From short video clips to feature films, they all rely on editing to become a successful, finished product. So, if you want to become an integral part of the process, find out how to become a freelance video editor.
It’s a creative and mentally-stimulating role which will allow you to work with clients, directors, and film-makers from your choice of location. And if you can transform dull or confusing footage into a beautiful and coherent video, you’re unlikely to be short of work.
The importance of editing is recognised at every level. From Youtubers hiring editors, to awards at the Oscars or BAFTAs. Post-production can transform a video to remove excess material, improve the flow and continuity, or change the pacing of a scene by altering the transitions.
You can become a freelance video editor without experience, qualifications or experience equipment, although all three can help to make it easier to build a successful career.
- Why become a freelance video editor?
- What does a freelance video editor actually do?
- Which skills and qualifications do you need to become a freelance video editor?
- What equipment do you need as a freelance video editor?
- How much can a freelance video editor earn?
- More support and resources to become a freelance video editor?
Why become a freelance video editor?
Films have entranced generations since they first appeared at the turn of the 20th century. And while some people aim to star in front of the camera or aim to be a famous director, many more people fall in love with a particular aspect of video and film production.
In any creative field, editing is a vital part of the process. And it can sometimes achieve magical transformations in the final piece of work. That’s never been truer than for film and video editors, who can change the structure, flow and feel of what’s been filmed, and all from their editing suite.
There’s good demand for freelance video editors, as the rise of Youtube and streaming platforms demands more content than ever before. And the projects available range from assisting smaller online influencers and streamers to working on commercial projects for clients, editing documentaries or drama series, or even working on major film productions.
As a freelancer, you’re able to choose the areas you might want to specialise in, or to work across a range of subjects if you prefer variety. And you’re also able to set your hours and work location with more freedom than if you were required on set every day. You’re also able to decide whether you want to edit with collaborators sat nearby, or if it’s preferable to handle everything remotely.
On small projects, you might also be the cameraperson and director, or you may want to eventually become a director yourself like former film editors Robert Wise, David Lean, Hal Ashby, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese, among others. Cinematographer Vashi Nedomansky describes film editors as “part psychiatrist, part sounding board and part carpenter”.
What does a freelance video editor actually do?
If you become a freelance video editor, your responsibilities will be to produce and prepare raw footage for a final cut, working to a brief, outline, or script.
This starts with assembling everything that’s required, and then assembling and organising them on a computer to start putting together everything into a sequence.
When you’ve created a rough cut of the project, you’ll then need to fine-tune everything, and might also need to oversee areas including audio and technical aspects. This can include correcting faulty footage, grading, colouring, adding transitions, and special effects.
The exact tasks and work required will vary between projects. And this will also impact the hours and schedule required, as you may need to be prepared for long and intensive hours followed by periods of inactivity between jobs. It really depends on the deadlines and type of videos you’re working on.
You’ll often also need to help with aligning the final version of a piece to the platform it will appear on. For example, understanding how a longer video might work on Youtube, but needs to be edited down for TikTok, Youtube Shorts or Instagram Reels. And the file formats and sizes needed for each.
Which skills and qualifications do you need?
You can become a successful freelance video editor without any formal academic or industry qualifications. As with so many self-employed careers, your network and portfolio will be the most vital element in securing work. But training does help to show your commitment and experience, especially when you’re just starting out.
There are a variety of ways to build your experience, including creating your own projects, volunteering to work for other people, and paid or unpaid internships. If you’re offering your services for free, always consider whether an opportunity will be useful for your career before taking it on. And treat it with the same level of professionalism and dedication as any paid project.
It’s possible to be entirely self-taught, and there are plenty of educational resources available online, including via video sites like Vimeo and Youtube. But academic degrees in related subjects (for example film and television studies, media production etc), or postgraduate qualifications can help you stand out. And they can be a requirement if you want to start your career working for a film studio or company before branching out on your own.
Other relevant academic qualifications include Level 3 or higher diplomas in Creative Media Production, or taking courses offered by recognised providers, such as the National Film and Television School. You can find various opportunities for training courses, apprenticeships and more via the ScreenSkills website.
Both ScreenSkills and the British Film Editors association also offer mentoring schemes, which can be a great way to get more individual and personalised help for your career. But if you don’t have access to those options, it’s worth joining some of the various online groups for film and video editors to get advice on which training and qualifications will provide the most value to you as a freelancer.
