How to Become a Video Editor

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If you have a knack for storytelling and an interest in what makes movies, TV shows, and internet productions work, you may be wondering how to become a video editor. One of the most essential roles of any production, the video editor is largely responsible for the final product that’s seen by audiences. It’s also a role that can take advantage of the constant stream of content required in today’s media landscape. 

So, how does one become a video editor? Like any job in production, there is no one path to follow, but there are useful tools and resources that can help you get your foot in the door. From the best video editing jobs hiring now to the types of skills needed to thrive in the role, here’s everything you need to know about becoming a video editor.

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What does a film editor do?

Adobe PremiereGeorge Khelashvili/Shutterstock

A film and video editor takes the footage from a shoot and organizes it into a cohesive final product. For film and television, this happens in what is known as the post-production phase of a project, or after the principal photography (filming) has ended. Film editors: 

  • Assemble footage
  • Add audio to video
  • Clip, attach, and otherwise organize videos 
  • Craft a rough cut and then respond to feedback for the next draft
  • Oversee assistant video editors
  • Communicate with directors and film crew

Editors work with directors, producers, and other post-production departments to assemble the final edit or the actual product as it will be seen by audiences. In corporate media, marketing, and advertising, the editor works with content managers, marketers, or other executives to make sure the final product is in line with what a client is looking for. A video editor may also work with a colorist to reach the desired look for the final edit, or the editor might color-grade themselves.

While the editor and the cinematographer are two separate positions, it’s not uncommon for the roles to be done by the same person, especially for smaller productions. Regardless, the video editor is someone who understands the basics of film language and can speak to the other departments about what choices are being made, why they are being made, and what needs to be done to achieve the director’s vision.

Required skills to be a film and video editor

Video editor working on a laptopSutipond Somnam/Shutterstock

You must master certain hard and soft skills to succeed in the role. Film and video editors should be:

  • Tech-savvy: Much of the work of a video editor takes place using programs such as Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Pro, After Effects, Lightworks, Blender, and DaVinci Resolve, so familiarity with industry software is a must. Try your hand at beginner-friendly video editing software or take an online video editing course to get acquainted with the basics.
  • Detail-oriented: Because of the vast amount of data and information editors deal with on a daily basis, attention to detail and excellent organization are essential parts of any video editor’s skill set. Remember the mysteriously fixed broken lamp in “Spider-Man” (2002), the reference to a previously unmentioned octopus in “The Goonies” (1985), and the questionable non-PG content in several Disney animated films? Audiences notice even the smallest continuity, audiovisual, and special effects errors, so it’s helpful when film editors notice them before films are released.
  • Communicative: Much of the video editor’s work entails following a director’s vision, responding to feedback, and reading scripts. Verbal and written communication skills and the ability to ask questions for clarification are imperative.
  • Flexible: Producing and editing a video creates a constant state of flux. You must be highly adaptable to new situations so that you can handle delays, unexpected mistakes, and last-hour revision requests. It’s also important to have the flexibility to follow industry trends and advancements and adapt your own process accordingly.
  • Creative: A video editor must have the creative capital to understand the fundamentals of basic visual storytelling—such as composition, tone, pace, rhythm, sequencing, and montage.

How much do video editors make?

Video editor working on a computerGorodenkoff/Shutterstock

Film and video editors make a median income of $60,360 a year—or $29.02 per hour—according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with most editors working in the motion picture and video industries. Freelance video editor jobs will also vary in pay, depending on the producer’s budget, a video editor’s rate, and the length of time the project is in production.

Overall, how much video editors get paid differs based on the industry, the project they are working on, and the market. For instance, a video editor working on a small promotional film for a company in the Midwest will most likely make less than a video editor working on a television spot for a big advertising firm in New York or Los Angeles.

How to get a film editing job

Video editing equipmentPavel Korotkov/Shutterstock

Landing a film editing job requires a mix of relevant education, a strong work portfolio, and experience.

Education

Although you don’t need a bachelor’s degree to become a film editor, secondary education allows you to study the basics, refine your technique, and work on student films and other academic projects. Useful degrees to become a film editor include:

  • Fine arts
  • Performing arts
  • Communications
  • Cinematography
  • Film theory
  • Graphic design
  • Broadcasting

Some programs, such as those offered at Chapman University and the Motion Picture Institute, even award video editing degrees, with tuition generally costing between $12,000 and $25,000. If you’re sure this is the path for you, a specialized degree can show that you’re committed to a film editing career. If you want to learn without making a big investment, online video editing courses range from free to around $20.

Portfolio

The video editor portfolio showcases your best work and helps get you in touch with interested customers and jobs. Before you begin, explore other video editor portfolios to see what works—and what can help you stand out. Then create your digital portfolio by taking these steps:

  • Choose your platform: Use a professional video portfolio hosting service like Dripbook or Vimeo, or create a personal website to highlight your editing prowess.
  • Introduce yourself: Provide a brief introduction about yourself and your work, and be sure to include your social media accounts, contact information, and video editor résumé. If you’ve won any awards or have any certifications, add that as well.
  • Showcase your work: Include several different types of videos to demonstrate your diversity and depth: B-rolls, stock videos, video reels, and montages are a great place to start. Be sure it’s high quality work that highlights your different skills and unique style. Put a brief description of each video so your audience knows about your work and process. 
  • Add calls to action: CTAs such as “watch this,” “get in touch,” or “click here for the full video” can increase viewer engagement with your content.
  • Share your portfolio: Even the most aesthetically pleasing supercut of video shorts won’t garner interest if nobody sees it. Spread the word about your video editor portfolio on social media and ask friends, family, and colleagues to take a look and share it as well.

