Many people think film editors just cut out the bad shots. But it's more
complex than that. Directors routinely shoot much more footage than they need.
They might shoot a particular scene using both close-ups and long shots, as
well as working from several camera angles. The film editor is the one who
goes through all the footage.
Film editing dates back to the late 1800s, when inventors like Thomas Edison
produced short action films that were mere minutes in length.
Until recently, editors worked with actual film, cutting individual strips
and assembling them in the desired order. This was extremely time-consuming,
since the editor spent a great deal of time physically manipulating the film
-- putting it up, taking it down, and lining up rolls to find the right footage.
But non-linear editing has changed all that. Most editing is done using
a computer. And since the editor is no longer working with the actual physical
footage, it takes much less time to organize frames, extend a scene or make
While some low-budget films and productions still rely on traditional methods,
the majority of films are completed using non-linear editing (assembling film
in any order).
Editors work for motion picture companies, television studios, advertising
agencies and corporations. The work schedule can be very irregular. An editor
might work on a television series for six months, putting in long hours, then
spend three months searching for another job after the series is cancelled.
"You move from production to production to production," says film editor
Eileen Hoeter. "This isn't a job so much as a way of life."
While it helps to think creatively, film editing has its practical side.
Technical skills are essential. "People have the idea that filmmaking is very
artsy, when it fact it's very paper-based and mathematical," says Hoeter.
"You need to be able to count 24 frames per second and you need to be organized."
"You're working with both sides of your brain," says Laura Kab, a freelance
editor in Atlanta. "You need to be very creative one minute, but then you
need to be very technical the next minute."
Patience is also important. Film editors must be prepared to spend hours
at a time in a dark room poring through images of film on the computer screen.
Film editors work alone or in a team, depending on the size of the production.
As many as 12 editors, including a supervising editor, may be needed for a
major motion picture. By contrast, a single editor may have complete control
over a low-budget production.