How I Built (and Rebuilt) a Professional Video Editing Career

Breaking in as an Editor
I am an editor and I've never been to film school. 

I am an editor and I've never been to film school. And when I say, “I’m an editor," I mean that it's is how I earn the vast majority of my income, year after year. So when I was asked for my inaugural article for No Film School, the topic was obvious: How did I get I get from where I was—a random person with no film or TV connections—to where I am? 

First off, my specific path may not work for you. Our circumstances and timing are different, and those things can’t be replicated.

Hopefully, my approach will give some of you new ideas and avenues to try for yourself. I’ll even drop some foreshadowing here: I made a significant career change for myself recently, using many of the same techniques I used when I got my first breaks.

This approach worked the first time, and it worked again when I was ready to make a change. 

Be aware that this article is aimed at a very specific target audience: anyone reading this who would like to earn a living as a picture editorbe that film, TV, or any other editing capacity. With that in mind, let’s focus on different phases of a career, starting at the beginning.

I need to clarify something important. This piece can easily be read as a, “look at what I can do!” self-congratulatory ego-booster. I know, because I wrote it and it is a bit cringe-inducing even for me.  

But I’m going to set the cringe aside and plow on, because the motives are otherwise. I am sharing my journey in the hopes that some of the steps are repeatable for others, that maybe there’s a teenager out there wondering how to turn their film hobby into a future career, or someone in their 20s wants to venture into the world of editing but doesn’t know how. 

I am hoping there are one or two glimmers of advice in here that can help you find your way to the first thing, or the next thing (even if your path ends up being the polar opposite of mine).

"There are many who will disagree with me on this, but I think working for free to get experience is a very worthwhile thing to do. At least at the beginning of my career, I did it all the time."

How to Become a Video Editor Phase One: The Novice

At this stage, what you need most is editing experience....any kind of editing experience. Your own projects, your friends’ projects, your neighbors’ projects, etc. Let everyone you talk to know you’re looking for editing work of any kind, and you’ll take any job. You never know who might have something they need help with.

There are many who will disagree with me on this, but I think working for free to get experience is a very worthwhile thing to do. At least at the beginning of my career, I did it all the time.

I started out as an on-set PA (production assistant) for commercials, music videos, and indie films. As I got to know the producers, I made sure to tell them I was looking for editing work. Several of them ended up hiring me over the years, or asking me to work for free on specific projects. I said yes anytime I was able to.

If a producer needed me to come in and make changes to a charity’s promotional video for two hours, and I wouldn’t be paid or credited? I would do it.  Because it gave me face time with a client and taught me how to make client changes. If I got a job as a PA on a commercial, I’d ask to also PA the edit session and provide client services. I’d run errands, get lunch for everyone, clean up the edit bay, and when there was nothing else to do, I’d ask if I could sit in the back of the edit bay and watch quietly (The directors and editors I worked with loved that I would do that, and several hired me repeatedly). If I got hired to digitize footage on a night shift, I’d ask if I could cut segments— for free, on my timeafter my paid work was done.  

That extra work I put in often led to the producers hiring me as a junior editor for future gigs. 

I edited wedding videos, backyard talent shows, actor demo reels, low budget music videos, student short films...I cut anything I could get my hands on.

And during this process, I had my first revelation. Because I had never received formal training as an editor, I had no idea what the job was. I began my career as a BPMa button pushing monkey. That is, I knew the editing interface, and I did what the client asked me to do.  I used the shot they liked, put it where they wanted it, and asked what they wanted to do next.


I honestly had no idea that this was a fraction of what a true editor did.

It finally dawned on me that being an editor involves two sets of skills. 

The Two Sets of Skills to Video Editing

The first, the technical side, is exactly what I was doing. It requires you to know your tools and know them well. Learn as many editing systems as you can.  You don’t need to be an expert in all of them, but aim for basic proficiency in all the big ones. I regularly jump between Avid, FCPX, and Premiere. They all have their pros and cons, and I like some far better than others, but if the right job comes along, I can hold my own on any of those systems.