Experience

For more practical training, aspiring editors can choose to join a film or television production as a PA or editor’s assistant. Most employers should offer training programs in the type of video editing software they use. In addition to on-the-job training, if you master at least one type of software and have a basic understanding of several, this can help you get your foot through the door.

Many video editors begin their career working on student films or on smaller, independent productions with other early career creatives. As they become more established, video editors can choose to work with production houses or studios, and find full-time work with marketing and advertising firms. Because of the ubiquity of using computer software for editing, there are increasingly more remote video editor jobs, allowing the video editor a level of flexibility not found in other production roles. 

To gain valuable experience, decide what type of video editor you want to be. Film editors usually work in a freelance capacity or as an in-house editor.

  • Freelance: Freelancing means that you choose the gigs you take. The freedom to turn down undesirable roles and not limit yourself to one specific person or company can be alluring. However, stresses include being in charge of multiple projects and not knowing where your next paycheck is coming from. You’ll likely start out with smaller but more immersive projects.
  • In-house: If stability and security inspire you, you’ll probably appreciate the predictability of an in-house position. You’ll likely start in an apprenticeship, internship, or entry-level capacity if working in-house. This means you’ll be at the bottom of the corporate hierarchy, but also have more opportunities for mentorship. You can learn on the job and witness the day-to-day workings of an entire production, which offers a more holistic perspective. 

Any industry experience also allows you to build a portfolio, which can help land your next job.

Types of video editing jobs

  • Film editing: You can take your talents as a film editor to its most basic conclusion by editing full-length movies for the silver screen.
  • TV show editing: Similarly, you can work with a TV station or streaming platform to edit individually shorter, but as a whole lengthier, television projects.
  • Documentary editing: In this truly post-production role, you will work with a documentary filmmaker to craft a narrative using hours of raw footage.
  • Music video editing: If remembering the halcyon days of MTV fills you with nostalgia, try your hand at music video editing. You’ll need a basic interest in and knowledge of the music industry.
  • Advertisement editing: Live out your “Mad Men” fantasy as an editor for an advertising or marketing firm. Ad editors should have an interest in what drives audience engagement and a knack for persuasion.

What companies hire video editors?

Video editingPavel Korotkov/Shutterstock

Video editors are found in almost every media company, from news outlets to marketing and PR firms. For more traditional work in narrative or informative content, video editors may get an internship or job at companies including:

  • TV networks and news stations
  • Film studios
  • Recording studios
  • Marketing agencies
  • Video game companies

Social media and video sharing platforms have also expanded possibilities for video editor roles. Creators working on YouTube or other video-sharing platforms often hire video editors to assist in the post-production of their high turnaround content. These jobs are an excellent way for video editors to work at a fast pace and quickly build an impressive portfolio.

What different types of projects do video editors work on?

Video editor in front of three computer monitorsArthur Bargan/Shutterstock

A video editor’s work can range from creating short content to more long-form projects. Here are just a few different types of content you might work on as a video editor:

  • Social media videos 
  • YouTube videos
  • Television commercials
  • Web series episodes
  • Promotional content
  • Behind-the-scenes videos
  • Feature or short films
  • Television shows
  • Corporate presentation videos

How to choose the right video editor job

Man editing a movie with a dual-monitor setupFrame Stock Footage/Shutterstock

When learning how to become a video editor, it’s key to find the right job for you. While any experience can help grow your technical skills, part of the game is networking with the right people, so be sure to make new connections during your job search. To choose the right job for you:

  • Know your interests: Be sure to learn what delights you before searching for your next job. The best way to figure out what you are looking for as an editor is to watch a vast array of content and first ask yourself why the work is successful (or not). Then begin to narrow down your choices based on your preferences as an editor and creative. You’ll do your best work on projects that you are passionate about, or at the very least pique your interest as an artist. 
  • Test it out: If you are curious about narrative work, try shooting your own material and then editing it together. Or find work on a student film and learn the ropes with other early career creatives. If you are more interested in advertisements and PR material, try finding jobs with smaller companies in your area that are looking for video editors. Build your portfolio with that work, and then branch out to larger clients. 

How do you get ahead as a film editor?

Once you’ve started your career editing videos, the following tips will help you to stand out and get ahead:

  • Stay on top of trends: It’s important to stay up-to-date with industry standards and trends such as short-form, animation overlays, and 360-degree videos. You should constantly be watching and learning from your contemporaries, as well as the past masters. 
  • Be willing to compromise: As a video editor, you’re tasked with developing someone else’s vision. Sometimes this might not be in line with your particular sensibilities or taste. Cultivating a sense of artistic compromise—that is, being able to deliver on the assignment while staying true to your own voice—is a great asset for any video editor.
  • Network: Building connections is key. Make sure you are plugged into what’s happening in your industry circle in order to learn about new working opportunities and stay abreast of emerging trends.

By practicing these skills, along with the technical aspects of video editing, you can be on your way to becoming a successful video editor.

For more on how to get work on a film crew, visit Backstage’s crew hub!

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