For those interested in pursuing a career in postproduction, whether as a film editor or supervisor, we’ve gathered all the necessary information to help you get started. From the best postproduction jobs to how much someone makes in the role, follow our go-to guide for answers, advice, and everything in between.
Postproduction is the phase of filmmaking that occurs directly after the production phase (which is the period when footage is actually shot). Often referred to in the industry as “post,” it is when editing occurs and the movie or show is actually pieced together for the screen. Different takes will be mashed up, scenes will be swapped and reordered, and any necessary special effects, audio, and music will be added in—all of that and more happens in post.
Postproduction can last any duration of time, really—from a few days to months, even years—depending on how much time is required and how many resources are available.
Postproduction begins once principal shooting is complete. The postproduction process is complex, highly regimented, and usually takes between a few months and a year. It includes:
- Storage: The first step in postproduction workflow is ensuring that the footage is stored securely on one or more hard drives.
- Editing: The video editor uploads footage dailies to a video editing system. The editor cuts footage, transitioning directly from one shot to the next in a way that the director feels best fits the filmic narrative. This first draft, called a rough cut, will be revised according to the director’s vision until the final cut.
- Audio: Sound editors work tirelessly on the film’s audio track to create the perfect aural experience. They assemble audio, remove unwanted sounds, and add sound effects. These sound effects are often created by foley artists, who recreate dull or muffled film sounds. If any dialogue is unclear, actors return to the studio to record automated dialogue replacement (ADR), which sound editors then add to the film’s audio track.
- Music: The music supervisor acquires original music or publishing rights for copyrighted music.
- Mixing: The sound mixer layers the audio, dialogue, and music. They adjust, remove, and enhance sounds as needed.
- Visual effects: The VFX team of artists and engineers create computer-generated imagery (CGI) to enhance the film. They only start working once the cut is ready to have CGI effects added to it.
- Color: Shot by shot, the colorist adjusts and enhances the film’s color palette through color correction and color grading.
- Graphics: Editors make graphics, title cards, and opening and closing credits and add them into the film.
- Trailer: Now that the full movie has been cleaned, edited, and shined to its brightest potential, another editing team cuts the trailer in a compelling way that will make audiences want to watch the film.
Although the term “cut” is still used today, long gone are the days when film strips had to be manually cut and spliced. Today, editors use postproduction technology to efficiently edit film and audio. Commonly used software programs include:
- Adobe Premiere: an integrative instrument to organize footage, add visual effects, do color correction, and add and mix audio
- Avid Media Composer: a tool for syncing scripts to timelines, applying professional color grades, and adding sound
- Final Cut Pro: a non-linear video editor used for efficient fine-tuning, effect and transition additions, 3D options, and color correction
- Adobe After Effects: a special-effects software that includes tracings, temporal remapping, 3D models, and other compositing and animation options
- Lightworks: an Emmy Award winner for innovation in digital nonlinear editing featuring realtime effects, multitrack editing, and audio layering
Frame Stock Footage/Shutterstock
There are a few primary jobs that keep the postproduction world going:
- Film editor: The proverbial No. 1 on the call sheet is the film editor. They are the ones who sit at a monitor next to the director (or showrunner, if it’s television) and follow their instructions for piecing footage together. In the old days, when movies were shot on film, editing was the product of cutting up actual film and piecing it together. Now, of course, the editing process is done digitally using computers and various softwares.
- Sound editor: The sound of a film or TV project is absolutely crucial to the overall success of the piece, and it largely comes down to postproduction. Sound editors are responsible for every single bit of dialogue spoken in a project, as well as any sound effects. These sounds can be on the apparent or bombastic side, such as explosion noises and sirens, but they also include the more subtle bits of sound that are so imperative to immersive movie magic—think ambient noise in a restaurant scene. The sound editor is also responsible for the crucial postproduction matter of automated dialogue replacement. If needed, actors from the project are brought into a sound recording studio to re-record lines that may require changing or dialogue that, for whatever reason, was not captured or not adequately captured on set.
- Postproduction coordinator: Also known as a postproduction supervisor, this is the person who ensures the delivery of the final film or episode to the studio or network. They do so by coordinating all of the many moving parts of the post process. Their main responsibility is liaising between the director and the other post employees, with the film lab that processes the final cuts, with the production company, and so on. They must have excellent organizational skills.
- Postproduction assistant: Just as a production assistant is basically everywhere and doing everything throughout the production, the postproduction assistant is everywhere throughout postproduction. They will do runs, track invoices, help with scheduling, make sure everyone is fed, and maintain the overall workflow of a postproduction process. They are unsung superheroes.
Pro Tip: Animator jobs are not generally part of the postproduction process, as animation is its own specialty that inherently includes post.
There are basically three ways that film studios, media companies, agencies, and individual projects hire for their postproduction needs: They either have their own in-house postproduction team; hire each role on an individual, freelance basis; or outsource to a fully staffed postproduction company or “house.”
The main types of projects you will work on in postproduction are films and television series. The differences between the two, when it comes to postproduction, reflect the differences in their overall nature:
- In film, there is one director.
- With television, every episode has its own director and is overseen by the showrunner
As far as postproduction processes are concerned, on a film, there is likely only going to be one film editor and one sound editor working the entire time with the director. In television, however, each episode might have its own sort of mini postproduction ecosystem, with different directors and editors working together with the showrunner (and executive producers, who hold more creative power in television than in film).
The other big difference that anyone who has worked in both film and TV at any phase of production will tell you about is time. It’s the nature of the beast that there is simply much less time when working in TV, and as such, everything moves at a much faster pace, including post.
The payment rate of a production role is dependent on experience, the types of projects you are working on (indie versus studio projects, for example, will have a large financial discrepancy), and how many projects you work on per year.
- Starting with editors, those on the highest end can make on average $170,000 a year, while those on the lower end average around $32,000. However, the average annual salary for an editor is about $76,000, according to a 2021 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Postproduction coordinators typically make anywhere from $32,000 to $81,000 per year, but the average is around $63,000.
- Postproduction assistants, being entry-level, make the lowest salary of the postproduction roles; their salaries typically range from $21,000 to $45,000 per year.
In postproduction, and specifically in editing, the more you do it, the better you will become. That means that when you’re starting out, you will need to do some editing for free. Offer up your services for friends’ projects or for projects of people you don’t know; or edit your own content for an audience of yourself and no one else. To get hired, you will need to have something to show for your skills—ideally a reel that you put together that includes different footage you have edited. You can’t make a reel out of thin air, so throw your hat in the ring to edit for free.
Eventually, those less glamorous gigs can lead to low-paying work, which can lead to higher-paying work and full-time employment. Additionally, the more you edit, the more people you will meet, and the more your name will be in consideration the next time a team is looking to hire.
Find and apply to the latest video editor and post production jobs on Backstage here.