As I said, you can get this one through work opportunities and practice. 

But there’s a second, far more important side to editing: great editors are actually creators! 

A real editor will shape the finished piece. He or she will have huge amounts of creative input, and will work WITH the client or director, not FOR them. 

It involves creative problem solving, coming up with unorthodox solutions, cutting different options to show the director different possibilities, etc. It means being able to respectfully disagree with the producer and show them ways of making the footage sing that they’d never considered.

That means it’s literally two jobs in one. And you’d better have both of them down, the creative and the technical side.

This phase is about learning all of the above: mastering the tools, learning the creative side, client interfacing, the art of editing, etc. Once you have that down, it is time to shape your career.

How to Become a Video Editor Phase 2: Now what?

So you’ve got the basic skills down, you’ve worked with a variety of clients in a variety of projects, and you’re wondering what the next step is.  

I think this may be the most important decision you make in your career. It’s time to decide what kind of editing you want to do and find a way to break in. Wherever this step takes you, you will likely be pigeonholed here for a long while. Getting into any field here is doable, but making a lateral transition to a different type of editing once you’ve built up this experience will get exponentially harder over time.  

What kinds of options are there?

Starting a Professional Editor Career

This is a much larger question than it might appear to be at first glance (so much so that I’ll be covering it in a separate article). 

This is about my path, the only one I am qualified to talk about. For that, I’ll stick to the important points.

First, I learned how to hustle and cold-call. What choice did I have? With no family or friend connections, I built up whatever experience I could, and then moved to Los Angeles. Once I moved into my new apartment, I bought the local LA411 guide. 

Back then, it was a book published annually. Every state with a film commission had their own version of it, a list of local production resources. Big cities even had their own.  Now you can find all this information online. And then it was a matter of reaching out to as many as I could and asking who I could submit a resume to.  

Remember how I told all the producers I PA’d for that I was an editor? This was the exact same process, only I was calling complete strangers at every post-production house with a listed phone number.

Uh, oh, I think I just lost all the introverts, to which I can only say, "I’m sorry." But breaking into this industryat least the way I did itis going to require effort...real, consistent effort. You have to push through a lot of “no's” and “not interesteds” and “not hiring right nows” to get a handful of, “sure, email your resume to me” responses. There might be a better way of doing it, but I haven’t found it.

My resume was pretty thin at the time, but I had enough reasonably sized projects that eventually, I got a callback. I listed on the resume that I spoke Spanish, and a boutique edit facility had a client coming in that needed a Spanish-speaking editor.

Hey, there’s a tip for you! Make your resume stand out with any potentially helpful information. Are you fluent-enough in any language other than English? Put it on your resume.  Have an interesting hobby? Maybe it’s worth adding? (One of my hobbies—card magic—landed me a six-year gig on a magic TV show years later).

In the end, I did my best work for the Spanish client and it went great, and the boutique facility hired me again. They became a steady client of mine for the first six months I lived in Los Angeles. I always showed up on time and worked with any client they gave me. I always did the best work I could.

I know that sounds obvious, but let me set a scene here. Most of these jobs were low budget, some were really cheesy gigs. But I did them all and that changed the course of my career.

One of the gigs? A commercial for a used car lot in Orange County. As low-end and cheesy as many used car lot commercials are, I treated it like a professional job and gave it my all. When the job was over, the directorwho was in the edit bay with me the entire timetold me he did these spots now and then for some extra cash.  His primary gig was directing multicamera network television specials, and he hired me for his next show then and there.

This is an IMPORTANT LESSON, one that has proven itself to be true time and time again: You never know where your next job is coming from, so always do your best work.

Working as a PA and telling the producers I wanted to edit got me in as an assistant editor. Staying for free after I did my work then got me hired as an editor. That lead to more jobs, which meant I had an actual reel and resume when I moved to L.A, where having “Spanish” on my resume eventually lead to a job in primetime network television.

Remember, I foreshadowed a big twist at the beginning of this article? Well, that wasn’t it.

