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How to go from Assistant Editor to Full-time Editor

A step-by-step guide for aspiring editors of commercials, documentaries, music videos, online content, and features

Girl Video Editing with two screens

If you’ve already managed to work a few jobs as an Assistant Editor or Junior Video Editor, then you’ve already passed the hardest part of your career path. Well done, my friend. So now you’re probably wondering how to progress from Assistant Editor to Editor? In this short guide you’ll learn some of the ways you can move up the video editing career ladder.

Your next steps will depend on which one of these 5 ways you started your career path. With this in mind, you should find yourself in one of these three positions:

  • I’m working as a runner in a post house
  • I’ve done a few freelance assistant editor jobs
  • I’ve been cutting small freelance jobs online

When I started out as a video editor I started working as a runner, then moved onto assistant editing, then progressed to editing at the same company. Regardless of where you are, I recommend reading all of the possible career paths outlined below so you can understand the pros and cons of each route. Let’s do this.

 

I’M WORKING AS A RUNNER IN A POST PRODUCTION/NETWORK STUDIO, WHAT NEXT?

You may not know it, my friend, but you are in a very privileged position. There are many junior video editors out there hungry to have the kind of connections you currently have. But it can be difficult to see that once you’ve taken your 1000th cup of skinny vegan mocha-frocha-choca-latte to THAT client. Hang in there, it gets better, trust me. I’ve been there and believe me, nobody enjoys running, but everybody enjoys the insight it gives you into the full post-production process. Plus there’s always another runner there you can joke with about the annoying clients. Those clients will always exist, but now you know exactly what to look for and how to avoid them.

So, how do you get your step up in a studio? Quite simply, you’ve gotta put yourself out there. Compliment the Editors’ work, but don’t get all fanboy/fangirl on them. Show a genuine interest in their work. Once a week, ask them why they decided to do that thing you enjoyed in their edit. Let the Editors know exactly what it is you enjoy about editing, and casually let them know you’d love to help them when the opportunity arrises. You don’t want to pester them, you’re just looking to create a bond. Trust is a huge part of the Editor/Assistant Editor relationship. They also want to know you can stay cool under pressure, so don’t lose your cool.

You’re likely going to move up to an Assistant Editor role, so it’s useful to speak to the other AEs there to find out what their job involves. They were in the same position as you and can help tell you what it is you need to know before you start. The Producers will also have a big say with who they put on what edit. Treat them with the same respect and admiration. They will be the ones booking you for big jobs in the future. Be vocal to them about your aspirations.

Now, the majority of the time you’ll have to wait for other runners who have been there longer to make a step up, freeing space for you to fill. If you’re enthusiastic and pleasant company, you should find yourself progressing into an Assistant Editor role within a year. Any longer than two years and I’d advise you to move to another company. It may be that there simply isn’t enough churn of staff in the company to promote you.

Okay, so they’ve given you your chance and you’re helping out on an edit. Nice work. This may be during your shift if you’re lucky, or in the evenings after work. If you’re unsure about how to do anything, anything at all, ask. You will be expected to ask questions, so do it, nobody will think bad of you. Better to find out the correct way of doing it than have to do it twice and delay the project – now that would piss people off.

From here you just keep on trucking, friend. Put in the hours, do the best work you can, and practice. Be pleasant and as your editing improves, you’ll be given more responsibilities.

You’ll gradually be given editing jobs on an AE salary as they milk you for all your worth. When you’re comfortable handling edits on your own, you can either:

  • Press them for a decent salary (and threaten to leave if they say no)
  • Find an editing position in another company
  • Become a freelance video editor

Then, it’s your rodeo, friend. Remember those Producers you befriended earlier and keep in regular contact with (you did get their emails, right?), they are gonna be the ones to contact when you’re available for work. Even if they don’t have any work for you, another producer may ask them for a recommendation and you want your name to be top of mind.

 

 

I’VE DONE A FEW FREELANCE ASSISTANT EDITOR JOBS, HOW DO I BECOME A FULL-TIME EDITOR?

Firstly, congratulations. You’ve thrown yourself in the deep end and you’ve managed to stay afloat. Assistant Editing doesn’t pay very well at the beginning, so making it this far and not having to sell all your belongings is an achievement. You may or may not have received a bit of cash for your assistant editing, but what you have gained is a lot of experience. Future clients like seeing a healthy list of credits, even if they don’t know what those credits are. So, pump up your CV and make sure it’s sexy and easy to read; no longer than one page.

