Grand-piano_bannerGrand Piano © 2013 Icon Film Distribution UK and Ireland

Assistant Editor

Industries:
Film
Personality type:
Organiser
Departments:

The lowdown

  • Running and maintaining editing systems
  • Taking responsibility for the smooth running of the cutting room on feature films
  • Supporting the whole of the post production process on feature films and working closely with film labs, and with the camera and sound departments

Is this role right for me?

To do this role, you will need to:

  • Have a good aptitude for technology
  • Have a thorough understanding the film post production process
  • Be familiar with computer editing equipment and software
  • Be able to react quickly and precisely
  • Have excellent communication and interpersonal skills
  • Be able to work for long hours on repetitive tasks
  • Have precise attention to detail
  • Be able to take direction
  • Have good organisational skills
  • Understand the requirements of the relevant health and safety laws and procedures

What does a Assistant Editor do?

Assistant Editors take charge of the day-to-day running edit suite, leaving the Editor free to concentrate on the work of editing the film.

The first task is to communicate with other relevant departments (production, camera, sound, etc.) to understand and analyse the work flow, and to pass this information on to the Editor.

During the shoot, while the Editor starts to work on a rough assembly of selected rushes, Assistant Editors check the camera sheets when the rushes arrive, noting any technical problems. 

Assistant Editors often work in a different room to the Editor and, on low budget films, may be required to sync rushes early in the morning or late at night when the editing machine is not being used by the Editor. Consequently, the traditional apprenticeship model for Assistant Editors has changed, as less time is now spent watching and learning from the Editor. Assistant Editors must therefore be more proactive in monitoring how the edit is progressing.

Depending on the workload, and providing the Editor trusts the Assistant, whole segments of the assembly edit may be given over to Assistant Editors, who can use this opportunity to demonstrate their flair and ability.

When picture lock is achieved, one of the Assistant Editors' last tasks is to compile an Edit Decision List, which provides a record of all the edit points. 

Assistant Editors are usually recommended to Producers by Editors, who prefer to work with the same Assistant. Assistant Editors are normally employed on a freelance basis, from the first day of principal photography and see the film through to picture lock (when the Director and/or Executive Producer give final approval of the picture edit).

They work long hours and are the first to arrive in the morning, setting the cutting room up for the day, and usually the last to leave in the evenings when the cutting room has been tidied and prepared for the next day. Jobs last between six months and eight months on average.

Will I need a qualification?

You don’t need a specific qualification. However, if you are considering taking a film production course in higher education, the following courses have been rigorously assessed by the film industry and awarded the Creative Skillset Tick for the high standard of education they provide and the degree to which they prepare you for a career in film.

Film production courses awarded the Creative Skillset Tick

What's the best route in?

Most Assistant Editors start their careers by working as Runners on feature films or at editing facilities houses and progress to becoming Trainees, 2nd Assistants and eventually Assistant Editors.

It is still possible to work as a Trainee, but 2nd Assistants are now only employed on very big budget films. 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.

Some big budget productions take on Trainees and Second Assistants, and it is important to keep up to date with films in preproduction by reading the trade press. Experienced Assistants may also work as Editors on short films which enables them to showcase their talents.

Some Assistants decide not to become Editors, choosing to continue working as Assistants on bigger budget films, which can be equally demanding and rewarding. 

Interested? Find out more…

Websites

  • BKSTS - The Moving Image Society - organises events, courses, and new equipment demos, and publishes: Cinema Technology, and Image Technology;
  • BECTU - the trade union represents Editing & Post Production personnel;
  • Shooting People - a forum on filmmaking

Publications

  • Editing and Post-production (Screencraft series published by Focal Press) by Declan McGrath;
  • In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective of Film Editing (Silverman-James Press) by Walter Murch
  • The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Film editing (Alfred A. Knopf, 2004)
  • Screen Daily - online industry news service and weekly publication, Screen International
  • Variety - a weekly publication for the film, television, music and interactive entertainment industries
  • American Cinematographer