But once I got my foot into the TV door, that’s where I stayed for over 15 years. I’ve done a little bit of everythingall unscripted. TV specials, clip shows, reality TV, talk shows, competition shows. I’ve been the lead editor on some shows, a polish editor on others, everything from single episodes of a series, to working for several years on the same TV series.

And now, for the twist.

Choosing The Video Editing Career You Want

After many years in television, things were going well. I had been working steadily as a freelance TV editor, paying the bills and supporting my family.  

But my youthful dreams of working in filmof cutting actual movies!!were pushing against the complacency of my career. Heck, even scripted television was a huge draw, as it was morphing into the current golden age of scripted content.

I made up my mind: to jump from the unscripted world to the scripted world of narrative film and TV.  

But I’ve already warned you about being typecast, of being crammed into a pigeon hole as a certain type of editor.  It’s real, it happens all the time, and there is some logic behind it. Each style of show requires a specific kind of editorial skill. Cutting a reality TV show is hard, kind of like putting together a complex puzzle from random pieces, and it all needs to make sense when it’s finished.

Scripted projectsbe they film or TVare more about building powerful performances, controlling pacing, enhancing moments. It’s a different skill set.

So unscripted producers want to see similar work on your resume before they hire you, and so do scripted producers.

My jump from the unscripted world to the scripted world was long and arduous. It required steady and consistent effort on my part. I did it by copying what I did at the start of my career.

I talked to people and told everyone who would listen that I wanted to make the jump, that I’d cut anything for the experience.

That's when I got a call from a producer I’d worked with before. We got along well and did a really cool documentary project together.  And I’d let him know I wanted to work In scripted.

Now he was calling about a short film he was going to direct. I read the script and immediately agreed to edit it (for free and for the experience and credit), working nights (after my day job) and weekends.

I got called out by so many of my peers for this, telling me it was a waste of time, that it would never go anywhere.  

And I knew it was a risk, but I’ve always believed that if you won’t take a risk on your own behalf, why would a producer risk their budget on you?

So I edited the short, and it took up a huge amount of my free time for the next six months.

Then I made two other shorts with the same director, over the next two years. And I kept telling everyone I met that I wanted to do more.  

That word of mouth led to additional projects, including a series of comedy shorts with excellent and established actors. I even quit a paying job a week early to edit a short for free, because they wanted it done in time to submit to Sundance.

All this is to say that I took the same risks and put in the same effort that I did to break into editing when I was 22 years old.  

And just like before, it took several years to build up a solid reel and resume. And I didn’t make a dime on any of it, so I had to keep working my day job at the same time. All along, I kept telling everyone I worked with that I was looking to make the jump to scripted.

Last year, I finally made the jump for real.  

One of the producers I mentioned it to knew of a company looking for editors. That random conversation led to my first Lifetime channel movie. I then did a second with the same producers and director. Those credits then lead to my work as a polish editor on a really cool indie horror film. That credit led to my being hired for a horror/sci-fi film that was shot in Australia and that’s where I’m writing this article from, as I am currently in Melbourne for several weeks working on the cut with the director.

None of this is meant as braggadocio, none of it is “look what I did.”  There are the steps I took that lead to a specific set of results.  

The steps I’ve taken have consistently yielded the results I’ve wanted, even as they’ve taken several years at each stage. Now, I’m going to be using the same steps to continue to grow my career into larger projects (or so I hope).

There are no guarantees, but it’s worked for me so far, and now I hope it also works for you.      

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Your Comment


Fantastic article. Is it possible to share the resume he mentions as an example? Thanks.

February 5, 2019 at 8:24AM


Hi. Glad it was helpful. But I don’t have a clue where that resume would be, that was twenty years ago! But essentially I put on everything I had done at that time. As my resume got longer than one page, I started removing the smaller jobs. And these days, I tailor my resume to match the job I’m going for. The more relevant work goes on top, the less relevant work lines the bottom of the page or gets removed entirely. I always keep it to one page, though.

