A Day in The Life of a TV Editor

Posted on: Aug 17, 2023

post productionPhoto courtesy of DC Studios // Shutterstock

By Olivia Wyrick

Step into the dynamic world of television post-production as we unveil the intricate tapestry that constitutes a day in the life of a TV editor. Behind the scenes of every captivating show we enjoy lies the skilled craftsmanship of these unsung heroes who transform raw footage into seamless narratives. In this article, we delve into the demanding yet exhilarating routine that shapes a TV editor’s day, highlighting their pivotal role in crafting the stories that captivate audiences worldwide. From the first frame to the final cut, join us on a journey through the artistry and dedication that define the television editing process.

Preparing for the Day

Your very first day as an editor will usually be the day before the first day of principal photography. This is so you can set up your project and make sure your system is up and running. If you’re working in an office, it’s also a great time to meet your co-workers, including the other editors, post producer, the VFX team, and more. Your assistant editor (AE) will also be starting that day, and it’s a good time to chat about your workflow for the upcoming shooting days. The AE will also use this day to make the paperwork binder.

As an editor you will accumulate a lot of paperwork, so having a way to organize all of this is crucial. Use this day to familiarize yourself with the shooting schedule. Each day the production office will send out a call sheet that will have a list of the scenes they are shooting that day, along with other information important to the crew. You can also ask for the one-liner (an abridged version of the shooting schedule) to see the entire list of scenes being shot broken out by days. Looking at this paperwork ahead of time is a great way to prepare yourself for what you’ll be editing each week.

Choosing the Right Software and Tools

For union work, the most common editing program or NLE (non-linear editing software) is Avid Media Composer. It is a powerful tool that any aspiring editor should take the time to learn. Other NLEs include Adobe Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro. Mastering these programs is a major factor in becoming a professional film and television editor. Other more personal tools that are equally as important are a powerful computer for rendering and exporting large files, an external monitor for playback and a good mouse to avoid carpal tunnel. If you’re hired by a TV show or a film, the production will usually have a system set up for you at the post-production office or at your home. It’s your job to check the system before the first day of filming to make sure the sound and picture are working, and the specifications are to your liking. 

Reviewing the Script and Paperwork

Make sure you are familiar with the script before shooting begins. It’s very common for changes to be made on-set to any given scene, to both the dialog and the action. If you have a firm grasp of the script before filming starts, you can catch these changes while watching the dailies without having to rely solely on the script supervisor. (Dailies are the unedited footage that comes from the set the day before.) If you’ve familiarized yourself with the call sheets, you’ll know what scenes you’ll be getting each day so it won’t be a surprise when you start in the morning. Along with the dailies, you’ll receive important paperwork from the script supervisor. This will usually include facing pages, the lined script, an editor’s log and a progress report. 

  • Facing Pages: This is a breakdown of every setup and take that was filmed for each scene. The script supervisor will often put descriptions of the setups (wide shot, medium shot, bird’s-eye view, etc.) along with notes that the director makes about the takes (favorites, line flubs, etc.). The reason they are called facing pages is because these will go opposite the lined script pages in your editor’s binder.
  • Lined Script: This is a copy of the script with annotations, or “lines,” indicating what setups covered what lines in the scene. It also has information about who was on-camera during a line and who was off-screen. These are very handy, especially during complicated scenes, to help you figure out where the director was intending each setup to be used in the scene.
  • Editor’s Log: This is usually an abridged version of the facing pages, but can also include information such as which cameras and lenses were used, sound roll information, etc. 
  • Progress Report: This will tell you if production got through everything they were planning to for the day. It’s helpful to see in case there were problems on-set, such as weather or unforeseen circumstances. There will be notations if a planned scene wasn’t finished and will have to be pushed to a different day. If you find yourself missing footage, you can look here to double check that everything has been shot for the day. 

