Here's the video:
Here's the script I wrote with what I thought I'd say:
Today I’m talking about editing video and film and not editing words, specifically being an Assistant Editor.
An assistant editor’s job might vary from project to project, but basically anything the editor doesn’t want to spend time doing, the assistant editor will have to do. Since I did this in the “olden days,” most of my knowledge has to do with working on film and not necessarily remaining all digital. The workflow on an all-digital show will likely be different.
On a movie, after the shoot day the “dailies,” the video or film transfer (version of the film on tape or digital format) of everything that was shot that day will be sent to the editing room. Depending on the schedule, this material could arrive late at night and it is usually expected that an assistant editor will be available to load everything into the computer and make sure that everything looks correct before the editor arrives at 9 am the next morning to start the first assembly of the film. Part of making sure that everything looks correct is making sure that the time code/footage numbers on the dailies are being correctly read by the editing computer.
The film editor will start working on the first assembly of the film the second day of the shoot, once the material from the first day is available in the editing room. During this first few weeks of production, while the movie is still being shot, the editor will work days and the assistant will work when the editor doesn’t - which means nights. There might be more than one assistant editor, depending on the needs of the production.
Once the shoot is over, the assistant editor should be able to transition to a better schedule of not just working nights. The duties of the assistant while the editor is working on the assembly could be significantly reduced. They might be asked to not come back until the editor has his first cut done or close to done, or they might be asked to hang around to just do whatever the editor tells them to do.
Some editors might ask the assistant to sort the digital film clips a certain way or to do some of the rough assembling of scenes so the editor can focus on making more nuanced choices.
Once the first cut is done, the assistant will be responsible for making sure that whoever needs to view the cut of the film is able to. This could mean setting up screenings in the editing room, making DVDs to send around to producers, or maybe nowadays setting up a secure on-line viewing experience.
The assistant might also be asked to provide materials to different actors who would like something for their reel. So an assistant might sit with the film and just pull out scenes that a specific actor appears in and then create a file or tape for that actor.
On projects which finish on film, there might be some special effects which will be created per the editor’s instructions and which the assistant will then need to replace in the cut of the movie on the editing system so that the effect film is referenced on the edit decision lists instead of the dailies numbers.
Once the final cut of a film is determined to be locked, the assistant editor really takes over and makes sure that all of the instructions for the negative cutter are correct. This could mean watching back a cut of the movie and verifying the in and out time of every shot on the edit decision list. It is tedious work and one mistake could end up costing a lot of time and money. Luckily, it is rare that the EDL will have a mistake, and if one does show up, it means something at the start was done incorrectly.
You might also be asked to sit in and make some changes to a cut if like the editor and director get into a fight. You’ll be a button pusher for the director while the director explores their ideas the editor refuses to entertain.
How do you get this work and what does it lead to:
I got this work by interning (working for no money) at a post-production company where I told them specifically I wanted to get into editing. I did a lot of different things at the company and they started paying me after about a month of working for free, but I was a little surprised to find out I was an assistant editor on a project. I was doing something for a particularly grumpy editor and asked to not work with him. That’s when I was told I didn’t have a choice but to work with him because I was actually his assistant editor on the project in question. I just had to deal with him.
If you know someone who is an editor, you can ask them if they’d be willing to let you assist them on a project. You should also get some editing software and work on building your skills on your own so if you see an ad which requires some basic understanding of editing software, you are able to apply knowing it isn’t a total bluff.
Some editors will also be encouraging of their assistants and let them edit segments on their projects, helping get them on their way to being an editor and not an assistant.
You should also consider working on some low or no-pay student films to get some experience.
What kind of person is this good for:
Night owls! If you don’t mind working long hours, alone, in the dark, then you’ll be prepared for the first part of the job of making sure the work is all loaded into the editing computer. You’ll need to organize the files also, so you’ll need to be organized. And when I was the assistant I also had to do a fair amount of tech support. If something malfunctions with the editing computer or software, the assistant gets to troubleshoot it and maybe spend hours on the phone with tech support instead of the editor doing it. Eventually I knew a lot about how to troubleshoot AVID problems and for the most part no longer needed to call tech support to solve the problems which would pop up.
You should also have an easygoing personality and not take it too personally when an editor is rude to you, because they will be rude to you. It’s easier to blame an assistant editor for a mistake than to accept responsibility.
You’re sort of down on the list of important people, so are likely to be treated poorly or overlooked, even if you have good ideas on what is or isn’t working in a particular scene.
This can vary from literally nothing to really good. If you can get into the union and work on union jobs, you’ll be doing great. A quick internet search shows that the union salary for an assistant editor on a big studio movie is over $2000/week. And because it will be in the union, there will be protections that non-union projects won’t have as far as abusing your time.
If you can get yourself booked most of the year, you’ll earn a good living as an assistant editor. You’ll most likely be working project to project, so you might go for long stretches without work. But you could also get booked onto a project that lasts several years.
If you can get a job at a post-production company, like I did, it will be a regular full-time job. Otherwise, you’ll be a freelancer going from one long-term assignment to another.
If you have any questions about what else I did as an assistant editor or what movies I’ve worked on, please feel free to ask them below. Don’t forget to subscribe so you can see all my videos, about all the different things.