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Is Video Editing a Good Career?

| Michael Clute | July 25, 2022


There’s a world of video content out there, both long and short-form. In light of this ever-growing media landscape, Many viewers watching on their TVs or phones may have wondered if getting involved behind the scenes could present them with a satisfying career path.

Video editing is an interesting mix of so-called “right-brain” and “left-brain” thinking. On the one hand, it’s certainly a creative job. On the other hand, it involves a serious problem-solving skill set, as well as, these days, computer and software savvy.

For people looking for a career that balances these parts of themselves, a video editing career may be an interesting choice that provides a fresh stream of challenges and variety.

Here’s a short guide for people looking to answer the question, “Is video editing a good career path for me?”

What do Video Editors Do?

Creative Work

Video and film editing are highly creative professions. In the words of legendary film editor Walter Murch (whose credits include The English Patient and The Unbearable Lightness of Being), “editing can be fiddly, frustrating, and time-consuming. But it’s also a joyful experience. When I’m editing, I feel the same kind of creative energy that musicians must feel playing instruments. So I’d encourage anyone to try it; it really is a tremendous amount of fun.”

For people interested in storytelling and how narratives come together, a video editing career can be a natural fit. It requires a good eye and solid technical skills but also a good feel for how one shot can flow to another, as well as the psychological impact ordering shots in a particular way, will have.

Video editing certainly involves a skill set that includes understanding the grammar of film language — that is, the way a close-up will read differently to an audience than a wide shot — but it involves cultivating an intuition about how, for instance, a transition like a dissolve could work instead of a hard cut. A good video editor can take a video production with nothing but raw footage and create something magical.

Of course, there are different levels of intensity one can bring to the task, and editing TikTok videos is going to be different from editing feature films. Regardless, video editing presents numerous demanding and interesting challenges. It can also involve critical skills such as selecting which takes are the best of any actor’s given performance.

A good video editor will be able to toggle between their more flowing, creative mind and their more critical, methodical brain. In one project the focus may be on the highly technical and in another the more creative, like how to best music, sound effects, and other special effects to enhance the quality of the overall experience. They will also be experienced in various video editing software, such as Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro.

Variety of Challenges

Whether editors are freelance video editors or work for a specific post-production house, the nature of the work is constantly changing. In addition to projects in different genres and tones, editing software is constantly changing, too, requiring an adept technical mind and an ability to keep evolving with different challenges.

That includes the changing nature of content itself, which runs the gamut from long-form series that need to keep viewers hooked across hours of storytelling to the shortest of teaser trailers, which have to provoke interest within the scope of a very brief running time.

While the work varies, certain editors tend to specialize in certain genres, like documentaries, comedies, and animation.

Atypical Office Life

During the pandemic, many editors shifted their base of operations to their living rooms; but even before then, editors enjoyed an atypical office life.

Most editing bays and post-production houses have a far more casual vibe and decor than the standard office. They tend to more closely resemble new economy workplaces, with a lot of couches and snacks.

For people looking for a non-traditional office, post-production workplaces can be a refreshing change of pace. They also attract like-minded creatives. Of course, now that so much work is being done from home, editors may enjoy working in their own home environment instead.

Problem Solving

Many editors enjoy their ability to solve problems at the end of the filmmaking process in a quiet and methodical way. Life on set can be chaotic and unpredictable, involving extreme weather conditions and volatile personalities in pursuit of the perfect shot.

Having said this, editing can also be a more holistic job than many realize. Editors sometimes have the opportunity to be involved before the shoot or during it, helping directors plan shotlists and/or review footage to ensure plans are carried out.

In a way, editors can enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the process, without the bustle of the set but with a crucial role in solving the puzzle.

The Downsides of Working as a Video Editor

Stressful Days

Editing, as Walter Murch noted above, can have its frustrating moments. Frustrations can include:

  • Making do with subpar footage
  • Long hours in the editing bay or at your computer, staring at a screen
  • Software and computer troubleshooting
  • Revisions
  • Firm deadlines
  • Interpersonal relationships and communication

While post-production suites are usually designed to be comfortable and inviting, editors often will have to spend long hours working in them, which can at times be tiring.

Additional sources of stress can come from having to understand not just editing but also the ins and outs of specific software platforms, as well as the bugs that come with being heavily reliant on computers. Some editors have their own preferred software but have to switch to unfamiliar platforms preferred by their employers on a specific project.

Additionally, now that editing software is relatively simple and allows for millions of changes, clients or producers may indeed request many such revisions. Editors sign onto projects knowing that they will take patience, but a project often takes patience above and beyond what a newer editor may have been expecting.

Unpredictable Work and Income

Unpredictability is less of an issue for editors who work for established post-production houses, but most editors work on a freelance basis, which can also translate to unpredictable work hours and income — both of which can become sources of stress.

Consequently, video editing may not be the most stable career, if that’s something that’s desired. This is important to consider if stability is something you highly value in your work.

Depending on what exact part of the industry a video editor is looking to work in, it can take a lot of networking and always being on the lookout for the next job. Some can find this exhausting.

Projects Aren’t Always What Editors Hope

Particularly when video editors are on the way up in their career, projects may not have the exact creative ingredients or degree of quality they are looking for. An editor may dream of working on hollywood films or tv shows, but may find themselves mostly working on commercials, music videos, or other short videos made by lesser-known content creators. Still, there could be valuable lessons to be learned from engaging in such projects, if only for experience (and pay).

Do Video Editors Make Good Money?

Annual income for video editors will fluctuate depending on whether their employment is full-time or freelance.

Per Glassdoor, the average salary for a full-time video editor is $76,391 per year. This can increase with bonuses and seniority, though, going up to the $90K range per annum. Practiced film editors can command even higher salaries, well into the six figures, but this also depends on the budget of the project.

Other sites such as Payscale project a broader salary range for video editors, ranging from $39K for beginners to $159K for experienced editors.

Benefits like health insurance, meanwhile, will depend on whether employees are working full-time at an ad agency or post-production house or are working on a freelance basis.

How Much Does a Video Editor‘s Education Cost?

Pursuing an education in high-end film schools can be expensive, costing over $40K or even $50K a year at prestigious institutions like NYU, USC, UCLA, and AFI.

However, these days, many editors choose to go the DIY route, cutting their own or friends’ projects and watching YouTube tutorials to guide them as they go. Platforms like DaVinci Resolve and iMovie are fairly easy places to start.

There are pros and cons to each path, of course.

Film schools often provide an inbuilt professional network, as well as a measure of prestige, though this is now being potentially diluted with the sheer number of programs out there, and the expense can outweigh earnings potential for editors. For those who can’t afford a full degree, though, there are short summer courses, continuing education programs, and even online-only classes overseen by prestigious universities.

When it comes to learning solo, there’s a wealth of information online. These can teach even advanced video editing skills like color grading, VFX editing, and perfecting audio. It can be harder to forge professional connections, though, when taking the DIY path.

Another option for aspiring editors is to try and get practical experience and professional connections as production assistants (PAs) at a post-production house or ad agency, then work their way into more editing work from those relationships.

In any case, it’s the work that matters, ultimately, so if an editor can put together a good-looking reel showing their work and versatility, they’re likely to get hired somewhere.

Is Being a Video Editor for Me?

If facing creative challenges, working with interesting material, and setting one’s own career path in an ever-evolving field sounds appealing, video editing can be a great career. Start by shooting some of your own videos and cutting them together in DIY fashion on free software, then go from there. Perhaps try editing stock footage together with music.

If you find there’s enough excitement and passion for you in the process, it’s possible that you’ll find a way to surmount all the inherent obstacles you’ll face as a video editor.

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