Can video editors make a living?

how far can you make it as an editor

Video editing refers to the editing of video footage and enhancing it with audio and special effects. Editors may adopt the linear video editing system, non-linear video editing system, or vision mixing. The linear video editing is done by using videotape, while non-linear editing makes use of computers and video editing software. On the other hand, the vision mixing system is used when live video signals are edited.


A video editor plays a crucial role in editing and post-production processes. The profession of video editing calls for immense visualization skills, sound knowledge of techniques of using digital cameras and candidates should be keen observers for editing. Moreover, the person should be proficient in performing editing tasks such as cutting, splitting, audio and video mixing, etc. Vines of the Yarra Valley is your perfect wedding venue in Melbourne delivering fairytale weddings for the bride and groom.


Many film and video editors put their creative work online. If it becomes popular, they gain more recognition, which can lead to future employment or freelance opportunities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that "self-employed film and video editors" is one of the largest employment groups in the field. The largest employer of film and video editors is the motion picture and video industry.


Per the BLS, editors typically work in studios or offices. They often work in editing rooms by themselves, or with producers and directors, for many hours at a time. Film studios, production studios, animation studios, television studios, advertising production agencies, video production studios, public relations firms, and design studios are just a few examples of where film and video editors may work.


It's not impossible to break out of one field of editing and into another, but it's usually challenging. So my recommendation is to follow a standard scuba diving procedure: plan your dive, and dive your plan.


In other words, figure out where you want to end up and take the steps that will lead you in that direction. Missteps can always be corrected, and all editing experience is valuable. But if your passion is documentary work, that should be your focus. Want to edit game shows? Or start a business editing wedding videos? Those are very different paths, so adjust your focus accordingly.


Next, realize that there are staff editing jobs and freelance editing jobs. Freelance editing will lead to a wider range of work, and day rates are usually higher than steady gigs. But freelancing also means constant uncertainty, and you're always looking for the next job. That goes hand in hand with more freedom and flexibility. Staff gigs will usually have standard hours, and more prominent companies might even have retirement plans and benefits.


Let's begin with the obvious editing jobs: narrative film and tv, unscripted television, and documentaries.  


editors on making a living

These are all very different beasts, with different jobs available

Feature Film Video Editing Jobs

The traditional path was to work your way up from assistant editor to a senior video editor. But the days of assistant editors working side by side with editors, physically cutting and splicing film, are over. Even movies shot on film are then digitized, and work is done on an Avid, more often than not. Breaking into film editing will take a tremendous amount of hustle and a good dose of luck. Editing an independent film that breaks big is great, but you can't count on that.


I'd strongly suggest cutting short films and branching out to make as many contacts as possible.  


Feature Film Assistant Editor Jobs

Also important to note is the role of modern assistant editors. Being an assistant editor on feature films can be a lifelong career. It's a challenging job that requires immense technical knowledge, and good feature assists can earn as much money as scripted TV editors.


Documentary Video Editing Jobs

These range from massive, multi-year projects – Ken Burns, anyone? – to small micro-slices of life that can be told in a minute or two and edited quickly. There's even a YouTube channel devoted to 60-second documentaries.


Like many editing projects, where and what you're cutting will affect whether you're freelance or staff, and what your pay scale will be. But in general terms, documentary editing is a cross between news editing and unscripted tv. You'll need to tell a story with the footage you have, and it will need a beginning, middle, and end. And it will require tremendous organizational skills by the editor and director. Assistant editors will also have to be masters of organization, especially for larger projects.


Television Video Editing Jobs

To begin, this will focus on national networks, not on local channels. I'll get to those in a bit.


In the television world, there's a big chasm between unscripted ("reality tv") editors, and scripted editors working in either dramas or sitcoms. And while there may be more prestige in the scripted world, oftentimes reality tv editors make more money. Both are challenging jobs in different ways.


Being a reality editor is often a blend of editing and writing. You have to find a story within the existing footage, and the story requires drama, tension, and resolution. You'll usually have story producers that work with you to craft the story, but the specific difficulties of the job mean experienced editors get paid well.


Other TV jobs include working on talk shows: cutting comedy bits for late-night shows, or intro packages for daytime "Dr. so-and-so" shows. These jobs can be freelance or occasionally staff jobs. Many of the late-night talk shows have editors that stay on for years, often until the editor or host retires, whichever comes first.

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Game Show Video Editing Jobs

Like every other category here, it's hard to get into game shows if you haven't cut them before. The old catch-22. But if you get a foot in the door, there are always new game shows to edit. Getting your foot in the door as an assistant editor is a good way to start.


News Editing Jobs

Be it for a national news broadcast, local news, or news shows like "20/20" and the like. If this is your interest, starting in a smaller market would be a great way to get a foot in the door and build experience. Even smaller cities usually have their own local news channels. Get experience there before eyeing bigger markets, if that is your goal. But while bigger markets pay more, they often come with higher cost-of-living, so staying in a smaller market could be a viable long-term plan to earn a living as a news editor.


