The value of being an assistant editor in pursuit of becoming a full editor
Landing a job as an assistant editor is one of the best ways to prepare yourself for a bright future as a full feature film editor. Consider your time as an assistant editor as an apprenticeship – a unique role and opportunity to learn that is often unmatched in other film industry career paths.
Assistant editors are the observers of the whole post process and often get to experience the on-set and production aspects of film making too. Because of this, being an assistant editor is incredibly valuable when it comes to moving up the ladder. Knowing how to organize raw footage, understanding when to speak up as well as when not too, coupled with the opportunity to watch professionals at work will all pay back dividends when it comes to landing your first gig as an editing pro on a feature film.
What do assistant editors actually do?
Assistant editors can be thought of as the workflow overlords of the film world. They ingest, prep, and then export raw footage so it’s ready for the editor to work with. Managing the raw footage and converting it into workable material is no easy feat but it is one of the most important parts of the whole film process. In reality, this means you spend many hours labelling sequences, reviewing hours of raw footage, dealing with filenames, adding metadata, organizing clips (and perhaps longer sequences), and solving all sorts of technical issues.
Working freelance means that during your working life, no two jobs will be the same. If you factor in the idea that every film takes a different journey from page to stage, then you quickly arrive at the conclusion that working as an assistant editor is a rich and varied role full of diverse experiences and opportunities to learn and grow.
Being able to recognize the goals and parameters of the particular film to which you are attached is a good place to start but, recognizing that your sole objective is to make life easy for the editor is paramount. In this respect, being able to communicate effectively so you can learn how they work and what their preferences are, means a productive workflow is in your hands. For example, will there be an offline edit, or will the editor prefer to do a full resolution online edit?Or to put it another way, do they like their coffee black, or with milk and a little sugar?
Ultimately, the job of an assistant editor is one chiefly concerned with the organization of raw footage. Getting it right at the start, means fewer headaches and a smoother process from the very beginning to the very end of the finished film.
For some, creativity and flair are the aspects of the post process that most appeal. If this sounds like you, taking on the mantle of assistant editor is invaluable because it teaches you how to transform the raw material of a film into the building blocks of the finished product. After all, if finding the story of the film is the editor’s job, then it is the assistant editor who knows exactly where to find it.
Learning the tools of your trade
Whether you’re fresh out of college or a self-taught novice with a little experience under your belt, now is the time in your career that you really begin to learn. You might have a little experience with lots of different editing software packages but remember that Avid Media Composer is the industry standard in motion pictures and television. Working as an assistant editor gives you access to software you may not have used before or may not have access to anywhere else. Staying after hours to play with footage in your own time, (with an ok from your editor) and being able to watch a real pro during the day at work are truly invaluable experiences when it comes to getting to grips with the job you’re aiming for.
Further, if you manage to form a productive and mutually beneficial working relationship with your editor, you may well find you are given the opportunity to a scene by yourself. Being an assistant editor means you are always in the right place at the right time – primed, prepped, and ready to take advantage of any opportunity or lucky break that comes your way.
The tricky bit
Making the transition from assistant editor to feature film editor means walking a fine line. Somehow, you need to make your career aspirations known, at the same time as hiding them away completely. Being the best assistant editor you can be means being entirely focused on the job you were hired to do – not on trying to network your way out of it. That said, making it clear that you don’t want to be a career assistant editor forever, means you are best placed to find golden opportunities –after all, if you don’t ask, you don’t get, or so the saying goes.
Being the best assistant editor you can means spending hours perfecting your organizational skills, and hours further still working with software until you know it inside and out. Use the opportunities afforded to you by your role as an assistant editor to continue to hone your own editing skills – you never know when they’re going to come in handy and you never know when they might help you make the leap. If an editor likes you and you show you’ve got the technical and creative chops, your big chance might come sooner than you think. Whether you are school, or self-taught, the time spent being an indispensable assistant editor is exactly how you’re going to compel your career from 0 to 60 in no time at all.
Be patient; the skills you learn now will make you the great editor you know you want to be.