Do You Need a Film Editing Degree?



7/23/2012 (updated 1/13/2020)

Film Connection graduate Michael Jessop

Perhaps you’re considering a career as a film editor, and you’re wondering whether you need to go to college and earn a film editing degree. Editing is both a technical skill and a creative one; you need to possess the patience to weed through hours of unusable footage while having a keen eye for the right footage to tell the director’s story.

That being said, while getting an education is definitely important, the short answer is no—you do not need a degree to become a film editor. In fact, while many colleges and trade schools have very good editing courses, you actually need more than a college program could give you in order to make it as a film editor.

In this industry, the editors that are considered the “A” team are those who have accumulated years of work experience and industry connections—those who have a body of work that proves what they are capable of. In other words, being connected to the industry has gotten them farther than their college degree (if they even have one).

Classrooms, teachers, and books are a great way to learn certain technical aspects of being a film and video editor. However, will they be able to convey the differences between editing a motion picture and television programs? Will they know how to communicate with a director to make sure their vision comes to life?

The job of an editor – whether it’s in the film industry, at a newspaper, or a publishing house – is to make a piece better without changing the heart of the work. It takes time to become a good editor, both in using the software as well as learning how to work with other professionals.

It’s that experience that really counts when building a career in the industry. As new technology emerges, the ability to quickly adapt to that technology is key. A four-year university or trade school may be able to teach you how to use it, but actual on-the-job training and using the technology firsthand is the only way to really learn it well.

The point is, in the eyes of the film industry, all a film editing degree says is that you went to school to learn to edit film or video. It does not tell anyone how good you are at your job, whether you can work well with a director, or what your work is worth financially.

That is why film degrees don’t mean much in this business. You need to get connected to this environment, and you need to be able to show people what you can do in order to gain credibility as a film editor. That is something that no average film school can do for you.

Is there an alternative?

Many film professionals feel that the best way to learn the film industry is from the inside—to get your foot in the door of a real film production company. Many people do this through internships, but interns usually don’t get the attention they need in order to grow into a real job.

A better option is to become an extern. In fact, if you want to edit film, there’s no better way to learn the skills than to extern under a working film editor. Doing so helps you learn both the technical and the creative skills you need as well as honing your communication and collaboration skills.

Learning in the “real world” enables you to make those all-important industry connections. If you don’t have the means to land an externship yourself, a great way to do it is to enroll in a film school that uses the mentor-extern approach.

The bottom line is, while you certainly need some form of education, a film editing degree alone won’t get you where you want to go. An externship might be an excellent alternative. But what exactly is an extern and how will it help you learn what you need to know while making the connections you need?

Learn from Working Professionals

With Film Connection, you’ll be placed in a real-world environment, learning from experienced professionals. From day one, you could be learning how to run cables, blocking, what camera operators do, and much more. Although the Film Connection Editing Workshop focuses on editing, our externs get a complete real-world education.

But you won’t be escaping tests and books. With our workshop, you’ll be expected to do some independent learning, too. Armed with our industry-oriented eBook and weekly tests, you’ll be immersing yourself in the fundamentals of the industry. From learning how to start up the software, to exporting your final cuts in a variety of formats, our workshop will enable you to get the skills and knowledge you need to start your career as an editor.

How to Make a Name for Yourself in the Industry

As a newcomer to the film industry, it’s up to you to become indispensable. Showing up on time and ready to work, asking to help out with rigging if need be, and anything else your mentor might need from you are all components of making a name for yourself i.e. becoming someone the pros will remember the next time they need someone who can “bring it.”

Will operating a camera dolly make you a better editor? It could. But moreover, it will show your mentor and everyone else in the studio you have what it takes to make a career in the industry. And when someone comes along looking for an editor on a small project, they’ll remember you.

Which is something trade schools or universities just can’t offer. There is one similarity, though: you won’t get straight A’s spending time on your phone or hanging out with friends. You need to put in the work every day. Don’t let it be a hobby anymore. Make it your life. Apply today and find out how to get started.

Film Connection provides unique, mentor-based programs that are affordable, so you can stay in control of your finances.

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