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Cutting In: Certified Career Counselling for Aspiring Editors


Some of the industry’s top editors speak to LBB’s Josh Neufeldt about remote vs. in-person work, necessary skills for the job, and how they themselves got started in the business

Cutting In: Certified Career Counselling for Aspiring Editors

‘How does one get started as an editor?’ It’s a good question. With the consistent release and improvement of editing software and technology, the curveball that was covid-19 and naturally, the inevitably of rapid cultural shifts in the industry, aspiring editors might be unsure as to how they should best proceed. 

But, they need not worry. With new possibilities for remote work, brands’ consistent demand for new video content and the technological barrier to entry being more cost effective than ever, getting a job in editing is more doable than ever, so long as one is willing to network for it. 

LBB’s Josh Neufeldt sat down with Marshall Street Editors’ Guy Savin, Final Cut managing director/editor David Webb, DEFINITION 6 senior editor John Gill, Uppercut Edit founder/editor Micah Scarpelli, Where The Buffalo Roam’s Jonathan Flookes, Modern Post’s Graham Patterson, Alkemy X’s Vincent Cordisco, and MCM Creative head of post Aubrey Hardwick, to learn more about how one might get started in the field. 

Guy Savin 
Editor at Marshall Street Editors

There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to available career routes, but gaining experience and industry knowledge will definitely set you up for success. A common path is working as an in-house runner: shadowing assistant editors and helping on projects whenever possible. Another route is via university, and there are degree courses offered at Bournemouth and Falmouth. Or, you could gain your qualification from the National Film and Television School [all in the UK].  

It is also possible to be a self-taught editor - where you can familiarise yourself with the software, take on freelance work and build a showreel. However, I personally feel that it’s advantageous to work alongside someone with experience, who can mentor you on your development and career. 

This is further helped by the growth of in-house post facilities - both at agencies and production companies. As a result, the opportunities for placement are increasing. And, with the introduction of some excellent software packages, anyone wanting to enter the profession can now learn their craft on the job, at home, or wherever. (However, again, in my opinion, nothing beats working alongside an experienced editor and learning everything you can from them – the good, bad and ugly!).  

I’d also add that to this end, doing this work in person is pretty useful. For assistants, facetime with an editor for assistants is an important part of building their skills and career. However, the pandemic has proven the possibility of working remotely. As such, whilst being centred in a major city could be perceived as an advantage, it’s clear that a lot of the tasks performed by assistants can be done from any location. Therefore, a blend of working remotely with an occasional face-to-face meeting would definitely be the best of both worlds. 

In terms of necessary skills, I’d say that the influence of social channels and their ability to reach audiences beyond a more traditional TVC means that people need to be prepared to do multiple edits, versions and cut downs on each individual job. The knock-on effect is twofold in that the volume of work has increased, and so has the speed at which content needs to be cut and delivered. This demand has seen the introduction of certain software packages which have made the creation of content faster and easier. However, there are still core skills needed for a good editor. In my experience, both in programming and commercials, you need the ability to construct both a visual and story narrative to judge pace, possess a good understanding of music and rhythm, and have a serious eye for detail - all whilst managing the expectations of the client and team. This final point can’t be underestimated. Good communication skills are key!  

David Webb 
Managing director/editor at Final Cut

It has always been hard to get into editing. It used to be that if you were one of the select few that even knew this career existed, the only way to get a foot in the door was most likely through nepotism. If you knew the right person, you might have wrangled an interview with one of the four or five Soho editing companies. At the interview, you would be rapidly disavailed of the notion that your degree in filmmaking qualified you to do anything more than make tea. Then, if you managed to present yourself in a manner that showed you would walk over burning coals to prove your allegiance to the cause, you might just get a job. A job that is - as a runner! The first step on the ladder!

From here, after learning through osmosis and the occasional benevolence of sympathetic editors, an opportunity would eventually present itself to step up. And then you’d find yourself working outside of hours on freebies and low budget projects that tested the mettle of your dedication to this rarefied career path. Four, five or six years later, you might finally get a chance to sit in the editing chair with actual, real life, paying clients.

