What do you do for a living?
I work for an Advertising Agency as a Senior Broadcast Editor. On the side, I further my career by shooting and editing short and feature-length films.
How would you describe what you do?
Ask any Editor and they’ll tell you the same thing: they’re “storytellers.” We tell stories for a living. And there’s actually not too much difference (conceptually) between editing a feature film and editing a TV commercial. The approach is generally the same; be clear, entertaining, and add something to the project.
What does your work entail?
I enjoy what I do for a living, but describing what it entails isn’t terribly flattering: I sit in a dark room and watch the same footage over and over and over again. I organize files and manage media like crazy before I even get to the good stuff. It’s all part of editing though, and when you make that cut that makes people smile, laugh, cry, etc, all the boring stuff doesn’t matter. It’s a great feeling to take footage that someone shot and assemble it into its intended story. However, an Editor’s job doesn’t necessarily end there. Editors are “creative assemblers” in my opinion. You can teach anyone how to use editing programs and where to set “in” and “out” points for video clips but a good Editor will interpret the footage in multiple ways, bringing something new to a project and ensuring the best possible result.
What’s a typical work week like?
Both in filmmaking and advertising, a “typical” work week doesn’t exist. You may start around 9 or 10 am, but any given day, you have the same chance to “punch out” at 6 pm as you do at 2 am. And weekends are a funny thing too. Often we’re asked to work one or sometimes both days on the weekend, but to be honest, I don’t mind too much. I enjoy having the whole place to myself. Regardless, as an Editor, you do have to prepare yourself for the possibility of long hours. You could work a normal 40 hour work week, but more often than not, it’s a 50 or 60 hour week. I believe my record was somewhere around a 120 hour work week.
How did you get started?
I started editing when I was in college. With a few of my peers, I started a production company. After a few years, we had produced, shot, and cut countless music videos, tutorials and instructional DVDs, and even an independent TV pilot. As it was my own business, however, the focus started shifting away from creative work to administrative duties and paperwork so I looked up steady editing gigs and found an ad agency in DC. Unfortunately, advertising is pretty volatile and relies on consistent clients (who rely on healthy economies), so after a of couple years, I was forced to move to a different agency in North Carolina.
What do you like about what you do?
I enjoy entertaining. Telling stories, making people laugh, and being able to be creative for a living is extremely fulfilling. And I enjoy being a “ninja” of sorts. In movies, actors & directors get a lot of the notoriety for projects. In Advertising, it’s the agencies and Creative Directors who are in the spotlight for work. And I like it that way. I prefer being behind the camera and doing a job where, when done well, my work goes unnoticed. Editing is peculiar in that way, when you do something really well, no one really notices. The flip side, though, is when something is edited poorly, everyone can tell.
What do you dislike?
Unlike filmmaking, where an Editor typically only works with the movie’s director, in advertising, there are so many more people who have input on a cut. There’s the writer, art director, creative director, executive creative director, the account service team, and of course, the main client (ironically, the director of a TV spot probably has the least amount of input on an edit). With all of those opinions, it can make things difficult and tries your patience – especially when dealing with impossible requests and tight timelines.
How do you make money/or how are you compensated?
Freelance Editors are more common than not. But there’s also that risk and question of “what’s the next gig?” Luckily, a benefit of working at an agency, or post-production facility, is that you’re salaried. The downside to that is that you don’t have the luxury of choosing which project to work on (which is always a good problem to have, if you’re lucky).
How much money do Broadcast Editors make?
As with many jobs, it depends on experience. It also depends on the market. LA & NYC may be more expensive to live in (so you may expect higher wages) but there’s also a far larger pool of Editors who may work cheaper than you. All goes back to supply and demand (and talent). But typically, an entry-level editor (or “assistant editor) could expect to make $25-30K and go up to as high as $100K – the latter is typically veteran editors who have carved out a niche for themselves in certain kinds of work (comedy, drama, sitcoms, etc). These numbers are also greatly dependent on freelance vs salaried (a freelancer may make more, but they have to worry about taxes a lot more and buying their own benefits like health care and dental, etc). I’m not unionized and know little about it, but there’s also that whole factor as well.
How much money did/do you make starting out?
I made $30K in my first agency job, then, due to the economy, was reduced to $28K. This was back in DC where my rent was $1,350 a month… sometimes, it really helps to love what you do.
What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?
