Interview with a Video Editor

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Read as Kylee Wall gets JobShadowed about being a Video Editor.  You can find Kylee at www.kyleewall.com  and on her Twitter feed in the sidebar of this interview.

What do you do for a living?

I’m a video editor.

 How would you describe what you do?   

“Video editor” can mean a lot of things depending on your specific position and geographic location. Currently in my day job, I serve as more of a producer/editor, which is very common among smaller companies (but not limited to them!) I work in a marketing department of a company in the midwest  and produce “corporate” video, mostly. This includes industrial training videos, product marketing, video blogs and podcasts and anything else you can think of a corporation needing.

At night, I’m a freelancer, which means I work for myself. I do some corporate video, as well as some independent film. Believe it or not, there is an indie film scene in the midwest. However, these projects are usually unpaid and a little difficult to find, but they’re a lot of fun and great practice.

What does your work entail?

As a video editor, I’m responsible for the entire post-production process. This includes organizing and preparing media, editing it in a non-linear editor (I currently use Final Cut Pro 7), mixing the sound and finding stock music, preparing graphics for title slides or “lower thirds” (the graphics that come up at the bottom of the screen with a person’s name on it), creating motion graphics in Adobe After Effects, color correcting the video, compressing and transcoding finished files for the Internet or DVD, and keeping all the projects archived. Basically, a combination of technical and creative duties to assemble a video. In addition to the actual video editing, my producing duties pretty much cover all the other areas of video creation: managing projects, arranging talent, writing/conceptualizing, going out and shooting the videos on location, keeping the media library organized, and coming up with new ideas. Not all video editors do all these things. In larger markets and companies, you’ll find people dedicated to doing each task really well – shooters, producers, colorists, sound mixers, editors, all separate things. However, it’s good to at least be able to do all of these things even if you don’t really have a specific interest in them. You’ll find some duties bleeding over into your video editing duties at some point, so you may as well embrace it.

What’s a typical work week like?

Since I have a corporate staff job, I work Monday through Friday, 8am to 5pm. I’d say a majority of video editors don’t have a schedule like this. Many work more hours, or a more erratic schedule based on deadlines. My weeks are not so tightly structured by hard deadlines. In the major markets like NYC or LA, you might expect to work 60+ hours in a week through parts of the year. In my typical week, I have certain goals I set to produce videos and work independently. When I have freelance duties, my working hours in a week go up dramatically. When I was finishing a short film recently, I was going home after an 8 hour workday and spending another 8 hours working on sound mixing and color correction. Full time freelancers definitely have a crazier schedule, completely dictated by the projects at hand. You have to be able to motivate yourself to work, and you have to be able to limit yourself because no one will tell you to stop. So while my work week is very standard for the US, it is definitely not the norm in post-production.

How did you get started?

I started out doing video production when I was 14. I got a video camera for Christmas for some reason, and decided to shoot around with it and see what would happen. I made silly short films with my friends, obtained a copy of Adobe Premiere, and set up a website (this was several years before YouTube) where I could post and share videos in a rudimentary fashion. I always gravitated toward the editing part, and I found that I was usually just writing scripts and shooting scenes so that I would have something to edit. I officially realized I wanted to be an editor when I was 16 and spent a whole day shooting and editing a short that actually turned out pretty well. Storytelling became an intense passion of mine, and I found I was most effectively a storyteller when I was assembling the pieces.

I went to Indiana University to pursue the video production concentration of their Media Arts and Science program, and completed three internships at a museum, alternative magazine, and post-production house. I spent time networking, meeting people, and doing a LOT of learning on my own. I was hired at my first full-time editing job a week before my graduation from college.

What do you like about what you do?

I like the challenge of making all the pieces fit together. It’s not simply a task of taking out the script and lining up the shots in order. There’s a sense of rhythm to a video, whether it’s a movie or an educational video. I like the technical aspect of editing – figuring out the best way to handle a project, managing media, or complying with certain standards. And I like the creative part where you figure out the rhythm, tone, and general feeling of a piece. It’s a really interesting blend of the tangible and the abstract, and the result is something you can share with the world and evoke a feeling.

What do you dislike?

I hate waiting for stuff to render!

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

As a staff editor, I’m paid b-weekly like most everyone else. As a freelancer, it’s a little different. When I accept a job, I negotiate a fee. This usually just involves the client asking my fee, and agreeing to it. It can be a flat rate, day rate, or even an hourly rate. I ask for 50% of the fee before I start the project, and send an invoice. After completing the project and getting approvals from the client, I send another invoice for the other half of the payment. This all can get a little tricky, but that’s basically how it works.

How much money do Video Editors make? 

The salary of a video editor really depends greatly on the region and years of experience. From what I’ve been told, researched, and learned of my own, the most average seems to be about $45-50,000/year. However, in smaller markets and companies, it can easily be $20-$25,000. In larger markets, $50-90,000. It really depends on how in demand you are and the name you make for yourself. You have to work really hard to establish yourself as a good editor – not just technically good, but a great person to be around, good attitude, hard worker, and dependable hire.

Once your name gets out, you’ll be able to name your price. Starting out, you really won’t make much at all for a while. Freelance editors also make more than staff editors. However, freelancers have to pay for all of their own expenses – overhead, insurance, retirement plan, everything. So a freelancer making $90,000/yr might really be taking home closer to $50,000. It’s really important that you don’t undersell yourself or your services. It can be tempting to put a really low bid in on a project just so you can get some work to your name. All this does is devalue the work all editors do.