As of today, some things have changed, but some things have not. It’s still hard to get into, but there are more opportunities and avenues to enter the profession than ever before. Video content is everywhere! We’re still making TV ads, and the streamers are producing an astonishing amount of content. Consequently, there aren’t enough qualified editors in the UK to serve demand. Everyone has a laptop with an editing app and thinks they deserve a shot in the editing seat, but progressing too fast can backfire. Working on a project that you don’t quite have the skillset for can be demoralising. An editor’s craft takes time to develop.

This skillset is the same, regardless of platform or project. You need a sense of rhythm and syncopation, an understanding of storytelling, knowledge of the production process, and most importantly, thick skin. Editing is a collaborative process and the ability to work a room and navigate conflicting thoughts and ideas with creative collaborators is imperative to a successful career in editing. That’s not to say you have to work in an established cutting room to have a successful career. There’s a huge range of opportunities to ply your trade as an editor, but for bigger clients, things like security, confidentiality, and the support of a production team are paramount.

There are opportunities to work remotely - we currently have one assistant working from his home in Budapest - but we still advise that the best way to progress your career is to work on premise. Sitting in on an editing session can teach you more about the realities of editing than any online tutorial can. It’s not just about knowing what the buttons do, it’s about meeting people, showing initiative and learning from creative peers. The industry has always been London-centric, and this is still the case. On-boarding new hires remotely is challenging, and whenever possible, it is our preference to train people in-house.

Everyone wants to leapfrog the training period, but this time is invaluable. In advertising, it’s never been formalised so it is seemingly inconsequential, but time in the trenches working around your creative peers is the best training you will ever have. Working outside of hours on freebies and low budget projects is still the way to hone your craft and test your mettle. At Final Cut we have our new blood roster, which incorporates all of our assistants and provides a shop front for their talents.

The streamers are addressing the skills gap by introducing trainee schemes to every department, which is amazing but means there has been an exodus from advertising to long form. The advertising cutting rooms have been slow to react and as a consequence, are struggling to fill assistant and runners roles. There’s no shortage of work - rather a shortage of candidates. The adage of the ‘cream will rise to the top’ still applies, but not if they’re snaffled by the likes of Netflix first.

John Gill
Senior editor at DEFINITION 6

Just scan a few of the video editor job postings on LinkedIn and you’ll see that each one is a little different in terms of the ‘required skills’ that are listed. Some employers want you to know Avid, many want Adobe Premiere Pro, and some require both. You may be expected to know design/motion graphics, colour grading, sound design/audio mixing - while others may even require you to shoot the video that you will also edit. You can also add media management, editing over Zoom, and reformatting videos for numerous digital/social platforms to an ever-growing list. 

If you’re an aspiring editor, this can all seem a little daunting. But don’t be discouraged, because for most entry-level assistant editor positions, you'll learn what you need to know on the job, through repetition. Bring your enthusiasm, common sense and communication skills, and you’ll do just fine. As for eventually climbing beyond that assistant position - embrace every opportunity that comes your way. Help your editor colleagues on projects. Ask to do string outs and rough cuts, and go back and deconstruct completed projects to see how they evolved. 

On the other hand, not all paths to becoming an editor are that direct. But that’s ok too. Video editing wasn’t my first (or even my second) career. I spent many years as a music journalist for radio, TV, print, and digital. I helped launch and run a satellite radio channel, a TV station, and a hip-hop music website. Amidst one of those jobs, I decided to take advantage of my employer’s tuition reimbursement program and completed some classes in Avid editing. I spent late nights/weekends doing assistant work: loading footage and stringing out show scripts. I taught myself how to edit in Final Cut Pro (that was becoming a thing at the time) and found some little freelance jobs that could be done during my off-hours. 

