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A film editor plays a vital role in the post-production process of film-making. Editors are skilled storytellers, charged with cutting hours and hours of shots together to create a cohesive story. Becoming a film editor typically requires considerable experience with editing software, as well as an excellent understanding of story and an ability to work in harmony with the film’s director to create a finished film.
Perhaps more than any other area of film-making, editing has benefited enormously from the invention of computer technology. In the early days of films, editors did their work by actually cutting and pasting individual film frames together to create a completed work. If anything needed to be changed, the film had to be taken apart, re-organized, and put back together. Since the advent of digital technology, a film editor can create vastly different versions of scenes within minutes, with the computer taking over the laborious function of splicing the images together.
When shooting on a film has completed, an editor typically does an editor’s cut, also known as the rough cut or first cut. By combining all the footage together in a coherent, cohesive manner, the editor creates a working model that can be altered by working in concert with the director and producers to create a final version, or final cut. The rough cut is an extremely important part of post-production; it can help expose holes in the story and highlight missed moments that can sometimes be re-shot to create a more complete story. Since films are typically shot out of order, the rough cut is also almost always the first time that the completed footage will be seen as a chronological story with a beginning, middle, and end.
Editors typically train for a career through a formal education at a film school or by gaining knowledge through extensive practical experience. Since editing has been around since the first days of film, dozens of books exist about the theories and practices of film editing. Some apprentices looking to gain practical experience can find work as an editor’s assistant, where they can learn the technical basics of the profession while gathering tricks of the trade from a professional film editor.
Some film editors have a natural knack for computer technology, and many cross-train in related fields to improve their own skill level. It is not uncommon for editors to have experience with computer graphics programs, sound editing, directing, and screenwriting. In some ways, the editor must be a jack of all trades: understanding a story, choosing the best shots and takes to express an emotion or explain a situation, and comprehending the importance of visual effects and music are all important parts of being a film editor.