The clients you have been Assistant Editing for are the arteries of your career. Nurture them by keeping in constant contact. Once a month should do it. Let them know that you’d like to edit a future project with them and that you can offer a competitive rate. But don’t undersell yourself. If you’re unsure, check out this guide on how much to charge for video editing. It may take a while to get enough editing jobs to survive, so it’s worthwhile networking to expand your contact list. Part 1 of this guide tells you some ways you can network using film festivals, except this time you’re selling yourself as an Editor (sounds cool saying it now, doesn’t it?). Networking in this way is great if you’re interested in editing narrative (documentaries or features).

If you’re interested in editing commercials, the most direct way of putting yourself out there is to find advertising agencies online that you vibe with and send the correct person a relevant email offering your services. Be realistic, you’re not gonna be cutting major spots for Saatchi & Saatchi right out the gate. Aim for an agency that is creating content you could recreate. Send them an email that is short, to the point, and screams personality. Otherwise you’re gonna be left on read. Have a showreel available showing the breadth of your work.

When you eventually hear from a potential client, listen. Be attentive to their needs. Paraphrase back to them what they have requested. Also, budget longer to do the job than you think it will take. Shit happens. Submit early and become a hero. Be cool. You got this.

 

 

I’VE BEEN DOING SMALL FREELANCE EDITING JOBS ONLINE, HOW DO I BECOME A FULL TIME VIDEO EDITOR?

So you’ve run the gauntlet and decided to become a Video Editor through trial-by-fire. I’m sure you’ve met some pretty disastrous clients along the way, because the fussiest clients are the ones that pay the least. Regardless, you have a small body of work to show off and that’s amazing. So, where now?

Depends what you want to spend a career editing? Documentaries, features, commercials, online content, music videos, wedding videos etc etc. I’ve listed some ways you can get into each, below.

 

DOCUMENTARIES

Charities are always looking for people to help them. You can do your bit for society and offer your video editing services to a charity. It will be low/no pay. I don’t have a problem with this if it’s a charity, because charities survive on the generosity of volunteers.
Apply to jobs you find online. Documentaries have blown up as a medium, and even brands are creating their own docs in-house.
Shoot and edit your own documentaries and submit to festivals. You’ll meet documentary creators at festivals looking for editors.

 

COMMERCIALS AND ONLINE CONTENT

As mentioned previously, reach out to advertising agencies creating stuff you can recreate. Use a search engine or check out some of the entries to advertising festivals like D&AD.
Apply for jobs online from brands as well as post production studios. A lot of brands have in-house content creation teams now, so great editors are in high demand.
Bear in mind that if you want to edit the most high-end commercials, it’s best to get yourself on the roster of a respected editing agency at some point.

 

FEATURES

You’re going to want to network at film festivals. Keep an eye on job postings on online job boards like Craigslist and Facebook Groups. Make industry friends in Los Angeles or London and look out for each other.

 

MUSIC VIDEOS

One word of warning, it can be very difficult to earn great money by only cutting music videos. But it’s good until you’re in your 30s. Reach out to music labels. Reach out to emerging artists you find online. PromoNews is a good source for this. Speak to other editors in the scene that you admire. Befriend them and then ask them to pass on any work that’s no good for them. You can also apply for in-house jobs at music labels.

 

WEDDING VIDEOS

This one is fairly fluid. You just gotta keep on cutting. Your clients are the videographers, not the wedding couple. Keep them sweet and as they improve and put up their prices, so will yours. Keep an eye out for some great wedding videos on Vimeo or elsewhere, and hit up the creator to let them know you’re available. Pretty simple really.

 

 

Of course, becoming a full time Video Editor is more than just choosing which path to follow, you have to posses a certain set of skills and aptitudes if you want to be successful. If you’d like to learn the principles, mindset and next steps you need to take your video editing from junior to pro, then you’d enjoy our FREE 1-hour training module,  How To Go Pro.

Now as I write this last paragraph my brain is on fire. I’ve just dumped a ton of knowledge onto this page for you. Hopefully you can realise a path that looks suitable for you to pursue. Of course, everybody’s path is different. You may find you don’t enjoy the type of editing you’re doing and decide to pivot. That’s absolutely fine. There’s no set path you need to follow.

One universal that applies to any of the above career paths is that you can always apply for a job online. It only becomes more tricky when you want to navigate the freelance market – which has its risks, but greater reward.

Have I missed something? What other paths were you thinking of taking that you’d like some advice on?

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