Directing POSTS

Working with an Editor


“You might have a terrific episode, but if people are falling out because there are just too many elements in it, you have to begin to get rid of things.” -Ken Burns

An editor can be a creative magician, a technical consultant, and an effective arbiter of what works and what doesn’t. Each editor has her own strengths and styles of cutting. One editor has an ideal style for MTV, and another editor knowledgeably cuts documentaries for the BBC. An editor might specialize in sports or news, sitcoms, movies-of-the week, online content, commercials, music videos. And then there are those few editors who can cut almost anything.

An experienced editor can take disparate shots and elements and weave them together, creating a seamless flow. As a creative artist, he can “paint” a mood with pacing, place a perspective on the action, and signal conflict or comedy. A technically adept editor can design special effects or transitions between scenes, color-correct the footage, and make sure your project conforms to broadcast standards. Often, he can “fix it in post,” covering up mistakes or finding solutions to seemingly impossible problems that inevitably pop up in everyone’s project.

Photo by Reid

Working with an Editor

“Working with an Editor I first ask producers for notes and scripts. If I’m lucky, they’ll have those, but more and more producers seem to think that editors wave a magic wand over hours worth of footage, and only the good stuff comes up. I remind them that if we first need to screen, log, and digest the material, and then make an insightful and coherent movie, it’s going to take time. For every one hour of footage, it takes at least two or three hours to view, log, and highlight it. You then need to knock this down into a script with some kind of theme, and only then can you start to edit.” -Jeffrey McLaughlin,

Producers come into an editing room with varying levels of experience in post-production. One producer may have spent hundreds of hours editing and mixing; another has only limited exposure or expertise. Some producers don’t have the luxury of extra time, or the foresight to screen their footage, before the edit session. They’ll hand over hours of their unscreened footage to the editor, and expect her to work miracles without any script or direction.

The producer’s role with the editor is highly collaborative. You want to give the editor specific targets for the project, and you also want to create an environment in which the work can get done. When you’re in the edit room, the editor needs to concentrate, so keep phone calls and distracting conversations to a minimum. Discourage people from crowding into his space. When possible, encourage creative leeway with different shots or new ideas. Make sure he gets a genuine “thank you” along with plenty of food, water, and coffee during the edit sessions. The editor is one of your most valuable team members.

With the user-friendly, inexpensive, creative, and evolving NLE systems, like Final Cut Pro, Avid, or Premiere, an entire project can be edited on a laptop. Although we don’t recommend them for any level of professional use, some web hosts, like YouTube, have browser-based editing systems embedded in their sites. You can now build a functional edit room in your bedroom, or do a rough cut of your video on an airplane. Many producers do their own rough cut first, working out some of the more obvious problems, then bring that rough cut for the editor to fine-tune and take to the next level.

But, not every producer has the technical savvy or creative eye to be a good editor. You want your project to reflect your vision, and to adhere to all broadcast standards so it can be aired or connected into other platforms, and also have the technical capacity to be dubbed with no loss of generations, or quality. So, how do you find an editor who can satisfy these objectives?

There are dozens of websites, phone listings, and television industry directories that list professional editors and editing facilities in various countries, regions, and cities. Visit their websites and when possible, check out their facility. Meet them, screen the editors’ reels, and discuss what you need for editing your project. You can also:

  • Talk to other producers, directors, and writers about editors they’ve worked with.
  • Call regional or local television stations who may “hire out” their editors and facilities for outside work. If not, ask if they can recommend local freelance editors and/or facilities.
  • Check with local high schools and colleges that have editing equipment for their students. Often, their student editors can be hired for low-budget projects, or can work for academic credit.

Excerpt from Producing for TV and New Media: A Real-World Approach for Producers, 3rd Edition by Catherine Kellison, Dustin Morrow, and Kacey Morrow © 2013 Taylor and Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

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