How to become a full-time video editor

In order for your raw camera footage to tell a compelling story, it has to be edited into a tight package along with graphics, music, narration and sound effects. If you want to be the one who makes this magic happen, read on to get some tips on the best way to do just that as a full-time video editor.

Required gear

First, the best advice is to buy as much machine as you can easily afford. If you are editing weddings, you will need a ton of hard drive space because weddings are really long. If you are doing compositing work, you will need a really fast processor and a lot of RAM. The on-going issue in our industry is that all technology becomes obsolete as soon as you buy it. This means that getting a beef-caked machine will serve you well now and into the future.

Mac or PC

This question has been at the root of video editing decisions for decades now. Your decision will come down to a few variables that are different for everyone. If you have a limited budget and need a really strong machine, then you’ll probably be looking at a PC. PCs generally will give you more computing bang for your buck. The next thing to consider is what software you are using to edit. If you want to use Final Cut Pro, then you’ll be getting a Mac. If you edit with Adobe Premiere Pro, Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve or Avid Media Composer, then you can choose either a Mac or a PC.

Required software knowledge

Now, here comes the rub. In order to sell your services as a video editor, you’ve got to be pretty proficient using video editing software. This doesn’t mean that you can’t start a career as a video editor and make some money if you’re new to editing. It just means that you probably won’t get to full-time video editor status until you’re really good at using at least one of the major editing software packages.

The big three are Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro and Apple Final Cut Pro. The best advice for someone just starting out is to get a base knowledge of all three. After that, pick one and really dive into how it works. Clients will rarely tell you what software to edit on, so you’re somewhat free to choose but keep it to these three packages. Yes, there are other video editing software packages out there. However, if your goal is to do this professionally, focus on these three.

In-house or freelance?

Choosing between in-house and freelance work is a really tough decision. But there is an easy way to decide. If you need money now, then you’ll be working for someone else at least for a while. On the other hand, if you have the time and resources and can build a client base over the period of a year or so, then you can start a freelance editing business.

If you want to start a video editing business it will take you a while to get enough clients to do just full-time editing and still make enough to pay the bills

Let me be really clear: If you want to start a video editing business it will take you a while to get enough clients to do just full-time editing and still make enough to pay the bills. Video production is a niche business and video editing is even more specialized. That means you have to be patient and develop your clients over time.

What’s the bottom line? If you work in-house you’ll get a regular paycheck. If you work freelance there may be weeks or even months where you don’t get paid. You’ll have to decide which fits your risk tolerance and cash flow needs the best.

How to find work as a video editor

If you decide to work in a production house, you won’t need to find work. You will just be assigned jobs based on your abilities. If you’re a freelancer, finding work and keeping your pipeline full will quickly become a very important part of your daily routine. If you decide to go freelance you will have to become your own salesperson. If meeting new people and talking to them about buying your editing services is uncomfortable or foreign to you, you might consider working for a production house. As a freelancer, you will have to sell your services if you want to win new editing business.

Create a demo reel

Before you quit your day job to start a career as a full-time video editor, you’d better create an amazing demo reel of your current editing work. Put your very best stuff in the first ten seconds since it may be the only thing a potential client sees to decide whether or not to buy your services. Do not put anyone else’s work in your reel. Clients want to see what you can do, so be honest with your reel.

As you do more jobs, you should update your reel with new and better footage. This will keep it current and get you new clients. Having said that, don’t include any footage from your clients that they haven’t allowed you to use. Many companies won’t let you use their footage, so make sure you get permission before you put their stuff in your reel.

Find a niche

Some editors specialize in doing wedding videos. Others specialize in doing legal videos. The best way to get more business doing legal videos is to find more lawyers. So, if you want to build your legal business, find out where lawyers hang out. This way you can sell to them directly. The same goes for wedding videos. If you need more wedding business, go to bridal shows and talk to wedding videographers. A lot of times, wedding videographers need help editing their videos when they get too busy. They can be a great resource for work.

How to keep the work coming in

As you grow your career as a full-time video editor, strive to have a backlog of several projects ready to go once you complete the current edit. There will also be times that you’ll be editing multiple projects with similar deadlines at the same time.

That’s why, if you’re going to try it on your own, time management will play a huge role your daily routine. It’s easy to spend hours and hours editing a video production. But remember this: Unless you’re getting paid hourly by your client, you will need to also use time management skills to make time for finding new clients. You can’t wait to be done with your current editing job before you look for new work.

Of all the steps in production, video editing is my favorite. It’s very gratifying to see a production come together to make a client happy. So go out there and start cutting. You’ll never know what you can create until you try.

John Cassinari
John Cassinari
John Cassinari is the executive producer of Imagination Unlimited, a video production and marketing communications firm headquartered in Orlando, Florida.

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