What it takes to be a film editor

Last updated 2 Jan 2016 . 4 min read

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What do films like Kahaani, Rockstar, Taare Zameen Par and Ship of Theseus have in common? All these films have been edited by women. If films are your passion then a career in film editing is a great option to consider.

A film editor’s job involves going through the entire footage of the film to select the best shots in terms of photography, performance and relevance to the script. The editor then “cuts” the film by piecing together shots to make a continuous and coherent film. “An editor’s job is to communicate the film’s story seamlessly.” says Deepa Bhatia, editor of Stanley Ka Dabba and Taare Zameen Par, in an interview with DNA India.

Qualifications required

You can either get a certificate, diploma or a post graduate diploma in film editing.  There are several institutes in India that offer courses on film editing. If you think film schools are dated, you can also apprentice with experienced film editors and learn editing on the job.

Work hours

You can expect to work 10 to 12 hours a day. Work schedules can be erratic depending on the project and production house you are working with. “Editing can be strenuous, with each film taking six months to one year of work.” says Aarti Bajaj, editor of Jab We Met.

Expected salary

When you start in this field, you can expect anything between Rs 2 to 3 lakhs a year. Experienced film editors have been known to charge Rs 25 lakhs for a film. Most film editing jobs are based in Mumbai. However, you can also find options in Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad.

What you should be prepared for - the good and the bad

Film editing requires a great deal of patience as you have to go through several hours of raw footage. It also means working alone in a small room for extensive hours. But this can be a positive if you are an introvert like Sanyukta Kaza, editor of the highly acclaimed Ship of Theseus, “If you are a loner and love working alone this is the place to be. I absolutely love my silence.”

The creative high which you get when you edit is incomparable. Sanyukta Kaza illustrates this when she says, “I am the first one who gets to see the film. I absolutely enjoy putting the puzzle together, and deconstructing every choice made in the film. I find it difficult to articulate the feeling when you see the final product coming together. Mostly it is a revelation of sorts. I also love the fact that, after all the hard work thousands of people, you are the one person who has put all their hard work together.  I am the last one to do justice to everyone’s hard work and make it look flawless. It’s both humbling and exciting.”

A myth about the career which needs to be busted

Editing is thought of as a technical rather than a creative job. “An editor’s job is not just to piece the film together.” says Sanyukta Kaza, “The editor along with the director restructures a lot of the film. A film evolves a lot during the editing stage, and sometimes the entire dramaturgy, tonality and meaning goes through an overhaul.”

Editing is also thought of as an easy job as one has to work in a comfortable air-conditioned room. Sanyukta Kaza dispels this myth when she says, “I'd say try going over hours and hours of footage in a dark room and make something beautiful out of the material that mostly has more mistakes than a consistent sweep. Nobody really gets to know how often it is an editor who makes the right tweaks to make the writer look great, an actor seem flawless, a DOP’s visuals coherent, and help the director find his or her film.”

Film editing is an invisible art, one that is often overlooked in the glamour of the film world, but it is the place to be if you want to weave together the magic that is cinema. 

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Sonia Deshpande
Sonia Deshpande has had an eclectic mix of careers. She began by sourcing books for an art library, then moved on to a career in television by working in a TV production house and then a major TV channel. She is currently a freelance Instructional Designer, an aspiring writer and a mother to an eternally curious six-year old.

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