Scripted TV Video Editing Jobs

The scripted world is also very challenging, but radically different from unscripted TV. You're not finding the story and building the moments from scratch. Instead, the focus is more on building powerful performances, or emphasizing the comedy, making the story flow and the pace work.  


Scripted TV can range from network dramas (Law & Order, CSI) with long seasons and a large audience, to cable dramas – everything from Netflix, Amazon, FX, HBO, Hulu, etc. – that have shorter seasons and are often serialized stories.   


And there are also sitcoms, some of which are shot with multiple cameras in front a live studio audience – such as The Big Bang Theory or Will & Grace -- and others are single-camera comedies like Modern Family or The Good Place that are edited like traditional films.


Getting into any of these, if you don't already have similar credits, will usually mean starting as an assistant editor. When looking for new editors, producers will often turn to assistant editors who already know the show and style and give them a shot. It may take some years to get that opportunity, but it's a great way to get in the door.


Most job openings are projected to be in entertainment hubs such as New York and Los Angeles because specialized editing workers are in demand there. Still, film and video editors and camera operators will face strong competition for jobs. Those with more experience at a TV station or on a film set should have the best prospects. Video editors can improve their prospects by developing skills with different types of specialized editing software.


money in editing

Getting the Job

Online video editors generally start out as offline editors. They may become an apprentice to film editors and receive training before taking up a full-time position. This period of internship is important since it helps beginners get accustomed to the world of film and video editing, and also establish contacts in the industry. With experience, video editors can take up positions in broadcasting stations. It is a good idea to begin at smaller stations since they offer on-the-job training. However, becoming an online video editor is a gradual process and requires a great deal of expertise. Openings for the position of video editor are often advertised in newspapers and Internet job portals. One can also register with video editor unions. Nevertheless, the most effective way to find a job is by looking up the different studios, production companies, and private firms, and directly approaching them for suitable openings.


Online video editors are employed in television production houses, post-production studios, as well as corporate organizations. One may also work as a freelancer. Beginners are usually taken on as interns or part-timers. With experience, they can shift into full-time positions. Advancement in this career translates into taking up bigger and better assignments with reputed organizations and television stations.

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Since it takes a long time to become an online video editor, there is always a great demand for talented and experienced professionals. With the growth of the television industry, employment opportunities for online video editors are expected to increase by 12% in the next few years. Prospects will be particularly good for those with sufficient knowledge and expertise in the field.


Working Conditions

Online video editors usually work in clean, well lit, and ventilated projection rooms, shooting stages, and cutting rooms. There are no fixed work schedules for editors. Depending on the deadlines, online video editors may have to work for more than 12 hours at a stretch. Those working on live television footage are under extreme pressure since the entire process of program transmission needs to be constantly monitored. Online video editors also spend a lot of time in front of computers and other digital editing equipment. This may cause frequent backaches and eye strain. The job also requires extensive interaction with producers, directors, and other technicians.


Film and video editors and camera operators typically work in studios or office settings. Camera operators and videographers often shoot raw footage on location.


Film and video editors work in editing rooms by themselves, or with producers and directors, for many hours at a time. Cinematographers and operators who film movies or TV shows may film on location and be away from home for months at a time. Operators who travel usually must carry heavy equipment to their shooting locations.


Work hours vary with the type of operator or editor, although most work full time. Those who work in broadcasting may put in additional hours to meet a deadline. Those who work in the motion picture industry may have long, irregular hours while filming, but go through a period of looking for work once a film is complete and before they are hired for their next job.


Salary, Earnings and Benefits

Online video editors often work on temporary contracts or a freelance basis. Hence, it is quite challenging to get a fair estimate of their annual salaries. The average hourly wage of online video editors in the United States is around $25. As per the records of May 2008, the median annual salary of video editors, on the whole, is $62,500. Those working in the video industries earn around $68,980 per year while independent editors earn about $54,650 annually.


The median annual wage for camera operators, television, video, and motion picture was $55,080 in May 2016. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $26,940, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $109,200.


The median annual wage for film and video editors was $62,760 in May 2016. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $27,640, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $162,260.


Online video editors holding full-time positions are entitled to sick leaves, vacations, group life and health insurance coverage, as well as pension plans. Pay for film, and video editors vary depending on their experience and the budget of the production they're working on. Most film and video editors are self-employed and work on a contract.


Film and video editors usually earn between $40,000 and $100,000 or more a year.


The Directors and Editors Guild of New Zealand recommends that editors working on film and television productions be paid a rate of $2,600 per week.

