Do you ever wonder how raw footage filmed on a movie set gets turned into the cinematic masterpieces we see on the screen?
This is the job of video editors. It’s a multifaceted, creative, and extremely rewarding profession, the demand for which is only going to keep growing as we continue to live in a world dominated by digital media.
If you’ve ever considered a career as a video editor, this article is for you. We’ll go over what video editors do, whether they need any formal education, what kinds of jobs are available, and how to get started on this career path.
Let’s take a look.
What Is a Video Editor
Video editors play an essential role in the production of visual media like films, TV shows, commercials, and YouTube videos. They are responsible for assembling and manipulating footage, as well as adding sounds, graphics, and effects to convey a message or tell a story.
The way visual media is edited can have a tremendous impact on how the audience perceives the final product, what emotions they experience, and what actions they’re urged to take. For this reason, skilled video editors approach the task as both an art and a science—they apply their unique technical skills inside a video editing software, while relying on their judgement to make creative decisions and steer the project in the appropriate artistic direction.
Video Editor Job Description
So what does a video editor do on a daily basis? Well, their responsibilities depend largely on the type of production they’re working on, the number of people involved in editing, and their own skill set. Here are a few tasks a video editor may be responsible for:
- Following a creative brief or guiding the project’s direction if no brief or script is provided
- Going through the raw footage and choosing the best clips
- Trimming and assembling the clips in a cohesive way that helps tell the story
- Fine-tuning the footage to fix errors, lighting, and color
- Adding and synchronizing recorded audio, music, and sound effects
- Adding text, graphics, overlays, or transitions
- Using editing techniques to achieve a particular style or atmosphere
How to Become a Video Editor
The path to becoming a video editor looks different for everyone and depends largely on what kind of work you’re looking for (in-house or freelance), whether or not you have formal education, and what types of productions you’re hoping to work on. In any case, a great first step is to get as much experience as you can, build a portfolio you can showcase to potential employers, and work your way up from there.
In-house vs. Freelance Video Editor
Video editors typically work in one of two capacities: as an in-house editor at a production company or as a freelancer. There are a few key differences between the two:
- Flexibility: In-house roles provide stability and predictability—you work the same hours in the same setting and have a regular paycheck coming in. As a freelancer, you’re in charge of finding your own clients and figuring out where your next paycheck comes from. That being said, many video editors like the freedom and flexibility that comes with freelancing.
- Scope of the Role: When you first start out as an in-house video editor, you may be looking at entry-level jobs. In other words, it may be a while before you get to do any actual video editing on your own. If you’re looking to gain industry experience and learn from more senior editors, this is a great option. When you start out as a freelancer, on the other hand, you’ll be diving head-first into video editing, but the projects you’ll take on will likely be smaller (a corporate training video, helping someone with their YouTube channel, editing a wedding video, etc). As you gain more experience and build out your portfolio, you may take on larger projects and contracts that last several months.
The path you choose is entirely up to you, your lifestyle, and your comfort level. Many video editors have started out in-house before switching to freelancing, or vice-versa, as their preferences and goals evolved over time.
Video Editor Degree Requirements
One of the best ways to learn video editing is to get a digital media degree with a focus on video production. The benefit of formal education is that you’ll gain practical experience working with software (industry standards include Adobe Premiere Pro, Avid Media Composer, Final Cut Pro, and DaVinci Resolve), complete projects you can later use in your portfolio, and start building your professional network to hopefully create job opportunities once you graduate.
That being said, a formal video production degree is by no means a prerequisite to getting an in-house job or freelance contract. You can absolutely teach yourself using online classes and tutorials, shadowing someone more experienced, and learning on the job.
How to Be a Video Editor Without a Degree
Video production is an industry where relevant experience and high-quality work are valued just as much, if not more than, a formal education. When applying for a job or pitching your services to a potential client, you’ll need to provide a portfolio of work (often via a highlights reel) so you can demonstrate to them that you’ve gained the necessary knowledge and skills through independent learning and experience.
Since you won’t have any school projects to show, you’ll need to build up your portfolio from scratch, starting with small independent projects and working your way up from there.
Breaking into the industry without a formal degree also means that you won’t have the same access to resources and potentially helpful contacts. You should be prepared to do a lot of research and networking, join professional organizations, and keep your eye out for opportunities that could help you get your foot in the door.
Video Editor Salary
If you’re seriously considering a career as a video editor, one of the questions you may be asking is “Well, how much does a video editor make?”. Unfortunately, there’s no straightforward answer.
In 2020, the median annual salary for video editors was $67,000, but it can vary greatly depending on the production, your level of experience, and whether you work as an in-house or freelance editor. Freelancers typically charge higher video editor rates and make more per day, but they don’t always have a steady stream of work coming in like in-house editors do.
Video Editor Jobs
Video content comes in many different formats—films, sitcoms, talk shows, commercials, etc. Rather than mastering it all, video editors tend to specialize in just one or two of these, depending on what they’re interested in and where they have skills and experience.
When you’re first starting out as a video editor, it’s important to think about what kind of work you want to be doing, as this will help you gain relevant experience and shape your career path.
Let’s take a look at the main categories of jobs available to video editors.
Working in scripted television involves editing studio films, independent films, TV shows, sitcoms, or anything else that has a script. The main goal here is to choose the right clips that match the provided script and create a final product that fulfills the producer’s vision. The challenge is to use editing to emphasize certain moments, help the story flow, evoke reactions from the audience, and keep them engaged.
Unscripted television is content without a script, such as talk shows, game shows, and reality TV. Editors who work on these productions have to not only edit the footage, but take part in creating the story, as well. They often work alongside the producer to go through the footage, find appropriate clips, and splice them together in a way that captivates and entertains the audience.
For those with an interest in journalism, edition television news could be a viable option. News editors edit taped newscasts and may also be responsible for orchestrating live feeds. Because some news has to be broadcast as quickly as possible, they work in very fast-paced environments and have tight turnaround times.
Editing documentaries is a bit like editing scripted, unscripted television, and the news all in one. Editors work with a combination of filmed and sourced footage, narrations, and interviews to tell the story. Since most documentaries have a thesis or a message of some kind, it is the editor’s job to make sure it comes through clearly and cohesively.
Other projects are smaller in scale, but there’s a great deal of work available in this area. These are things like commercials, YouTube and social media content, marketing content, corporate videos, music videos, and wedding videos. This type of content is usually edited by freelancers or in-house editors at video production or marketing agencies.
Start Editing Your First Project Today
The best way to figure out whether you’d enjoy a career as a video editor is to try it for yourself. Maybe you’ve already dabbled in it by editing footage from your travels or a big family event. If not, get your hands on some editing software, take some online classes, and give it a go. You never know, this may just be the start of a new side-hustle or full-time career!
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