What Does a Digital Video Editor Do?

The video editing industry is incredibly competitive. It’s a job market with not very many openings and it requires an incredible amount of technical expertise. In a country as populous as the United States, for example, there are only around 30,000 editors working professionally.

If you’re curious about what a digital video editor actually does – either because you’d like to become one or hire one – we’ve created a handy little guide breaking down what sort of expertise you need for the job and what the job entails.

What Qualifications Does a Digital Video Editor Need?

Video editing is a very technical job. To do it correctly, you need to have a pretty extensive body of knowledge. Primarily, you need to know your way around an “NLE,” or Non-Linear-Editing, Program. Programs like Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere, or Avid are examples of NLE programs.

Currently, Adobe Premiere and Avid are the industry standards. You should also know your way around color-grading software (we’ll get to what this means later) like Da Vinci Resolve.

However, the most important skill to have is a sense for good storytelling. The layman may not know this, but editors make some of the most important decisions when it comes to how a movie, television, episode or even advertisement’s story gets told.

A Day in the Life of an Editor

We figure the best way to explain what an editor does is to walk you through the steps an editor takes when putting together a single project. Of course, depending on the size and budget of the project, some of these steps would be delegated to underlings or specialists.

But for the sake of this guide, we’ll assume this hypothetical editor is working alone.

Offloading and Organizing Data

The first step in the editing process is to gather the raw footage from the shoot. This is usually delivered to the editor in the form of a hard drive or a camera’s SD card.

With this footage, the editor will upload it onto his or her computer and organize the video and audio files into a media library in an NLE program of their choosing. A good editor will name the files and organize them in a way them easy to navigate.

If the shoot happens over the course of multiple days, the editor will often offload footage at the end of each shoot day to give the camera crew more storage.

Syncing up Video and Audio

Then, the editor will sync up the audio and video files together. This is assuming the crew has recorded the audio and video separately, of course. This is the only way to get good sound quality, as most built-in microphones on most cameras are pretty crummy.

This also allows the editor to finagle audio tracks to get them to fit in different video takes. For example, if you like how one shot looked but didn’t like the way the actors sounded audio-wise, an editor can use a different audio take and try to make it fit.

Laying Down a “First Draft”

Once all of the video and audio has been synced up, the editor can begin laying down a first draft of the project. Generally, an editor will just place the clips in order according to the storyboard provided by the director without manipulating the clips too much.

This is done just to get a sense of how the story will play out, and to give the director something to look at and give feedback on.

Collaborating with the Director

Now that the first draft is done, you can bring in the director to take a look at the project. You’ll then work with him or to troubleshoot any problems that may arise with the edit. This is, without a doubt, the most painstaking part of the process.

How involved the director or client wants to get involved with the edit is up to them, but you may spend hours, days, or week, combing through all the different takes of shots in the media library and tweaking them, substituting them in and out of the NLE program’s “timeline.”

The primary goal here is to help the director find the takes the director likes the most and organize the scenes in the best way.

Creating a Final Clip Sequence

With the director’s feedback, an editor then goes in and creates a final clip sequence. You may have to do several drafts of this, but once the director gives you the go-ahead, you can begin to tackle the minutia of the project.

Mixing and Mastering the Audio

Now that the video portion of the project is solidified, you can begin tweaking the audio. Here, you’ll take stock of places in the edit where the audio needs correcting. The audio may be low or too high, or too low-quality, so you’ll adjust the levels.

For example, you might raise the volume of an actor yelling to emphasize their anger or amplify the music in one scene for dramatic effect.

You might also need to do some Foley work to get the audio track sounding incredible. Named after SFX artist Jack Foley, Foley work involves reproducing common sound effects and adding them to the project.

For example, if you want to capture the sound of footsteps walking through grass, you might record yourself walking around your backyard.

Coloring and Exporting the Final Product

Lastly, once everything is complete, you have to “color” the project. Using a separate program like Da Vinci Resolve, you can edit the visual look of the shots you were given. You can make a blue sky bluer, make actors look more tan, and increase the contrast of a shot. It’s basically Photoshop for live video.

Once that is complete, all you have to do is export the project, which saves all of the editing you did into one video file that you can then burn to Blu-Ray discs or upload to Youtube.

Need an Editor?

Editing isn’t a skill you can just pick up in one day. As we’ve mentioned, the job requires an incredible amount of technical know-how. For this reason, if you need a professional digital video editor for your project, you might want to outsource this task. If you’d like, you can contact us for a free quote on your video editing needs.

We can work with you to create the best possible visual product for your business.

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