We know you all have a million questions when you’re just starting out. One that we have been asked a good few times, is whether aspiring feature film editors should pick a niche. We’re going to look at this issue in more detail but before we do…
Don’t forget, what interests you as a young, aspiring editor, might well change as you get older and more experienced. After all, this writer once wanted a tiny pony and a Cabbage Patch Kid more than anything else in the world (ed: wouldn’t you still like one though? Really?).
First thing’s first, put the time in
At the beginning of your career, you need to grab opportunity wherever it may land. That’s not to say that you can’t aim in the general direction of travel you’re aspiring toward. For example, you might already know that you want to spend your time cutting documentaries that are going to change people’s lives. If so, it’s worth shooting in that direction by trying to connect with post-production houses and editors who work in this field. You never know, something fantastic might just come of it.
Don’t turn down a good opportunity because it’s not in your niche however. No experience is bad experience in the cutting room (unless it’s illegal, or dangerous of course). When you start out, you’ve got a lot to learn. There’s no doubt about it, you’re going to need to put the hours in. You’re going to need to know and understand all varieties of industry standard software inside and out, backwards, forwards, and over the Irish sea, as the old song goes.
At this point in your career, it’s also worth studying films cut by editors you admire. Take the time (while you have it) to study great films and how they’re put together.
You also need to make sure you know and understand how the game works. By running through all the accepted steps of an editing career, you’ll be preparing yourself – even if you don’t realize it – for life as an editor. This means putting the time in: do some work experience, become a runner, become an assistant, travel through the ranks, and then finally, in the not too distant future, you’ll reach the heady heights of being a full editor.
As our very own Larry Jordan once said in relation to finding work as an editor on feature films or network TV, “Quite honestly, the creative is the easy part. It’s learning the actual path, protocol, and politics of working within the system, that only the most tenacious among us accomplish.”
Who knows you?
We’ve said it before, and no doubt we’ll say it again. This business is all about who knows you. Even if you have heard otherwise.
Getting credits in the niche you want is tough. Most of the jobs that come your way are going to come from your connections and are nearly always based on the last piece of work you did.
For example, Adam Gough, editor of Alphonso Cuarón’s latest epic, Roma, is a great example of an editor whose career has been built from landing one job after another by being in the right place at the right time (and doing a brilliant job every time, of course). After two week’s work experience on Stormbreaker, Gough ended up getting his first post-production running gig on Children of Men. Yes, really.
And Gough’s top advice for aspiring noobs? “Edit, edit, edit”.
Get those credits anyway you can. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been paid for the job or you’ve done it as a way of amassing some experience – a credit is a credit after all.
Top resume tips
Having a clear and distinct niche in mind can help you to visualize your future and hone your targeted plan of attack. As well as all the usual important stuff like contact details and any relevant work experience or jobs you’ve had (no, you don’t need to include your teenage self’s McJob), it’s a really good idea to include a career objective statement somewhere near the top.
Something along the lines of: ‘to find a job as a second assistant editor on a documentary film’ is simple, straightforward, and really useful for whoever has the pleasure of reading your resume.
The big thing to remember here is that you might need to change your career objective statement depending on who you are sending your resume out to. Don’t send ‘find a job as a first assistant on a feature film’ if you’re approaching a documentary producer for example. You really should get in the habit of tailoring your resume and cover letter every time you send it out – there isn’t a faster way to ensure your resume is rejected than making such a glaring error.
Having a niche as an aspiring feature film editor is not essential (at least at first), but it’s also not a bad idea.
Having a niche can help you to focus and target your approach to finding work. It can also make you look like a serious candidate if it’s clear to the big cheeses that you have a clear plan of progression in mind. It also helps because you’re most likely to find work following a recommendation. Sometimes, if you aren’t working in the area you’d like to, you might find yourself becoming a little stuck and this is something that can be tough to escape from.
On the other hand, newbies aren’t often in a position to be choosy, and even the best of careers have often been a result of happy coincidence rather than military planning.
Take opportunities as they appear and squeeze everything you can from them. The journey from runner to editor is akin to an apprenticeship. Learn everything you can from everything that comes your way.
We say, work hard at getting the skills you need. Develop good working relationships, try to take on projects that expand your skill set, and that you find interesting.
Go forth and get cutting!