A career as a video editor can be an exciting prospect for people who are tech-savvy with a keen eye for both the big picture and little details. The current focus on video content creation means that film editors are in demand more than ever before. But as with any career in the entertainment industry, video editing is a complex and demanding job. Keep reading to learn about all things video editing, including the skills and credentials required to break into the field, job demand for film editors, and insider insight.
Video editors assemble footage and cut it in interesting, entertaining, and visually intriguing ways. They use their creativity and technical skills to determine which cuts, audio, and graphics best convey a video’s narrative and translate the director’s vision into a final product. They might edit videos for:
- Film, TV, and animation
- Broadcast productions
- Marketing and advertisements
- Social media content creators
Video editors must be proficient with a variety of technical elements such as cutting, keyframing, color grading, and audio mixing. They must also be comfortable with non-linear video editing software, including:
- Adobe Premiere Pro
- Final Cut Pro
- Adobe After Effects
- CyberLink PowerDirector 365
While becoming a master video editor takes years of practice, you can develop basic editing abilities with these programs in just a few months. It’s also important to keep up with the latest technological advancements so you can stay in the game.
In some phases of a project, editors are left to their own devices to figure out how they want to cut the film before consulting with other members of the production. The ability to take initiative and work well on your own is crucial.
On the flip side, you also have to be an effective team member. “I think the most rewarding part of the process is when you start working with directors and producers and really start feeling collaborative about it,” says video editor John Petaja (“Invasion,” “Hunters,” “Mr. Robot”). Synergy breathes life into video projects, so a collaborative mindset is a must.
Video editors are responsible for combing through hours of raw footage to find the best takes. Depending on the production, the shooting ratio (which is the amount of material filmed versus the length of the final cut) can reach astronomical proportions. For example, George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” reportedly condensed 480 hours of footage to 2 hours. If you’re working on a production like that, you can expect to be working around the clock to find the best shots, clean them up, match them with the appropriate audio, and form coherent sequences.
The editor should have an idea (or a few ideas) of what they’re building toward as they work. Use your imagination to create storyboards to help guide your path.
The film editor work environment can be extremely chaotic. Enthusiasm about the job and the film project helps get you through the bad days—and makes the good days even better.
Most video editor positions require a B.A. in a subject related to film production, although editing ability and work experience ultimately carry more weight than education. Many video editors get their start in film school, where they gain a foundational knowledge of filmmaking and editing techniques. Alternatively, some attend fine arts or liberal arts programs that offer video editing classes.
Formal education allows you to familiarize yourself with video editing software and technology, learn from industry veterans, and develop connections with your peers. “The main value...with school is always going to be the connections of the people you work with, your peers,” Petaja advises.
Tuition for an undergraduate program at a non-specialized college may cost $2,000 to $6,000 per academic year, while a bachelor’s or master’s program can cost upwards of $50,000 per year at a filmmaking or fine arts school.
A more budget-friendly option is to take one of the many online courses that teach useful video editing skills. If you’re not quite sure about enrolling in higher education just yet, these options can be a good way to see if video editing is something you enjoy and want to pursue. Watching tutorials or completing courses can take anywhere from a few hours to a few months.
You can also earn certifications to show proficiency in different software applications—it never hurts to have a few extra credentials on your résumé. Earning some certifications can be done quickly just by taking a test, but others may require higher education or work experience.
- Demand is high: In a time when 86% of companies rely on video for marketing, the demand for video editors is at an all-time high. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 28,000 film and video editors currently employed, with the vast majority working in California or New York. Many businesses and networks keep in-house editors for their creative content, and freelance platforms such as Upwork and Fiverr offer the chance for editors to work with both companies and independent creators.
- Experience matters: While you’re working your way up to becoming an editor, try taking a job as an assistant editor. There is a valuable “learning curve that happens when you are an assistant editor around other editors,” says Petaja. This can give you a firmer grasp on editing software and how other editors use different types of shots and cuts.
- Location can be flexible: You may be wondering: Can video editors work from home? The answer is yes—usually. Most editing work and communication with clients can be done from home, as long as you have the right software. However, remote work might not be viable if you’re working on a production using something a typical home setup can’t handle, such as 4K resolution or high-definition surround sound. In those cases, you’ll have to work from a professional editing suite.
Although opportunities abound for video editors, there’s still a lot of competition to get the top spots in the field. Here are a few tips on how to get ahead as a video editor:
- Practice, practice, practice: If you can’t get an assistant editor position on a film or TV show, or want to hone your skills before taking on that level of responsibility, practice using other forms of video editing. Social media content, promotional materials, and side projects can be a great way to develop your skills while also getting paid. “I think, in the beginning of a career, it’s really helpful to say yes to most things that come up,” says Petaja. You can showcase these on LinkedIn, your portfolio website, or a freelancing platform. Staying versatile is a valuable trait when you’re first starting out.
- Learn through trial and error: Be open to constructive criticism so that you can learn from your mistakes. Your best bet is to find a mentor in the field who can guide you toward best practices.
- Have a killer demo reel: Create a demo reel showcasing the types of videos you edit, different skills and techniques you’ve refined, and any big-name projects you’ve worked on. An impactful demo reel highlighting your video editing talents can make the difference between landing a job or being left on the cutting room floor.
Frame Stock Footage/Shutterstock
The median annual salary an in-house video editor can expect to earn is around $50,000, although that amount varies depending on experience and position. The bottom 10% of salaried video editors make around $35,000 a year, and the top 10% earn approximately $77,000.
Pay for video editing jobs on freelance platforms can range anywhere from $5 (usually for cutting together videos for smaller creators on YouTube, Instagram, or TikTok) to several thousand dollars (mainly from companies with a decently sized marketing budget). If you continuously expand your skills and build your reputation, you’ll find better and more consistent work.
Editors working in the film industry earn a mean wage of $76,000, which translates to $36.54 per hour. Again, what you take home will depend on your experience and abilities.
If you want consistent, guaranteed pay, consider joining a postproduction or editors’ union such as the Editors Guild. An on-call editor in that union who’s working on a contract for HBO, Showtime, or Starz will make at least $3,897.38 per week. But not everyone can join the union right away, since there are specific experience requirements before acceptance. The best way to do this is to work on non-union shows and films that have aired in order to get exposure and credit to your name.
In other words, the amount of money a video editor can expect to make depends on location and type of work.
If you’re looking for consistency and stability above all else, a salaried position as an in-house editor may be the right choice for you. With this type of role, you won’t have to worry about securing your next contract to make ends meet.
But if your heart is set on working on major motion pictures and the next big TV shows, you’ll likely need to get comfortable with working as a freelancer. If you’re skilled enough, you can get consistent positions with the same filmmakers. Some directors employ the same editor for years or decades if they work well together. For example, Thelma Schoonmaker has edited most of Martin Scorsese’s films, and Francis Ford Coppola worked with Walter Murch for more than 30 years. It’s possible to build a lasting relationship with a director, but you’ll probably have to work on other productions in between editing their projects.
Another growing obstacle for video editors is that many jobs are being outsourced. Some companies prioritize saving costs or have small budgets. Editors who live in parts of the world where the cost of living is low can afford to charge less money for their services, which drives prices down for the market.
Still, the video editing industry is poised to be one of the fastest-growing job sectors in the U.S. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that film and video editing is expected to grow by 14% from 2021 to 2031—higher growth than every other media technician and operator job.
Overall, “it’s a super-enjoyable career,” Petaja says. Video editing is a good career choice for creative, enthusiastic people with an eye for detail and a love for the industry.