Edit department

The editing department is responsible for cutting together the pictures (known as “rushes”) of a production. The editor must have an excellent understanding of story and narrative in order to take scenes shot in often non-story order and edit them bit-by-bit into one whole. An editor will be aided by a first assistant editor, second assistant or edit assistants and post-production runners. 

Bulletproof © Vertigo Films/Sky UK 2018

Skills required to work in the edit department

  • technical aptitude
  • knowledge of a variety of computer editing software such as Adobe Premier, Final Cut, Lightworks
  • creativity under pressure
  • imagination and an understanding of narrative
  • excellent communication and interpersonal skills 
  • developed sense of rhythm and timing in storytelling
  • highly developed aesthetic visual awareness
  • ability to lead a team
  • patience, attention to detail and good organisational skills
  • knowledge of health and safety legislation and procedures

Ways into the edit department

Although no specific qualifications are required to work in editing there are some short courses in assistant editing for digital cutting rooms, for example, the National Film and Television School (NFTS) offers industry recognised short courses for all grades, and there are some postgraduate courses available.

Because most-production companies promote within the facility most people enter the edit department as post-production runners and then work their way up through trainee, edit assistant, second assistant, first assistant and eventually become editors. But as the screen industries change, clearly delineated career progression is harder to follow. Second assistants are now only employed on very big budget films so trainees with at least two years experience are likely to progress by working as assistants in television or on low budget films for a considerable period of time before becoming first assistants on feature films.

Because feature film production involves large amounts of money, and the majority of producers prefer to only trust their editing to experienced hands, the progression to becoming an editor can be difficult. However, if editors trust their assistants they may allow them to learn and demonstrate their talents by carrying out the assembly edit of some sections of the film.

Jobs in editing

Editor
Before filming begins editors work closely with the director to decide how to maximise the potential of a screenplay. On the first day of principal photography (filming) they begin work in the cutting room or edit suite, looking at the days rushes and checking technical standards and the emerging sense of story and performance. They are guided by the notes taken on set by the script supervisor, who will often visit the edit to ensure the paperwork reporting systems are working well. The director will have their favourite takes and edit them together to create scenes. By the time the film wraps they will have spent hours reworking scenes and cutting them together to create a rough assembly. During post-production, the editor and director will work closely to refine the assembly edit into a directors cut, which must be approved by producers, until they achieve picture lock (known as final cut). 

First assistant editor
Assistant editors take charge of the day-to-day running of the cutting room, leaving the editor free to concentrate on editing the film. Their primary task is to communicate with other departments (e.g. production, camera, sound) in order to understand and analyse the requirements of the workflow. During shooting, assistant editors check camera sheets when the rushes arrive and note any technical problems. They liaise with film labs and camera crew to sync up rushes early each morning or late at night. Depending on workload and trust in the assistant, segments of editing may be given over as an opportunity to demonstrate their ability. 

Second assistant editor, third assistant editor and edit assistants
Second assistants help assistant editors with the smooth running of the operating room. This usually includes digitising rushes, recording play-outs onto tape or DVD, labelling tapes and DVDs and sending them to labs. Edit assistants provide basic technical and practical support for editors and other post-production personnel. They may carry out some simple cutting and editing work, must understand the operational support required for edit suites and be familiar with their technical aspects. They should be able to operate, patch and un-patch equipment and possess relevant IT skills for moving media around the facility. They must be able to read oscilloscopes and audio meters, TV and video signals, be familiar with technical specifications for different broadcasters, understand compression, and be able to utilize video tape recorders (VTRs). 

Find out more about working in editing

Organisations and websites:

Books:

  • Editing and Post-production, by Declan McGrath
  • In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing, by Walter Murch
  • The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Film editing, by Alfred A. Knopf
  • Video Editing and Post Production, by Gary H Anderson
  • Audio Post Production for Television and Film, by Wyatt & Amyes
  • How Video Works, by Weynand & Weise
  • Nonlinear Editing Basics, by Steven Browne 
  • Digital Editing with Final Cut Pro 4, by Mamer &Wallace
  • Editing Digital Film, by Jaime Fowler

Some other job roles in post-production