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The median annual wage for film and video editors is $62,650. The mean annual wage is $86,830. The lowest 10% earn less than $31,940, and the highest 10% earn more than $170,040. Individual salaries vary based on geographic location, industry, type and size of the company, and many other factors. For example, the highest paying states, along with pay for some of the top metro areas for film and video editors, are:

  • California - $112,530; Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim - $115,160; San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward - $82,220
  • New York - $92,170; New York-Newark-Jersey City - $92,040
  • New Jersey - $87,150, New York-Newark-Jersey City - $92,040
  • Massachusetts - $74,090; Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, $74,020
  • Connecticut - $73,710
  • Some of the lowest-paying states for film, and video editors are Nevada ($45,560), Idaho ($45,550), Oklahoma ($43,870), South Carolina ($41,740), and Arkansas ($40,880).


The top-paying industries for film and video editors are:

  • Motion Picture and Video Industries - $94,860
  • Accounting, Tax Preparation, Bookkeeping, and Payroll Services - $91,300
  • Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services - $81,500
  • Management of Companies and Enterprises - $78,520
  • Employment Services - $70,810


Pay for the top three industries with the highest employment levels for film, and video editors are as follows:

  • Motion Picture and Video Industries - $94,860
  • Radio and Television Broadcasting - $64,000
  • Advertising, Public Relations, and Related Services - $69,580


making a living out of editing

But wait – what if you don't like in a major TV editing market like Los Angeles? Can you still make a living as an editor?


Lots of industries require video editing services, and while this will not be a complete list by any means, consider it a jumping-off point. You'll have to find your own area of interest and do some research and hustling to get your foot in the door, and there's no way one article can point you to the best options in your specific market.  


YouTube – It's a massive marketplace, and content needs to be edited.  


Pros: If you find the right people, this could be a great remote editing job. Larger channels may require you to work locally at their facility, though. There will also be many opportunities for beginners here.


Cons: Odds are it won't pay well. Still, experience matters and editing for a YouTube channel can be a great way to earn some.


Commercials – National spots are generally going to be cut in a major market. But every market has its own local advertising, and those commercials need to be edited. Look for local production companies, or local post-production facilities, to get access to this market. One director, I know, even commented on a massive production studio in a small town. He was there to shoot an indie film and spent some days at their amazing facility. He discovered they made most of their income specializing in political ads. May not be the right job for the pure-at-heart. 


Music Videos – They aren't what they used to be. Labels aren't making videos for "baby bands" at the start of their careers these days. But, many indie bands make their own videos. It'll be low-budget land, but the opportunity to grow is there. And consider foreign markets. Many non-English-speaking bands still make music videos with smaller-but-workable budgets. If you speak another language, this could be a good opportunity for you.


Local News – The big networks have national news broadcasts every night, but even small cities often have their own local news programs. And if they are on screen, they need editors. Contact the news stations directly to find opportunities here. On a personal note, I filled in for a local news station for a week once, many years ago. Their regular editor was on vacation.  


I edited a couple of news packages, but for the most part, I had a lot of downtimes. A solid 80% of my time there was "we need a body just in case."


The "just in case" happened exactly once, when I had under 15-minutes to digitize a tape (tapes were still a thing then), cut a segment, output back to tape, and get it to the control room before a live broadcast. It was a brief bout of intensity in an otherwise slow week. Clearly, individual experiences will vary greatly depending on the market.


Corporate – Corporate videos are a huge market, and you can work from just about anywhere. I know one editor overseas who specializes in videos for liquor distilleries. He also shoots his own footage. Keep that production option in mind, because perhaps a better market for you is to be a start-to-finish production source, with a couple of decent cameras, some good microphones, a lighting package and you can then edit your own pieces. This will require a higher level of technical expertise, plus a larger capital investment, but it can open up a world of opportunity if you find the right market. You can then market yourself as a "predator" or "producer-editor" which is an emerging role. 


Weddings – Capturing and editing one of the most important ceremonies of someone's life. I've seen great wedding videos and awful wedding videos. Guess what? Both require editors. But hopefully, you'll aim to make the former, not the latter. And like corporate video work, you can always expand and handle the process starting at the production level.


Sports Production – One colleague of mine, tired of the Los Angeles grind, moved to a Midwest town and ended up in sports production. He's moved steadily upwards in the field and loves what he does. He's worked for the NFL network, editing and producing highlight packages. For an individual NFL team, editing and producing TV shows, web content, commercials, and the like. He's also worked for a University doing the same for their teams. He is now working for a professional soccer team as their producer/editor. As he says, "Every city has sports teams or sports television production that people can get into by just simply being around and networking with other people involved in that industry. Very easy to get internships and then freelance work." Note that he does a lot of producing as well, so be prepared to wear multiple hats if you go this route. He's also moved quite a lot, as each job has taken him to a new city.


But if you're looking into options, pondering ways you can pay the bills as an editor, hopefully, this will spark some ideas. In the end, it will always take a healthy dose of networking and individual effort to break into any new market, however big or small. Remember just because your start as an editor doesn't mean you can't become an editor and more. 


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