Photo of Publisher/Editor Matt York.

Some others of us have an affinity for successful screenwriters who we might aspire to emulate. I suspect, however, that very few could name the editor behind a favorite movie or TV series. Test yourself. How many famous editors can you list from memory?

In my experience, editors are the unsung heros of film and television. The best editors are confident and decisive, yet humble people who are not often in the spotlight. To be truly great, editors must lay aside personal tastes and preferences and alter their approaches to do what’s required for the greater good of each individual edit. Great editors live out a belief that ‘content is king.’ They know that no two productions are exactly alike, so they must give each one the attention it merits. The point of the edit isn’t the editor. 

Some of the best edits you’ll ever make may go unnoticed by the people who watch your work.

The best media makers are investigators. Trustees. Storytellers. Visual communicators. The story you tell may be about a camp, a car, a couple or a concept – it really doesn’t matter – at the heart of every edit there is an aim. Every professional production is conceived for a reason. So before you begin any edit, you need to know the goal. You must understand what you want your viewers to take away and how you want them to respond. Once you know the desired result, every decision you make – from timing and tempo to transitions – should be driven by the vision. 

Most editors do not function this way. Few people possess a diverse enough skill set to be able to produce high quality work in a variety of styles. Instead many land on a style that they do well and then apply it like a fingerprint to every project they touch. The best productions draw the viewer past the construction of the production and into its purpose. This is one of the basic truths of TV, film and video production. When the viewer notices the edits, he is seeing the surface of the screen, never looking past the glass. Anything that moves a viewer's attention off the message and onto the medium is a mistake.

If it’s true that we want our viewers to look beyond the surface of the screen, it follows to reason that some of the best edits we’ll ever make may go unnoticed by the people who watch your work. Don’t miss this because it’s quite profound. The best edits of your life may well be the ones that are invisible to your viewers. The best visual fx integrate so seamlessly that an unknowing audience won’t even realize they are there, and the best fx guys I know revel in that reality. 

You probably practice this, to a degree, without thinking about it. Every time you edit you make decisions to eliminate jump cuts, flash frames and continuity errors. Things like that can be major disruptions to the flow of the program. Novice editors often settle for simply not making blatantly bad cuts. While that’s a good starting point, the overriding principle of ‘message over method’ can be applied at the highest level. Even technically good edits can miss the mark if the style, pace, music, graphic design and overall approach are mismatched. For instance, you could spend a hundred hours creating a complex multi-layered composite with all the latest and greatest effects and treatments the industry has ever seen, but if the look and feel don’t match the mood of the message, the result is little more than a meaningless demonstration of technical prowess that does more to undermine the story than support it.

Editors are a powerful, yet unseen, force. They are masters of the art of invisibility who continually reinvent themselves in a never-ending effort to make a masterful mark on media without leaving any fingerprints.

Matthew York is Videomaker's Publisher/Editor.