How much money did/do you make starting out as a Video Editor? 

Starting out in your first full-time job, what you make will greatly depend on all the factors I mentioned. I started somewhere between $24-$27k/yr. My income hasn’t gone up much since then because the industry in my part of the country isn’t doing that well. Video editors are not editors to make money, so if you get into post-production to get rich, you’ll be really disappointed.

What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this? 

Technically, you don’t need any higher level education for this job. However, I recommend it (unfortunately) because so many companies hire through their HR departments. HR people look for a number of minimum requirements, one of which is usually a degree. It is entirely possible to break into the field on your own if you can work really hard refining your skills on your own, and make your way from the bottom up into a company with a lot of on-the-job learning. This is especially true if you’re in a media hub like NYC or LA. But college is still an OK idea for the most part. You’ll always have that degree to fall back on, and university is a great place to meet a lot of people and work on projects in a safe, academic environment.

As far as skills, you need to be highly proficient in digital non-linear editing software: Avid, Premiere, Final Cut Pro. For a brand new editor, I’d probably suggest Premiere to learn the basics to begin with, but it’s important to have familiarity with everything. You also need to get some skills in graphic design – Photoshop – and motion graphics – After Effects. But even more important than learning software is learning editing itself – not just how to push buttons, but why. You start to do that by watching a lot of films and TV, and noticing the cuts. Editing is a balance of technical and creative, and you have to figure out how to be good at both, in my opinion. You have to be able to explain non square pixels in the same breath as describing why a scene feels like it’s dragging. Other skills that are a good idea to try and cultivate: writing, camera operation, and basic photography. And of course, general people skills. You have to be able to collaborate, manage a project, and communicate with clients. If you’ve ever worked in customer service, you’ll find a lot of those same skills apply. But above all, you can’t succeed if you don’t understand editing at a very high level.

What is most challenging about what you do?

Probably the most challenging thing is keeping up with technology. Every year, a bunch of new stuff is introduced. New cameras mean new formats for us to deal with. New software thrown in the mix means I have to figure out if it’s something the industry is going to embrace, and then figure out how to use it (or if it even fits into my editing world at all.) It’s very time intensive to not only get up to speed with editing from a technical perspective, but also to understand why people like or don’t like cuts. Editing is often very subjective, so dealing with critique (or just straight up criticism) is another challenge.

What is most rewarding?

The most rewarding thing about video editing for me is reaching the end of a project and seeing it all come together and elicit an emotional reaction from someone else. Visuals are very powerful, and to be able to craft them in certain ways is a great experience.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

Watch a lot of movies and television. Start to notice the structure of a scene. Ask yourself why cuts are made where they are and really think hard about a scene. Also, work as many internships as you possibly can. Most video editing internships are unpaid. Be prepared to work really hard for no money and balance multiple jobs at once. You will learn far more at an internship than you will at a university. Ask a lot of questions at internships. Prove you can take on tasks effectively. The post-production industry is really all about who you know. Networking is so important. Be honest, direct, and a good person, and people will remember you when a job comes up.

How much time off do you get/take?

As a staffer, I get national holidays off, as well as about two weeks worth of paid time off (which includes my sick time.) In general, video editors usually get pretty good time off at some point during the year because it seems that most every company or area will have a “slower” season. At the same time, this is often unpaid time off in between jobs. There’s an art to managing your finances as a video editor that many other jobs don’t need. Lots of planning is required. And of course, there will always be some editors stuck in crazy jobs without time off for weeks on end, so I’ll say again that it varies. Freelancers have a little more flexibility at times, but it comes with its own challenges.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

A common misconception about video editing is that it’s easy, or it’s not a “real” job. While it’s a fun job, it’s also not without its own special batch of stresses and annoyances. Some gigs can be incredibly stressful. Another misconception is that you’re just a button pusher that assembles pieces together, following along a script. On the contrary, the editor actually has a huge impact on the telling of the story. It’s often said a film undergoes its final rewrite during the edit, or even that the editor has nearly as much power as the director.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

I hope to do some editing for television in documentary/reality. Eventually, I would like to become an assistant editor for television or film, and work my way up to a full editor role. (Assistants are usually much more technical and are in charge of managing an edit for the editor, while the editor does the creative work). And somewhere down the road, I would like to teach at a university.

What else would you like people to know about your job/career?

If you’re really interested in making movies, go find someone to job shadow and talk to them. As an editor, you have to have people and project management skills while also managing sitting in a dark room for hours on end. Some people really prefer to be out behind the camera or just on a set all day, every day. And some people prefer total creative control over a piece instead of collaborating. Explore all of your options and see which one fits best. And if you decide this is it, cut tons of stuff – anything you can get your hands on, no matter if it’s family home movies or stuff you shot on a cell phone or whatever. Getting hands on and just editing EVERYthing you can find is what will help make you great.


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Luke Yancey October 7, 2016 at 6:26 am

I was glad that Kylee stated one of the biggest misconceptions about being a video editor is that it’s easy. I took a photography class a few years ago and even editing pictures can be difficult at certain times. I could only imagine how hard it would be with videos!

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Producer Ryan R. Johnson August 10, 2013 at 12:26 pm

Independent motion pictureproducers are demonstrating the fact that major companies no longer will be the exclusive judges of what the population prefer. As soon as you additionally distribution on the Internet and news reports web sites, from rumor to whole films. It’s a really brand-new planet. A lot of it fantastic, some not.

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