Film Editors

“Editing is where movies are made or broken. Many a film has been saved and many a film has been ruined in the editing room.” - Joe Dante 

Editing is the process of selecting and choosing the content and arranging it so as to convey the message in the best way possible. Compared to all other aspects of film making including acting, lighting and music, Editing is the only art form that is unique to film making although similar forms of Editing can be found in writing. Editing in films and other forms of video involves joining separate ‘shots’ to create a story and adding pace and rhythm to the narrative. It is a part of the ‘Post Production Process’ in films which means that it takes place once the film has been ‘captured’ on the camera. Editing is known as an ‘invisible art’ as the whole purpose of Editing is to make the film’s narrative so smooth, that the audience does not even realize that it is watching different shots joint together. Film Editors are responsible for the conversion of raw footage, which is almost never captured in a chronological order, into a final film that makes the narrative logical, impactful and moving.

The skills of an Editor are often the difference between a good and a great film. Editing has the power to determine the quality of the final film. Editors are vital for any film and work closely with Directors to create a film as per their vision. Most Editors are Freelance professionals and work on a project to project basis. They are involved in working on various kinds of projects including Films, Television, News Channels, Music Videos, and Corporate Films etc. It is a good career choice if you are patient and passionate about cinema. Editors are well paid professionals but have to deal with a lot of competition before they become successful.

What do Editors do?

The basic job of an Editor is to remove the unnecessary footage and arrange the required footage into a coherent whole. Editors are often involved in making changes to the narrative and sequence of the story with the permission of the Director. They creatively work with layers of images, sounds, music and effects to create a rhythm and pace for the scene or the film.

One of the most important tasks that an Editor performs is to go through the whole footage of the film. This includes watching all the shots in great detail and making notes regarding the possible cuts and transitions that the Editor will use. Many Editors are present on the set during the principal photography stage to make suggestions regarding the way the film is shot so as to come up with a smoother edit.

Another vital task for the Editor is to arrange the footage in a chronological order. This is extremely important as films and shows are often shot in a non – chronological manner and arranging them gives the Editor a good idea about how the film will look on the screen. This task is usually performed by Assistant Editors in large projects, but smaller films require the Editor to arrange the footage.

The most important job of an Editor is to make ‘cuts’. The word ‘cut’ is derived from the traditional form of Editing where the film print had to be cut and joint with the other shot to edit the film. Today, Editors use computer software to make cuts and join different shots. Deciding when and how to cut a shot is the main job of an Editor. These cuts decide the rhythm, pace and narrative of the film. For example, Editors use fast cuts by using a particular shot for a very small duration so as to create a faster narrative.

The Editor starts by making a basic cut that involves ‘wide shots’ and creating a basic narrative. This is known as the ‘rough cut’. Once the Editor has made the rough cut, he/she works with the Director and adds layers to the scenes by adding close ups and more creative shots as and when required.

More often than not, the cuts require a lot of fine tuning so as to make the narrative smooth and jerk free. The Editor sits with the Director and discusses every scene individually and decides the exact point of transition between two separate shots so that the cut looks smooth and adds to the narrative. The fine tuning of the edit results in the ‘final cut’ of the film that is approved by the Director.

Sound and video are mostly recorded separately in motion pictures. This creates an additional task for the Editor and that is to join the sound with the video. This is done at the first cut stage as well as the final cut stage. The Editor is responsible for ‘syncing’ the sound with the video so as to make it look like that the sound and video have been recorded together. Editors often add or suggest background music and sound effects for scenes and shots.

During the process of Editing, the Editor creates multiple versions of a single edit. The sequence of shots, duration of cuts and type of transitions is different in all these versions. Editors collaborate with Directors and decide on which version to use in the final film. Editors are also often involved in experimenting with different cuts and versions on their own to see which suits the film better.

The primary task of an Editor is to handle the transition between one shot to the other. Editors use various effects for these transitions apart from the straight cut. These can be in the form of dissolves, fade in – fade outs etc. These effects greatly add to the narrative and can be used to play with the time and space within the film.

How to become an Editor?