There will also be miscellaneous paperwork that you may get, such as camera reports, continuity reports and sound logs. It may seem overwhelming, but it is all useful to help piece together what production worked on the day before. Since editors aren’t usually on-set, you need to rely on the paperwork to make sure you have received everything that was shot. 

Assembling the Rough Cut 

Once you’ve checked over the paperwork and made sure all the footage is accounted for, it’s time to start watching! It’s your assistant’s job to prepare your dailies for you in a way that is organized and easy to view. The most common way to view dailies is by setup and take. Some directors also like to shoot with multiple cameras for the same take. If this is the case, the easiest way to view these is to group the clips. Once everything is set up and organized the way you like it, it’s time to start watching. The way I like to start is just by watching every single take and camera angle and making notes on the takes and angles that I like. It’s not an exact science, it’s more like a feeling.

If an actor does a particular head move or inflection on a certain line, I’ll mark it for later. I like to watch everything at once so that I become familiar with the scene. Depending on the length of the scene, you can have anywhere from 30 minutes to six hours of footage. The general rule of cutting is that one page of script is equal to one minute of screen time. After you’ve watched all the dailies for the day, it’s time to start cutting. It’s up to you to decide where you want to start and when you want to switch angles. That’s the beauty of being an editor. You get to decide the pacing of each scene. As an editor, your job is to pick the best takes and angles available to you and arrange them in a way that best tells the story. It may seem overwhelming, but just remember: an entire film is created by individual scenes, which are created with individual cuts. You can create an entire feature length movie one cut at a time. 

Incorporating Music and Sound Design

After the rough assembly is complete, you need to add temporary music and sound to it before sending it to the director for notes. Even if it’s the first version, you’ll want to make it as polished as possible. It’s your assistant’s job to do a full sound pass. However, if you work freelance, you may have to do it yourself. For most scenes, it doesn’t have to be too complicated.

Adding a background sound or room tone can go a long way. Basic sound effects and dialogue balancing will also help. Sourcing music from other films and television shows is your best bet. Since it’s only a temp pass, it’s okay to pull from other sources. A professional film or television production will have a composer who will create new music once the film is locked, but it’s your job as the editor to use the temp music to set the tone. Sometimes a director will have a specific piece of music in mind for a certain scene, or a certain piece of music will be written into the script (for example, in a montage sequence). 

Dealing With Time Constraints

A lot of times you’ll be cutting with a strict deadline. This can get hectic, especially if a director wants a certain scene cut first, or if you have a lot of notes coming in while you are also trying to work on new footage. The best way to stay focused and organized is to stay on top of your dailies. This means trying to cut a version of all of the scenes that you get in a day. Sometimes, however, that might not be possible. A five-page scene with multiple characters is going to take a lot longer to cut than a one page scene with two characters.

It’s up to you to decide how best to manage your time. I like to get smaller scenes out of the way so I can spend most of my time working on the larger and more complicated scenes after. As long as you are keeping up with your dailies and don’t get backlogged, you should be able to meet your deadlines. Don’t forget that every scene will also need a sound and music pass, so that time needs to be taken into consideration as well. You will also need time to address any notes on scenes that have been sent out early. 

Finalizing the Edit

After getting the first version of your cut ready with temp music and sound, it will be sent out to the director or producers for them to give their input. Filmmaking is a collaborative effort. Everyone will have opinions on the cut, and it’s up to you as the editor to take those opinions and implement them in a way that pushes the film forward. You’re not going to like every note that a director or producer gives, so it’s important to know when to stand your ground and when to let things go. At the end of the day, the director or showrunner has the final say, so you have to make sure that they are happy with the final product. If you create a good working relationship with them throughout the editing process, things will go smoothly.

Olivia Wyrick has been working in the film industry for close to ten years. She started as a PA at a post-production facility and worked her way up to head online editor. She decided to move show-side and was able to use her online editing hours to get into the Motion Pictures Editors Guild. Once in the union, she worked as a VFX editor and assistant editor on The Walking Dead and she got her first solo episodic credit on Foundation season 2.

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