I’m telling you all of this to say that if you truly want to be a video editor, you need to seek out opportunities. Network with people who do what you want to do, and ask them questions. Find those little freelance jobs (on platforms like Fiverr) where you can develop and showcase your talents as a budding visual storyteller. Do as many internships as your time allows. As a way to give back and teach the next generation, I launched an editorial/post-production internship program at DEFINITION 6 back in 2016. It became a virtual internship in 2020, and is still going strong. I launched my career way back when as an intern at MTV, and fully believe to this day that I would not be who or where I am without taking the time to do that internship. 

Micah Scarpelli
Founder/editor at Uppercut Edit

When I started out on the editorial ladder the path was pretty clear. You would start as a runner or an assistant for an established editor, and work your way up from there. There were far fewer companies, which definitely made it harder to access opportunities. And, the cost of the equipment was much higher, which made it less accessible to people learning. Nowadays, access to a camera and a computer is a lot easier to come by, so some folks end up building their experience by editing what they or their friends shoot, or working with other young creatives or directors - and start to build their reels that way. They’re bypassing the assistant phase entirely.

I think there are pros and cons to this. I like to see ambitious people producing good and interesting work - work that might not have seen the light of day otherwise. But, it’s a real loss to miss out on the cultural education that comes from working your way up, steadily, in a company. When you work the assistant track, you get a sense of everything involved in seeing a project through from start to finish. Being a good editor and cutting the piece is really just 50% of the job. The other 50% is being able to run the room and build relationships with all the different types of creative people involved in a project. 

On a project, sometimes the director and client have different visions. It’s important, as an editor, to be able to communicate with everyone involved. So a lot of times, even very skilled independent editors will have a steep learning curve if they join a larger company - which most eventually do. 

A lot of the basic tools and skill sets are the same, but I think there is a greater expectation of versatility. We expect our assistants to know Avid and Adobe Premiere (and all that), but we’re also looking for people who can do graphics and after-effects and compositing. We really value people with broad skill sets and people who are excited about the prospect of learning new things. I’ve seen some interesting career trajectories where assistants discovered their niche, and went on to become colourists or composers. I’m working with the owner of one of our sister companies, Tenthree, in London, to develop an assistant editor exchange program so that we can provide assistants with the opportunity to work on different kinds of projects and in different capacities. There is a tendency in this industry for people to get pigeonholed based on whatever kind of work they were doing when they started out, and we’re hoping to mitigate that. Work with different editors in different modes. Be a sponge. 

As far as working remotely, I’ll be blunt; I think it’s a massive disadvantage. Working on Zoom is just not the same. Being able to turn to the person to your left and ask, ‘what do you think of this?’ or pick up on social dynamics in a room? Invaluable. And then, there’s camaraderie. Some of my favourite times coming up in the industry were just shooting the shit with other assistants in the breakroom. I really advocate for establishing a strong culture wherever you are. So, my advice to anyone seriously contemplating this career path would be to move to a major city - not blindly (you know, amass some work like a skate video, a local band’s video, anything) - and try to build contacts. Be prepared to go where the people are, and where the work is. 

Jonathan Flookes 
Editor at Where The Buffalo Roam

Editing jobs have exploded over the last 15 years. With that explosion, entirely new editing divisions have popped up. An editor's career path went from a few lanes to dozens, and inside each of those lanes are specific skillset requests.

Editing career paths are also changing because the way we consume media is changing - but so are price points! The barrier to entry for learning how to edit is quite low now. Between cheaper editing programs, mobile devices, and YouTube tutorials, aspiring editors are able to learn the tools of the trade from their homes. But, learning how to use an NLE and knowing how to edit are two different beasts entirely. 

There's an old saying: ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’. The one skill set you must master as an editor is storytelling. As you develop as an editor, you will pick up other skills along the way that will help enhance your pieces. It is important in the modern era to have an understanding of motion graphics, colour correction, and sound design/mixing. No amount of fast edits, fancy graphics, kick-ass music, or beautiful colour correction will matter if your story stinks.  

