Facts on Being a Film Editor

By Contributing Writer ; Updated September 15, 2017

The film editor is the person on a motion picture who assembles the scenes that make up the story of the film. The editor's work greatly influences the motion picture's story-telling, and can result in a well-told or badly told story.

About Film Editing

Film editing involves watching the takes for a scene that have been shot, and then cataloguing them, and choosing the materials needed to go into a scene. The artistry of film editing involves choosing the most impactful materials (i.e., the "best takes"), and assembling them in a way that's logical, expeditious, as well as rhythmic, and putting them together in a way that best suits the context of the story being told. This work also includes choosing sounds or music for the scene that will be evocative. The film editor works together with the film's director to finalize the "cuts," and usually answers to the director in terms of final say for the cuts.

Film Editor Facts

There are over 6,000 active and non-active film editors in the U.S.-based Motion Picture Editors Guild who work on film (these include sound editors and story editors as well). The preponderance of film editing work takes place in Los Angeles (where the Hollywood studios are), and in New York City, though there are many film editors across the country who do this work, usually on independently financed features.

Unions for Film Editors

Hollywood film editors are often trained on the job. They can join the Motion Picture Editors Guild after demonstrating 175 days of non-union work experience within a three-year period, or 100 days of non-union work experience within a two-year period for Assistant Editors. There is a fee to join.

Film Editing Technology

Films were originally edited on "flatbeds," or KEMs--machines that looped the developed film through sprockets and mini-screens. Editors would make cuts onto the actual film first, by noting where they were going to cut with white grease pencils. Then they actually cut the film with a razor-loaded editing device called a "splicer," and taped the cuts together with editing tape that contained sprockets. In the late 1980s, digital editing technologies were introduced, including Hollywood standards such as AVID nonlinear editing software, thereby making the editing process (and the film release process) much speedier. Today, non-Hollywood film editors often use Macintosh-developed software, such as Final Cut Pro, which can be used on any MacBook.

Techniques For Film Editing

There are certain kinds of cuts that editors use, including "rough" cuts, which is an early version of the film made without music to time the film's length. From there, a "final" cut is made, and then a "negative" cut.

Techniques within films that are used to expedite a story include: "L-cuts" (where the dialogue is advanced in the scene before the audience sees the person talking), the "jump cut," (where the story jumps from one scene to another to make a story-telling point), and the "montage" (where many images within the story are cut together, often accompanied by music, to give the audience an overall "feel" for the story-telling point).

Film Editor Groups

The Film Editors Guild is affiliated with IATSE Local 700, and has branches in Los Angeles and New York City.

The American Cinema Editors Guild presents yearly awards to the best film editors of the year; it is nicknamed "The Eddies."