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Six Skills Every Editor Should Have

  • Video editing is a unique and complex skill.
  • The fundamentals lie with the edits
  • Organization, knowing what your client wants, and mastering skills are all crucial elements

It takes immense patience and savvy to turn raw footage into a coherent structure, and even the most skilled editors have trouble adding the correct tone, style, and vision of the director.

The task becomes even tougher when the editor and the director aren’t properly communicating, or one doesn’t see the vision of the other. Although video editing is tough, there are ways to hone your craft. Below are the six skills crucial for editors of every experience level.

It Starts with the Edit

The fundamentals of video editing don’t actually lie within the video. They lie within the edit; a series of choices made to punctuate and pace the film in a unique and engaging manner. Great editors know when to cut and when to let the scene breathe, they are experienced in the art of tension and release. There are underlying techniques of film editing which are also crucial for cutting together a technically savvy film.

The L-cut and J-cut are your best friends; these terms refer to the practice of introducing image before sound or vice versa. These cuts keep the flow of the film moving and add depth to the world. Without these cuts, characters would only speak when the camera was directly on them, and dialogue would only shift when a visual cut took place – in other words, the film would feel static and unnatural.

Organization is Crucial

In the world of corporate editing, editors are tasked with working on multiple projects at once. It’s not uncommon to be working on four to five different projects, all in completely different phases of completion. You could be waiting for feedback on one cut while only importing the raw material on another, halfway through the third but only receiving instructions on the fourth. It’s a chaotic, incongruent workflow that’s best managed with a strong sense of organization and time management.

You should know which project to prioritize and which project can wait; working on the largest project first is usually the best solution, but there are times when you can accomplish more by completing one or two smaller projects before moving on. Your work order is up to you, but it’s crucial to have a strategy and execute it for optimal efficiency.

Choose One Non-Linear Editor. Master It.

The non-linear editor – such as Final Cut or Premiere Pro – is the bread and butter of the modern editor. The NLE is your treasure chest; you should know about every golden coin and rare gem in the chest and be able to decide when to spend each and every piece. Video editing often requires far more knowledge than a simple rearranging of clips and fine-tuning of audio.

Videos are inherently visual, and editors will often need to know how to manipulate the image itself in order to achieve the final vision of the director. In addition, a brilliant idea could strike at any moment and your NLE will almost certainly have the tools to execute it – but you must know where that tool is and the optimal method for using it before you can make the vision in your head a reality.

Know What Your Client Wants

One of the most frustrating hang-ups for an editor is working with those who have never edited a video before. Many laymen don’t understand the huge time commitment and fine details present in cutting together a perfectly executed edit.

This is frustrating on two levels. First, directors without editing experience will usually ask too much of an editor. They won’t understand why you’re taking so long to edit a “simple video” or why someone with less experience couldn’t simply do the job in your place.

Patience and understanding are crucial when explaining the complexities of your craft…however, it’s best not to slip into jargon, as many who work with editors also have no technical inclination either. Many won’t understand the different types of editing formats and files and will be too vague or too general when requesting specific changes to the video, such as image manipulation or the timing of cuts.

As an editor, you know every second of the film is an eternity, but this fact is lost on those who have never had to time a transition or synch up poorly slated audio. Be clear and concise with your director but let them know editing is a craft, like directing, and there are many elements obvious only to an editor.

Learn to Solve Technical Mishaps

There are many catastrophic problems which can arise outside of the editing process itself. Editing software is notorious for crashing and the same can happen to many CPUs. Files may be corrupted or cannot be opened; these things happen, more frequently then editors would like.

Don’t panic if something outside of our immediate control malfunctions but understand that the situation is now in your immediate control. Learn the technical side of editing so you can solve these problems without wasting time or other resources.

It’s not a fun part of the job, but it falls within the editor’s purview to fix any problems that arise when in the editing bay. One life-saving piece of advice – save early and often.

Criticism is Never Personal

Directors come into a project with a vision that is unique to them. As an editor, it’s your job to stay true to the tenets of great editing while helping the director achieve his vision. Feedback is not only necessary in the post production process, it is one of the cornerstones of making a great film.

Don’t fight too stubbornly to keep the version of the product you think is best; instead, work with the director and try to bridge the gap between your vision and his. Some changes may in fact make the video worse but that’s okay.

Try gently to stop any major revisions that will result in a worse edit but just know the vision of the director is almost always the final word in the world of film. Develop a thin skin and learn to execute the vision of others.

Final thoughts

Working as a film editor is not an easy task. It requires patience, understanding, and the willingness to sacrifice your own vision for those in charge of the project. However, with practice and dedication, editing can become second nature. It’s not easy, but the journey is worth the practice.


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