With the pandemic forcing people to learn how to work remotely, you no longer need to live in the same city as the post house or the production team. While that has made some people's lives easier, it has made starting a career as an assistant much harder. In person communication and on-the-job training are so important. Something as simple as just being in the same room or area as the editor you are assisting makes such a difference in what you might learn. If you have the opportunity to be in-person, take it. It may not be all the time, but something is better than nothing. As for not being in a large city, each case will be different - but one thing that hasn’t changed is networking. 75% of the jobs you are going to get as a staff or freelance employee will come from networking. Take the time to network in your area, but also take the time to try and network in places you would like to get work from. 

Graham Patterson
Editor at Modern Post 

There are essentially two ways to go about getting started. One way is to produce a lot of your own content. You can do this by going to school or surrounding yourself with like-minded people while learning your trade through your own productions - and getting good enough at it that people pay you to do it. The other path would be to find a post house that has some sort of upward mobility system which allows you to climb the ladder. You want to look for a place that has creative people that support talent and help people grow.

For me, I was freelance and I bounced around doing editing, direction, and DP work - until I found Modern Post. I could tell that they had a clear business plan and model, and they had a superior level of work that I aspired to be a part of. It’s important to look for people that inspire you and that are doing the kind of work that you’d be proud to do.

However, the work itself is changing. With every brand needing to have such a social presence, there is so much need for content these days, and as a result, more opportunity. I also think that now, more than ever, brands are seeking creative voices and visionaries. As such, there is a newfound opportunity for creatives to come up through nontraditional paths, if they are able to hone in on their own unique voice and seek out the right connections and opportunities. It’s great to see that there is more space for individuals to represent their own identities in advertising today.

Personally, when I look for an assistant, I look for a good standard of excellence, work ethic, as well as awareness of rhythm and intuition - all of which I feel are timeless qualities. We’re also seeing a lot more being done in-box. The space used to be more segmented - with everyone working squarely within specific roles - but as the software continues to evolve, we are seeing more multi-hyphenate roles. I’m an editor, but I love sound design and often handle that aspect of my projects. Given the growth in the volume of work, wearing multiple hats can also be beneficial to the timeline of the project, and ultimately aid the client.

Another thing I consider when looking to hire an assistant is that I want them to be around, in person, to build a culture. While (from my experience), starting out your editorial career in a small town or non-major city is a good place to get your bearings, practise your trade, and build your skill set and portfolio, you’re also likely to hit a point where you realise that you would like to step up to a higher quality of work and seek an elevated standard of excellence. It’s at this time that I think you are best off moving to a bigger city if you’re looking to further advance your career. With that said, this industry is largely about relationships, and if you’ve put in the work and have the chops, it’s possible to move into the later stages of your career through remote work. 

However, if I’m being honest, I think I saw a dip in the quality of work when everyone was remote. When I was coming up as a cutting assistant, so much of my experience and my standards of excellence were driven by being around people who were doing great work. Sitting in on sessions in-person, giving my feedback when there was an opportunity to do so, attending the cutting of an amazing film, watching it on a big TV with great sound and discussing it afterward - all of it is incomparable. Being immersed in that setting drove me to want to be better. The camaraderie and creative collaboration are essential to me. I know how much it meant to me early on, and it’s for these reasons that I try to instil that same experience in those coming up.

Vincent Cordisco
Editor at Alkemy X 

I never knew that I wanted to be an editor; it re-found me in college - which was a nice surprise. I discovered my path somewhat organically, but I think for others that really know what they want to do, there are several ways to go about it.

Today, so much of the education for becoming an editor can be done online for free, or relatively cheaply. You can join an editing house starting out, but freelancing also took a massive step forward during the pandemic. I think that it is here to stay, and it can be really appealing for companies who want to be able to hire someone who is not in their city. This is equally appealing for the people who once thought they needed to be in New York or Los Angeles, but now, no longer have to relocate. With that said, I personally always steered away from freelancing due to how intimidating it was to constantly be working on getting new projects booked. Nevertheless, the ability to book more work remotely has likely opened up way more opportunities to work from anywhere.

