7 Tips on Becoming a Better Editor & Mastering Your Craft

Author Malcolm Gladwell once said mastery of a craft requires 10,000 hours of practice—so for editors, that's about—what—a week's worth of work?

Okay, it's probably a little longer than that, but it's still true—practice eventually, probably, hopefully, makes perfect. But there are a lot of other things editors have to do to become masters of their craft. Sven Pape of This Guy Edits offers up 7 tips on how to be a more effective editor, namely one that people want to hire.

Here are the tips Pape lists in the video:

Edit a lot

Again, practice, practice, practice. Yes, you can take classes, learn from videos, and read a ton of books, but getting to work is the only way you're ever going to make significant headway in getting better at your craft. So, get busy editing. If you don't have any projects to work on, try editing random/stock footage to try out new techniques. Not only will your skills improve, but your creativity will really start flowing.

Edit small

You don't have to edit a feature to practice your skills. It might be smart to start small and edit some shorts, commercials, or music videos. (I highly suggest doing several music videos.) The task isn't necessarily any easier because it's smaller, but it is a little more digestible.

Edit with purpose

It's one thing to edit something on your own time. It's a whole other thing to edit when you've got a deadline snapping at your heels. I'd even venture to say that working with deadlines and expectations, knowing that there's an eventual audience on the other side makes one edit a little differently.

Pape suggests editing with a purpose, in other words, working for an end product, something that will eventually be seen by others. So, upload your stuff online, get feedback. It's a good way to get into the mindset of someone who produces something for someone else—you know, like a client.

Be different

Editing is a technical and creative craft. So, part of being a good editor means knowing your shit, but another part, probably the biggest part, is being creatively unique. Any adept individual can cut up shots and make a decent sequence, but only you can do it your way.

Be ready for crisis

Remember, editing is part technical. You should know your tools—your NLE, video platform, data transfer, etc—well enough to solve any issues that may arise, because even though it's annoying to have your work halted by some stupid technical problem, it may turn out to be a reason for clients not to hire you next time.

Respect your niche

Do you keep getting hired for the same type of projects? Well, that's kind of typical. (I worked on three consecutive horror flicks before I ever was approached for anything else.) Pape advises you to respect your niche, because even if you don't necessarily love it, it's giving you editing experience (and hopefully a paycheck). Besides, you can plan your crossover into other genres on your personal time.

Be a storyteller

Editing isn't just cutting together a bunch of shots. It's telling a story. Learn all you can about the language of editing. Study Eisenstein, Pudovkin, and the other forefathers of Soviet Montage. Glean wisdom from world-class editors, like Anne V. Coates, Thelma Schoonmaker, and Walter Murch. Oh! And keep practicing!     

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9 Comments

Thanks for sharing.

June 19, 2016 at 1:18AM

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Sameir Ali
Director of Photography
1551

The 10,000 hour thing is interesting but must not be treated as an absolute rule. The Josh Kaufman talk at TED blew that concept wide open and should hopefully enrich anyone here who has not seen it:-
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MgBikgcWnY

June 19, 2016 at 12:58PM

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Saied M.
1464

I'd say there is truth to both. 10,000 hours refers to Tiger-Woods-like mastery, Kaufman's 20 hours is for getting pretty good at something in an efficient way. To be at the top of your craft you're probably leaning towards the higher end :)

June 19, 2016 at 1:34PM

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Stephen
82

Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to truly master a skill. Josh Kaufman says you can learn it in 20 hours. There is a world of difference between me learning to play a guitar in 20 hours and Jimmy Page.

June 20, 2016 at 3:42PM

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During his appearing on a 'Freakonomics' podcast, Gladwell clarified his point about the 10,000 rule. He believes it has been widely misinterpreted.

The larger point that Gladwell was attempting to make was the success comes from a community, not an individual, and for an individual to be able to dedicate 10,000 hours to deliberate practice, a lot of other people must be there in the background, supporting all the other aspects of life that would be neglected to allow for that kind of practice.

Secondly, deliberate practice is significantly different from doing. Playing the same riff endlessly isn't going to make me better; timing myself and going faster and faster each time, or adding more notes will. There has to be a concentrated effort to improve.

June 21, 2016 at 8:15PM

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kyleclements
Artist / Photographer / Scenic
986

as a 'professional editor' i like this. i'd been editing (doc) for 10 years before i really felt as though i was telling the footage what to do, rather than the footage telling me.. the devil is in the details; and in the revisions

June 19, 2016 at 9:24PM

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"i was telling the footage what to do, rather than the footage telling me"

What a brilliant way to look at it!

But thinking about that too much makes me realize how far I have to go before I can consider myself a competent editor...

June 21, 2016 at 8:16PM

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kyleclements
Artist / Photographer / Scenic
986

If you're editing documentaries, isn't it a good thing when "the footage tells you what to do"?
I'd consider it an ideal situation when the footage is so good that it basically speaks to you.

June 24, 2016 at 7:18PM

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Nice tips ! Thanks

June 20, 2016 at 8:11AM

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Mael Sevestre
Film director
85