You’ve got to know how to use at least one, if not all, of the Big Three editors: Avid, Final Cut, Premiere. (Basic knowledge of additional programs like After Effects and Photoshop can very often help). And if I haven’t said it enough, Editing is all about telling an entertaining story. It’s not just about what shot cuts well against another shot, it’s about pacing as well. Does this move quickly enough? Does it move too quickly? Why does it feel slow in the middle of this movie? An Editor has to be aware of how the audience will feel when they watch something, be it :30 seconds or 3 hours. It never hurts to have a decent working knowledge of film and TV to draw upon for inspiration as well as research – sometimes people think I’m joking, but I really do enjoy watching TV for research. All it means is that I’m paying attention to more than just the character’s actions and words. I’m watching the scene transitions, the length of each cut, the amount of cuts, the spaces between dialogue, and often asking myself “was that originally intended to play out that way or did the editor create mood?” (and then asking myself “why or why not” right after). Once you can start to analyze these things, you can really start applying different methods and techniques to anything you cut; a short 15-second ad, a 2-minute web commercial, a 15-minute short film, an hour-long TV drama, or a feature length film. The theory of editing is universal. It’s the content that keeps changing.
What is most challenging about what you do?
When I’m asked to make a change or cut that I know won’t work. Sometimes a director or a “suit” will ask for more of “this” or less of “that” and having spent so much time with the footage, I’ll know in my heart of hearts that it just won’t work (for any number of reasons). But, I try to get over it by telling myself the truth: I don’t know everything. And hey, sometimes going through those painful edits can actually make a cut better.
What is most rewarding?
When people react. When they see a piece of my work and it does something to them that it’s intended to do; laugh, cry, think, buy a product, get inspired, etc. In short, when the viewer is entertained.
What advice would you offer someone considering this career?
Being a Broadcast Editor is tricky. An Editor at an ad agency typically is relegated to cutting pitch videos for new business, creating reels of spots for the agency, and converts file after file after file for Powerpoint presentations. I’m lucky in that I’ve gained some respect and credibility and changed the role of our agency’s post-production staff. We’ve brought broadcast productions in-house, we’re called on to make short-form videos, and online content as well. I’ve helped turn the agency’s typical Editor position into something more reminiscent of a Post-house Editor. So my advice would be to know what job you’re applying for. Mine is not a typical position for Broadcast Editor at an Ad Agency. There’s a lot to be said for the feeling you get when you take a job like Broadcast Editor and expand it. There’s a larger feeling of ownership and pride for the work that it leads to. If someone’s looking to get into film and TV editing, I’d definitely suggest going to a traditional “film school” to meet and come up with fellow filmmakers because sometimes it’s who you know – and who knows where your roommate may end up. And it does tend to make a lot more sense to move to a city where that kind of work is in demand. Most importantly, practice editing but be selective. Don’t just take any paying gig, and don’t be afraid to do things for free. Try to guide your work into a field you’d feel comfortable doing for a long time. Don’t just take a wedding video gig because they’ll pay you a butt-load because before you know it, a decade will pass and you’re still listening to Bridezillas yell at you for how a shot looks that you didn’t even shoot (I’ve seen this happen, and subsequently, I’ve made a personal rule for myself never to cut a wedding video. Ever). Just keep yourself busy with stuff that you enjoy doing. You’ll meet new folks and start new friendships and working relationships that will help develop your career in a direction that you want.
How much time off do you get/take?
Everywhere is different, of course, but the company I work for is extremely understanding. If I’ve worked a bunch of weekend days lately, they’d be fine giving me a Monday and Tuesday off. They also offer pretty decent vacation time. And I definitely recommend taking what you can get. If a company offers you days off and vacation time – take it! Enjoy it. Work on some personal projects; a short film maybe. Editing is full of long hours/days/weeks, no one wants you to burn yourself out. Especially your boss.
What is a common misconception people have about what you do?
Great question. I’m not sure, but if I had to guess, I might think people see editing as easy and extremely utilitarian; “Just place this clip here. That clip there. Hit export button.” In fact, it is very creative and challenging. Half the fun is from coming up with ways to get around issues in the footage. The other half comes from just having fun with things. Just opening up and trying new things with the story.
What are your goals/dreams for the future?
I’d love to cut TV shows and movies for a living. Creating a family, of sorts, with talented people to collaborate and consistently tell some quality stories with. So far, it has been very fun at times and incredibly frustrating at other times – but either way, I wake up knowing I’m working in a field I thoroughly enjoy.
What else would you like people to know about your job/career?
Editing shouldn’t be easy. But it should be fun. It’s a humble job because, as I said, the goal of an Editor is to have their work go unnoticed. But every day is different which keeps things exciting (for better or worse). My story is slightly atypical, though, and there were a lot of dues (lots of extremely boring tasks) that I put in before I got the chance to start enhancing my role. But I’ve greatly enjoyed growing and taking ownership of a position I’ve developed into something bigger. I love cutting TV spots & seeing them on air, and I also love all of the other things the job has afforded me – like the knowledge and the time to cut tons of short films on the side, and even just recently, finishing a cut of my first feature-length indie flick.