In the same vein, traditional career paths are also changing. Even just 10 or 15 years ago, an editor was purely an editor - working in Avid, Premiere, or Resolve. Now, having a motion graphics background or some ability in that arena is, in some ways, becoming synonymous with being an editor. While they used to be two separate roles, I now see them as interchangeable. I think you really need to have some motion graphics abilities because they are so incorporated in edits now. The way that styles have changed - you now see motion graphics in everything. After Effects knowledge is so deeply incorporated in an editing role now.

Because of everything in this industry being rooted in technology, everything also advances super quickly. It’s important to never be complacent, because there is always going to be someone younger than you that knows something you don’t about the newest version of Premiere, After Effects and DaVinci. Embrace changes. It’s important to know how to use the new tools and not be afraid of them.

What remains timeless, however, is the need for a near-OCD level of organisation. You’re constantly passing projects from editor to editor, and if you’re not extremely organised, everything takes longer and is made difficult for everyone else you’re collaborating with. It’s also essential to be meticulous about your file names and structure. I don’t know any good editor that is not organised - it’s a prerequisite for working efficiently. 

In terms of where you can work from, I think if you are a true assistant editor and you are doing pre-cuts and syncing stuff, it can be fully done remotely. As you rise further, or if you are a motion/graphics editor or a senior editor, that might change, but for an assistant editor, it really depends on what the edit house is looking for. If it’s just working within the software, there is no reason why they can’t spread out to other cities. It doesn’t seem like remote work is going anywhere anytime soon. 

Aubrey Hardwick
Head of post at MCM Creative 

Editors have a plethora of mediums, genres and formats to choose from in terms of career route, and the beauty is, you don't have to choose just one! In fact, versatile editors are in high demand. Whether it's narrative or unscripted, short or long form, commercials, vodcasts, corporate, or branded content, an editor's wide knowledge of the industry and what is current and in-demand is always an asset. In fact, editors from the days of yore - who cut film, and only know how to cut on Avid - will be very restricted in today's editing landscape. That said, there is something to be said for focusing on one genre and getting really good at it. There's nothing better than hiring an editor for a narrative or documentary who has a deep knowledge of the genre, and who can just dive in and bring it home. Either route (versatile or specialised) is valid.

However, it should also be noted that traditional career paths are changing as the industry changes. Content is getting shorter and there's more of it. The days when there were two or three big films opening in theatres over Christmas, or summer, are over. There's content EVERYWHERE, and that's good news for editors. As long as the editor isn't too precious with what they want to cut, there are more opportunities than ever to work in the field. Just get ready to see your edit on YouTube, a website, or a billboard - as opposed to ‘In Theatres Only!’.

Another important element of becoming an editor in this new age is having an understanding of how long form media is streamed both for giants like Netflix and Hulu, as well short form platforms like YouTube and Vimeo. There is an absolute demand for editors to understand formatting for social platforms. There is often now an additional set of deliverables which include ‘social edits’, which, as of 2022, are formatted as 9x16 or 1x1. But things change fast, so an adaptable editor is a must!

Timeless skills are basically skills you want in any team member: a good collaborator, a great communicator, someone who is deadline oriented, and someone who has a good working knowledge of the software and workflow and doesn't stray from it. Workflow is everything when an edit is getting passed between departments (edit/colour/mix). But personally, I always believe that respect for the work and team is the most timeless trait of all. While not a requirement for a good editor, it sure as heck helps.

In terms of working locations, remote work is 1000% an option. In fact, it is getting more and more popular. We often do projects with editors in all ‘four corners’ of the globe. Thanks to modern tech, this is an option… BUT YOU MUST HAVE FAST INTERNET. The internet is key! If you live in a place that doesn't have good internet speeds, you might be in for a very frustrating experience. Otherwise, there is no shortage of remote assistant editor and editor work to be had around the globe.

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LBB Editorial, Wed, 26 Oct 2022 17:11:52 GMT