different initial entry points into editing. Many film editors learn their skills on the job, working their way up in film production. Others might have specialist degrees or a background in art and design. As well as a creative eye, editing involves technical abilities with the most up-to-date software. You’ll also need an appetite for long hours spent in small dark rooms when deadlines loom — film editing can involve intensive shift patterns at crunch time.

We spoke to five professional film editors working across the business and they told us everything they know about getting started in this career path.

Get your foot in the door

Experience on the job can be a great way to get a first foothold in the world of film editing. In a technical role like that of an editor, there’s no quick route to nabbing the job. Elise Butt, editor at Trim Editing, has edited ads for Apple, Nike and Stella McCartney among others. She advises patience as you work your way up. “Don't be disheartened by the prospect of it taking a while to become an editor,” she says. “It takes time to build relationships, learn the craft, and gain confidence.” She recommends getting started by working as a runner. “Don't be put off by being a runner! It's the best way to learn the industry, and a chance to get to know other editors.”

Eve Ashwell, editor at the Assembly Rooms, whose recent work includes Christmas ads for Asda and Booking.com’s spot for the UEFA Women’s Euros, agrees. “Start as a runner and work your way up — look for job vacancies on companies’ social accounts, or email the appropriate people,” she says. “Even if they're not presently hiring, you could offer to be a freelance runner. Once you've got a running job, learn everything you can from the assistants in the company, so that when a role in that department becomes available, you're the obvious choice to fill it.”

Develop your sense of the craft

When it comes to technical roles within film production, it’s important to figure out how you can stand out. As an editor, one way to do this is to develop your sense of craft, says Cut + Run's Mah Ferraz, a New York and Los Angeles-based editor whose clients include Nike, Vogue, Spotify, Facebook and Visa. “Make sure to explore your craft to stay inspired and have a voice,” she says. “The best way for me to do this has been by working on passion projects and/or side projects to feed my creativity in many ways and challenge myself.”

Dave Slade of Nexus Studios, whose reel includes commercials for Honda, Coca-Cola, Audi, Google and Formula 1, recommends a solid practical foundation on which to build your own perspective. “Learn the software as well as you can and utilise key commands where possible,” he says. “This will save you time and allow you to experiment. Editing can sometimes be a process of elimination and if you can work quickly then you can try out different versions of an edit before settling on the right timing and rhythm.”

Relationships will be the backbone of your career

Working as a film editor means working closely with different kinds of professionals across the production industry. It’s a role that’s all about collaboration, and that means that building your network is key to a successful career.

Ashwell advises emerging film editors to “make as many contacts as you can — you never know where the opportunities will arise from, and being surrounded by like-minded creative people will inspire you and push you to want to become better.”

Slade agrees that building connections is essential. “Work hard and be nice to people,” he says. “For me, the business of editing has always been about relationships. Be kind to those around you, no matter their level, but also be kind to yourself, too.”

Those relationships that you build are based on trust as well as creativity, Ferraz says. “Not only is it personally inspiring to be around people you admire, but when you understand and trust each other, you create the best work.” 

Stay varied to keep your work fresh

Once you’ve started to gain experience and start building your film reel, it can be easy to fall into a pattern of doing the same kind of work all the time. But seeking out a wide variety of different kinds of work can help sharpen your skills and keep you at the cutting edge of editing. As Ashwell advises, “Work on as many different types of things as you can. You'll find genres that you're naturally drawn to, but try to stay varied — you'll become more skilled with everything different that you work on. There is always a new script, a new client, a new story to tell.”

Butt agrees that variety can lead to interesting opportunities from your career’s beginning. “Say yes to anything while you're starting out,” she says. “Even if it’s something you don’t expect to put on your reel, you'll always learn something from the process.”

Marcelle Mouton, senior editor and part-owner of Post Modern Studios, advises not to find yourself stuck within a single category. “Don't get pigeonholed as a specific type of editor, edit each job in the way that tells its story best,” she says. “See which field is most challenging and rewarding to you and then focus all your energy there. Work often with inexperienced or experimental directors and producers because you'll learn a lot by taking an unconventional approach, it'll bring a freshness to your work.”

Soak up everything around you

It can be easy to think of editing as one set of specific skills, practised within the confines of the edit suite, but like all creative roles, being an editor means bringing a host of creative knowledge and inspiration with you when you go to work. As Slade points out, “It’s always a good idea to have a wide cultural view. All storytelling artforms have something to teach you about editing, whether that be films, books, theatre, songs, dance, poetry or painting.”

Ashwell agrees on the value of other forms of culture. “Be a sponge,” she says. “Absorb everything and ask questions! Go to plays, watch films, read, watch ads. Immerse yourself in all forms of storytelling, because there is something to learn from them all.”

Get more advice and tips from professional creatives and learn how you can land the creative job of your dreams.