The skills you need to be a freelance video editor are similar to those in other self-employed careers, including a high level of self-motivation and commitment, organisational and time management abilities, and being comfortable with working under pressure. And you’ll definitely need good communication skills and project management.
But you’ll specifically need;
- Creativity and the ability to find solutions
- A passion for film and video editing
- A critical eye for detail, particularly ensuring continuity etc
- Experience and skills with relevant software, e.g. Adobe Premiere Pro, Apple Final Cut Pro, Avid, DaVinci Resolve etc
- Enthusiasm for learning and solving new issues, including working with new technology, learning techniques, or producing work for platforms which might not exist yet.
It’s important to consider that platforms like Youtube are less than 20 years old, and the emergence of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and artificial intelligence (AI), and how trends in technology and audio-visual production will change how you may be working in the next few years.
Which equipment and software is essential, or a good idea?
It’s possible to film and edit via your smartphone, but most freelance video editors will want to invest in a more comprehensive editing suite for working full-time on projects. It’s also possible you may be brought into professional studios for projects, so it’s useful to understand the equipment and software you’ll be using before you turn up.
Some of the basic essentials include:
- A good quality computer: Whether you prefer Apple or PC, desktop or laptop, you’ll need a decent processor and graphics card for video editing, along with enough memory to perform the tasks, and store your work.
- High quality monitors: You’ll need to see all the details in the video you’re editing, especially when your audience are likely to be viewing it on high definition 4K displays
- Good speakers and headphones: Again, hearing the audio accurately is vital
- External storage and back-ups: Theft, hardware failures or just user error can lose days or weeks of work. Quality external storage, including physical hard drives, and online backups, mean this causes the minimum of problems.
Other useful equipment for freelance video editors:
- A camera, tripod and microphones: You’re not expected to be a cameraman, but if quick footage or audio is needed, you’ll be prepared.
- Editing keyboards: You can buy keyboards specifically designed for the major video editing programs which include shortcuts. Or as a cheaper alternative, keyboard covers
- Monitor calibration: To make sure your monitors are showing colours accurately
- Colour grading panels: For colour correction projects
And finally, your choice of video editing software will depend on your personal preferences, the projects you’re working on, and the requirements of your clients. But some of the main options include:
- Adobe Premiere Pro
- DaVinci Resolve
- Apple Final Cut Pro
- Avid Media Composer
Other options include free and open-source film editing software, and the more basic functionality included in platforms ranging from TikTok to Youtube. Investing in a more comprehensive video-editing package might make life a little easier, as Adobe, Apple and DaVinci are widely-used throughout the industry, but there are communities around most of the popular software solutions, so you can find guides and help whichever you’re using.
Other equipment purchases you should think about will be to ensure your working environment is not only comfortable for long periods, but also doesn’t have a negative impact on your health. Investing in a suitable desk, chair and lighting will help, and a lot of office upgrades don’t have to be particularly expensive. You can also find discounts on products, and important insurance, by becoming an IPSE Member.
How much can a freelance video editor earn?
All self-employed incomes will vary depending on your clients, projects and negotiation skills, as well as overall demand for a particular role. As a result, any figures are provided as broad guidance on what can be possible as a freelance video editor.
The average income for a freelance video editor in the UK is offered as £30,343 (Glassdoor), or £58,500 (Talent.com). This compares with the figures offered for employed roles, which are around £24,856 (Payscale) £26,629 (Indeed), or £27,459 (Glassdoor).
Many freelancers will have already built-up experience working at a lower-paid level for television and post-production companies, with salaries for assistant editors starting around £18,000 to £25,000. And it’s possible to earn much more than the top self-employed average if you happen to possess a film editing Oscar, work with the biggest global brands, or helped to build one of the largest Youtube channels.
When you’re setting rates for freelance work, you can find guidance from typical figures listed by organisations including Bectu. Or by asking other freelance film editors and people in associated roles for their advice. And you can find help with contracts, negotiating and rates via the IPSE website.
More support and resources to become a freelance video editor?
- National Film and Television School
- British Film Editors association
Researching other freelance careers? Why not check out our other guides:
- How to become a freelance photographer
- How to become a freelance web designer
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And you can get support and help if you’re starting out with self-employment, or still in the early stages of building your career, with the IPSE Incubator. The 12-month programme is currently free with IPSE membership, and includes advice, events, webinars, networking and more, tailored to anyone just beginning their freelance business.