Editors are involved in using shots to create sequences and using sequences to create a film. It is a tedious job that requires a person to use focus on each shot to create a film that comprises of thousands of shots. Becoming an Editor is not easy, but technical and creative ability along with dedication can make you very successful in this competitive career. You might have to work as an Assistant Editor for years before someone trusts you with their film completely as an Editor.

Even though educational qualifications are not necessary to become an Editor, you will require some basic education to become successful. Focusing on all subjects including English and Computer Science is very helpful. You can choose any stream after the 10th, as per your interests and other hobbies. However, Arts is the stream that will take you closer to the world of cinema and editing.

Once you complete your schooling, you should ideally join a Film school that has a course in Editing. These are usually Diploma courses and will not provide you with a degree. You can also choose to pursue a graduate degree in any other field if you have multiple interests or want to keep a back up career in case you don’t make it as an Editor. Related fields like Mass Communication can be very helpful.

Editing is a career that survives on practice and experience. You will need to work as an intern or a trainee in as many places as possible during and after your education period. Working as an intern will help you learn the tricks of the trade from an experience Editor and will also help you learn about the nuances of Editing and working in the industry.

Editing is one aspect of film – making that has been greatly influenced by the boom in the IT sector. Films were earlier edited using machines that physically ‘cut’ the analog footage. But now, most films are recorded digitally and not on analog footage and almost all films are edited on computers. The advantage of editing on computers is that it helps an Editor create multiple versions and make quick changes without affecting the analog film or footage. Knowledge in editing software like Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premier is essential if you want to become an Editor.

To become an Editor, you will require a lot of practice and experience. This makes it important for all aspiring Editors to constantly work on their editing skills by working on student films or shooting films themselves to edit. This will help you in creating a good body of work as well as hone your skills as an Editor and gain more experience of working on computer editing software.

Aspiring Editors are required to constantly study cinema and various types of editing in films and television. This involves watching all types of Cinema and reading books related to the field of editing. You should study the work of great Editors and pay attention their detailed cuts and overall handling of the story.

Like any other profession in the motion picture industry, success in Editing also relies heavily on your ability to network and develop good relations. This is important as most Directors to not prefer to work with new Editors and have their own favorites who they feel comfortable with. As the money involved is usually huge, Directors to not like to risk working with new Editors. Therefore, it becomes essential to make contacts and keep others aware of your creative ability and editing skills.


There are many great courses in Editing offered by reputed institutions in India. For your Bachelor’s course, you can join St. Xavier’s Kolkata as it offers a great undergraduate program in Mass Communication and Videography. You will be awarded with a B.Sc in Mass Communication and Videography upon graduation. The Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune is one of the most prestigious film schools of the country. It offers a three year post graduate diploma in Editing. The Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI), Kolkata offers a three year post graduate program in Cinema with a specialization in Editing.

What are the skills required to become an Editor?

Editors are very creative and intelligent people who believe in innovation. They are required to have a strong understanding about the different aspects of film – making including narration and storytelling. They should be patient and should have the ability to pay attention to details without losing the track of the overall film. Editors need to have a very strong knowledge base in editing software and should be able to work under extreme pressure as they have to constantly adhere to deadlines. They should also have a lot of technical knowledge in the field of Editing and should know the various ways to use different cuts and transitions. They need to have excellent organizational skills and should be able to communicate effectively and clearly. Editors need to have very strong social skills so as to collaborate with Directors and their subordinates including Assistant Editors and Trainees. Most importantly, Editors should have the genuine desire and dedication to make the narrative of the film as smooth and as effective possible, even if it involves months of hard work.

Is this the right career for me?

Editors spend most of their lives in front of computer screens working on each cut of a film. They work for very long hours under extreme pressure. Editors are mostly unappreciated for their work and have to deal with massive competition. On the other hand, it is a well paying career that allows a person to express themselves creatively and work in a glamorous industry.

 For people who are looking for job security and regular income, and those who are not comfortable with working under pressure and meeting deadlines, this is not the right job. However if you have a passion for cinema and are willing to work extremely hard so as to meet the demands of the Director and create a good film, this can be a great career choice.


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