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Editors are storytellers, technicians and collaborators, helping the director achieve their vision.

My First Job in Film: What is an editor?

what does an editor do?

The editor of a narrative feature film plays a significant part in re-visioning the script, shaping the story, using their experienced storytelling instincts to create pace, rhythm, structure, and tone that should resonate with the audience and elicit an emotional response. Being an editor is not merely working an Avid, though that will help. The editor is the director's confidant, sounding board, and problem solver, which is why so many directors/editors have a long-standing partnership. Alongside other long-term relationships, the editor/director partnership evolves over time to incorporate a significant amount of trust and creative understanding, Michael Kahn famously saying “I don’t do what Steven (Spielberg) asks me to do, I do what I think he actually wants”.

Having read the script, the editor will meet with the director in pre-production to express their opinion on the project and voice any concerns they may have with the story. Being experienced at pulling together a narrative gives the editor a unique perspective when looking at the script for the first time; many can see plot holes that have gone unnoticed. If the edit is to run in tandem with principal photography, the editor will take pre-production meetings with the director and liaise with the production office to assess the best location to set up the suite. The assistant editor will be receiving footage each morning (if shooting on film and processing overnight) or if shooting digitally, the hard drives will be carried over after wrap each evening. Over the course of production, the editing assistant can be ingesting hundreds of hours of footage, which requires skilled data management to make sure everything is filed, backed up and located in the correct folders specified by the editor.

Some directors prefer to begin post-production in earnest once principal photography has finished, others will visit the edit each night to view edited sequences. During this period the editor will be putting the first assembly of the film together using the notes provided by the script supervisor which detail the director's preferred take/shot for each scene. The first assembly(also known as the rough cut or editor’s cut) provides the blueprint for the film unless the director decides they want to restructure the narrative of the movie.

The first assembly (editor’s cut):

The rushes are synced with sound, and the script supervisors' continuity notes are inputted into the metadata of each clip. The editor is then ready to get to work! The first assembly or rough cut of the film is where the editor will organize the sequences into roughly chronological order. It also gives the editor the opportunity to flag up any plot holes that appear, or scenes that are light on coverage giving the director the opportunity to arrange pick-up days and re-shoots. Editors also need to be adaptable in these initial stages as it’s entirely possible for the director to watch the rough cut and want to go back to the drawing board.

Editors are the film's first audience, which in itself can be a real privilege. While working on the first assembly the editor makes creative decisions concerning creating a mood such as suspense, levity or excitement. Bringing order, and sometimes reorder to a scene that isn’t working. Guided by the footage rather than the script editors Impose form and structure, inserting timings/leader reel for the VFX team to work with, and adding a musical guide track. Editors will also be looking at performance. Unlike many of the director's other collaborators, editors will inform the director if performance isn’t meeting expectations. If this is during production the director may have a chance to address this in pick up shots at the end of the shoot, or if time and money allow before.

Director’s Cut:

After the rough cut comes the director's cut, which is often a tightening and refining of the editor's cut. If the director has ‘shot for the edit’, meaning given themselves ample coverage of each scene, they can begin to play with the options that editing allows. Editing is not only a process of bringing structure to a film; it can manipulate the audience's response to characters and their motivation. Do we find a character likable, untrustworthy, scary - all these emotions can be created by the actor's performance and the editing techniques applied by the editor and director in post-production. This is why the edit is referred to as ‘making the film for the third time’, options can surface that the director had not previously envisioned.  If the shooting schedule was squeezed, however, or the director only wanted to shoot what they thought they needed at the time, the edit can be a tough place - especially if their vision isn’t paying off.  

The director's cut can be the final cut of the film if producers and execs are happy with the outcome. On a big studio production, however, it rarely is the final cut. Studio execs who are responsible for making sure the huge budgets are used to best effect will have input into the final cut of the film. In some instances this can mean re-shooting/adding scenes, re-cutting to make a character more sympathetic or adding/subtracting violent content, especially if they wish to get the film into a particular rating (U/PG/12/15/18). The final stages before picture lock (final cut before the online edit ) can be fraught with creative tension, or it can run like clockwork.

Key skills for working as an editor

  • Being able to work on your own and transition to working in a room full of creative voices.

  • Being technically minded while possessing artistic flair.

  • A strong sense of narrative and character.

  • Check any ego at the door to help the director achieve their vision for the film. However, you may have to express an opinion and defend it if you think it will benefit the production.

  • Diplomacy and tact.

  • Remaining calm and confident when dealing with high pressured situations such as changes in schedule, changes of mind and differences of opinion.

what is the career path for an editor working in drama?

The most commonly taken path to working in an edit suite is to start work as a runner in one of the UK's post production facilities that house an impressive array of picture, sound and VFX editing. While there is no defined career path there is an element of apprenticeship for editors, notably starting as an assistant and navigating your way from there. Becoming an assistant is going to take contacts, and if you are without contacts in the industry, there is no better place to start than as a runner. While working as a runner you can pick your moments and ask to sit in on an edit or ask to use the equipment during your time off. Ultimately you need to be cutting your work to gain as much practical experience as you can.  

If you are working at a facility you will notice the turnover of staff can be high, not because of a dropout rate but that progression can be very quick for the right candidate. Make sure to involve yourself in the technical process as much as possible, troubleshooting, ingesting and EDL creation should give you some hands-on time with the equipment. Spend time in the MCR (Master Control Room) to become familiar with the codecs and workflows of the various formats currently available.

  • Edit support operator/MCR operator

  • 2nd edit assistant

  • 1st edit assistant

  • Editor.


Any filmed production will require an editor. In some sectors of the industry, the editor will be responsible for the whole post production process, including primary VFX and sound. Editors can be found working on:

  • Feature films

  • Short films

  • TV drama

  • Television (news, factual, comedy, entertainment, children’s TV, sport)

  • Commercials

  • Corporate films

  • Student productions

  • Digital content

  • Music videos/promos

What is the role of the editor on different productions?

The role of the editor can vary when looking at the various types of productions, and feature films of differing budgets. Low budget independent productions can employ the editor until picture lock is completed, keeping the assistant on to oversee the dub. On bigger productions, the editor can remain through to the final mix, VFX and grade to ensure all editorial decisions remain intact. Editing narrative fiction over film and TV will have a similar process, but if working on a series the editor can be one of a team servicing each episode, not the whole series.  

Editors working on commercials and music videos can be working for the production company who filmed the material or the creative agency/record label. Editors will need to balance the needs of the project with the many creative and opinionated voices in the room. On a corporate film the editor will be working with the director and then the client to make sure they are conveying the customer's message in the most efficient manner they can. 


  • Avid Media Composer. The majority of feature films are edited using Avid.

  • Premiere Pro. Becoming the feature editors alternative to Avid and a great platform for lower budget productions or independent films.

  • Final Cut Pro. The emergence of Final Cut X has left many editors in a quandary and sparked industry-wide debate. Final Cut is still a preferred editing software when working on low-budget independent films.

  • Local and external Drives, servers, and networks. It sounds basic but if you want to work in post you need to demonstrate in your CV you can navigate and understand an operating system, work with shortcuts that have been set up by editors and the production team, move files safely, and know how to delete files from the system.

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