Ask the Film Editor


I've received numerous emails from film students and aspiring film and television editors asking me all sorts of questions about editing, so I thought I would compile all of the questions I've received with my answers here. If you have questions that are not listed here, drop me an email and I will try to add your questions to this list. Happy Reading! Janelle

1) With the position you are currently in, where is there room for advancement? Promotions? What are the types of growth opportunities for someone in your position?

Once you get to be an editor, the advancements are usually either in salary or increase in the budget of films you are working on/prestige of the projects (i.e.a big feature film directed by a big director would be an advancement over a smaller low budget film, or a network television show may carry more weight than a cable show). Many times editors go on to be producers or directors as well, if that is something an editor is interested in doing. Some editors also negotiate profit "points" in films, which mean that depending on how well the film does at the box office, the editor will receive the negotiated compensation/percentage of profit.

2) What’s the typical, ballpark salary for some one in your position, or even an entry-level position? What is the average range salary for editors?

The current union scale for an editor is $2,575.88 a week, based on a 56 hour /5 day workweek. 6th days on a union show are time and a half and 7th days are double time. Low budget, non-union films and shows often pay less. Often times, directors or producers will also look for editors for very low pay/no pay and compensation is based either on credit/travel expenses or deferred payment. Every editor has to negotiate their own rate, so the ballpark could be anywhere between zero-20 grand a week or more.

3) Are you part of a company or are you freelance? If a company, how is it structured? And where do you fit in? Do you supervise and/ or report to anyone?

I work freelance, meaning I am usually hired by a director or producer, per job or per show. Usually, I report to the post production supervisor for clerical, business, and technical/production issues, and directors/producers for editorial and creative issues. I generally supervise an assistant editor(s) and occasionally a post production assistant.

4) How do you get better at what you do? How often do you learn something new? Are you happy with your position? Why or why not?

Every day with new footage or starting a different type of show is a learning experience and I am always “honing” my skills. For example, learning how to edit reality TV where there was only one camera shooting is a challenge. New footage always comes with new challenges and learning. The best way to get better is to keep up with learning new software, continuing to make creative choices on a daily basis, and being willing to take on the many challenges that come with every production. I love being an editor, because I get to be creative everyday. Every day is a new learning experience and I am always improving my editing technique. It is the perfect career for me! :)

5) What is the typical day like? What is your weekly schedule like? What type of daily obstacles hold you back?

Hour commute. Coffee. Edit. More coffee. Edit. Lunch. Edit. Caffeine. Edit. Show producers my cuts. Make Changes. Edit some more. Hour commute home. :=)
Each show is different as far as schedule. On Girls Next Door we generally have about 15 days to edit an entire episode. Then we show it to the executive producer, he gives notes, I make changes, he takes it to Hugh Hefner, Hef gives his notes, I make his changes, then it goes to the network, they give their notes, I make the final changes and we lock the episode. The entire process to finish cutting an episode is around 5-6 weeks. On Dog Whisperer, we have around 10 days to cut a segment, and the process is generally the same; Editor's cut, producer's give notes, producers cut goes to the network, the network gives notes and the final cut is locked. It is a very collaborative process from start to finish.

6) What other types of guilds/ unions do you belong to? Do they compensate you with benefits?

I belong to the Motion Picture Editors Guild. It is the only “union” for editors. You can also join other associations such as A.C.E. (American Cinema Editors), and if you are nominated or win an award, you can usually join the various academies. The Editors guild offers health benefits and pensions, but you can only get these if you work on union shows. You earn hours /credit towards your insurance policies. Most non-union shows do not come with benefits, although I've heard of some staff editors getting health benefits.

7) Do you recommend any magazines or online journals for potential editors or that keep you up to date on anything new in the field? Where would you say is a good place to make contacts with people in the editing business?

I would join the avid-L listserve yahoo group and FCP user groups if you are looking for technical information. As far as publications, the Editors guild magazine is great, but I believe it is only for members. You can however, read articles from it online at

8) What qualifications did you achieve before you got where you are today?

I received a degree in Film Studies from U.C. Irvine, and then I began reading every Avid manual that was available to me, as well as Final Cut Pro books more recently. I spent as much time sitting in editing rooms looking over the shoulders of editors as I could, and tried to absorb as much about the business as possible. I was an apprentice editor for about a year, then an assistant editor for around 7 years, and then did additional editing for about 3 years. When I was assisting I would ask to cut scenes and would do whatever I could to practice editing and get notes from the editors I worked with. I also cut several low budget things in order to build up my resume as an editor.

9) How did you get into the industry, was it mainly due to contacts or qualifications?

I always like to say, "It's not who you know, it's who you meet and form relationships with." When I came to Hollywood I did not know a soul, but I started expressing my interest in editing to everyone I met and this eventually led me to my first apprentice job. After that, I gained the experience and qualifications to move forward and get jobs based on my resume/interview. Most of the jobs that I do hear about are word of mouth and I have a network of friends that I've met through work -- we keep each other informed of jobs when we hear of them.

10) What's it like being an Editor? Have you always wanted to be an Editor? Do you enjoy what you do?

Being an Editor requires a lot of patience, diligence, creativity, self-motivation, time-management, sense of humor, and people skills. I had always known that I was cut out for editing since around high school age. I love being an Editor; it is one of the few careers that I could see myself doing. I love puzzles, games, crosswords, etc. and being an editor is sort of like playing those types of thinking games on a daily basis.

11) When you were 17 where did you see yourself at the age you are at now?

I hoped I would be editing, but I was not sure what I would be cutting. I am interested in cutting more feature films or scripted television in the future, and I hope to someday be honored for my work with an award.

12) What would be the next step you would take if you we're in the same position as me? (I am just about to leave college and considering university in London) What advice would you give to give to someone wanting to go into the media industry and specialize in editing? Is there more then one way to gain the skills to be an editor?

I would suggest to an aspiring editor: turn yourself into a sponge. Absorb everything you can with regards to the technical side of editing. Purchase a home editing system if you have to, read the various books about film editing, Avid, and Final Cut Pro. I have several great books on my site that I highly recommend. Check the job boards for opportunities near you, look into internship programs in your area, and offer to work for free if you have to, just to get your foot in the door. If your finances allow, take courses that are specific to editing (Video Symphony in Burbank offers great courses for editors). Talk to editors in your area to find out about the job market where you live. Look for jobs at post production facilities or visual effects houses where you can start as an assistant or logger and work your way up. I believe that being an Editor takes a lot of determination, patience and talent, so even honing your people skills can be an asset when dealing with big personalities and the stress that comes along with deadlines. Editing is made up of many parts: technical skills (knowing about video and film and the systems and ways to cut it), storytelling, pacing/timing sensibility, people skills (working with directors and producers, sometimes dealing with various personalities...and addressing their notes and ideas), self-motivation and drive, and many many more things that come with experience. There are many ways someone can learn to be an editor, but I truly believe that "only the strong survive" in this field. It is a demanding job and you need plenty of creativity, patience and determination. My advice would be to learn as much as you can about the technical side, and always be eager to cut if you are assisting someone. The best way to learn is from other seasoned editors and by doing things hands on. If you can intern for someone, do it. Be prepared to work for low pay in your first few years in the business, or to be without work completely for months at a time. Be patient and like a sponge.

13) What is the most difficult part of your job?

When there is not enough coverage (footage) shot to cut a scene and you have to find creative ways to edit a scene, or long workdays and hours.


If you want to know more about me, then you're just gonna have to get to know me! ;)  To find out how I became an Editor and how I got into the editing "biz", click here .

Janelle Ashley Nielson is a Film Editor in the Motion Picture and Television Industry.


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