February 6, 2019 at 10:26AM

Michael Yanovich

I found your story so inspiring.

February 5, 2019 at 9:07AM


This is a rock solid article that applies to all departments. Good stuff!

February 5, 2019 at 9:52AM

Dan Maher

I'm 47, trying to resurrect my career as an editor, and failing miserably. For a variety of reasons, I moved back to Connecticut from LA in 2016 after working in post for 7 years. The idea was to get a job in New York. Even Fairfield county in CT has quite a bit going on. To date, I have not been able to get one editing job in NYC, and CT has been mostly unprofessional, and loaded with scammers. I'm back waiting tables. I haven't done that since my twenties. I'm seriously thinking about hanging it up.

February 5, 2019 at 11:17AM


This is a great read and useful information. I have a whole new appreciation for editing.

February 5, 2019 at 11:34AM

Alana Woodson

Great article. I can still remember my dad yelling at me for doing jobs for free when I was just out of school. The network that those jobs built - is by far the best investment I ever made. It's all a snowball effect and you have to make the snowball somehow.

February 5, 2019 at 12:55PM

Kevin Tkach
Director and VFX/Color Nerd

Great read! Inspiring and true. Thanks for this.

February 6, 2019 at 2:51AM

Maarten vL
Post-Production / DI-operator

Very cool, thanks for sharing your journey! :)

February 7, 2019 at 1:59AM

Piotr Toczyński
Editor, YouTube Creator

Excellent article and ideas, Michael. I pretty much did the same thing you did, and consider my editing skills my bread and butter. Very glad to see that you made the jump to something creative after getting established -- I try to push myself in different directions every 3 years just to make it easier with whatever pivot I try and do.

February 7, 2019 at 7:56AM

Ryan Burdick
Multimedia Specialist

Very informative and great article. I'm OK with free. It shows you are serious and willing to work. I think your example is inspiring. We should all take your advice. It shows how to get noticed and that this business is hard work, but very rewarding. It also shows that there is no easy fast track, just perseverance. I just signed up with the state Film Commission and will start talking with more people. I like that you mentioned that unscripted and scripted projects are different and you have to get experience and get noticed all over again. Thanks.

February 8, 2019 at 12:20PM, Edited February 8, 12:20PM

Scott Armstrong
Director of Photography/Editor

Great article! I love how you tell the full story without sugarcoating it. It was dedicated and sustained action over a period of time that did the trick! That lets others know what they are in for, which makes it real, and therefore realistically inspiring!

February 8, 2019 at 12:24PM


I've been an editor for a long time, starting on 3/4" Umatic tape and along the way I've been asked how to get into the industry dozens of times. This article is the best I have ever read and truly inspirational. I wish I could have read this as a 20 year old!

Thank you Michael. You're not too proud to work on stuff you don't want on your showreel, because as you say, who knows where it could lead. Your work ethic was the key.

February 8, 2019 at 4:27PM

Mark Whittle

Great article. Parallels my own experience in production and post-production. Younger readers please notice the effect applied over time. There's a dedication to building his network and there's a dedication to building his craft. Both took decades to come to fruition. It's a long haul.

Producing if you've got the connections and cojones and feel for it is a faster path. Directing is an even worse path as you have less opportunity to develop your craft than an editor (fewer projects) so you are more dependent on talent and luck (the right project at the right time seen by the right people). Most directors also have to be able to the sleazy side of networking better. Personal connections, blind eye, setting people up.

Like skilled tradesmen and classical musicians, editors have the option to live purer lives.

March 9, 2019 at 7:31AM

Alec Kinnear
Creative Director

I feel every line of this article is inspiring and thank you for sharing your valuable real-life experience of an honest film editor. I am trying to edit my own clips that I took occasionally elsewhere to make memorable places of my past. I found editing is really interesting but so difficult to make a well finished one!

April 2, 2019 at 10:21PM


Hands down the best article I’ve ever read here. Phenomenal job Michael! I feel so motivated and inspired. And DAMN I need to do more, way more. Thank you for sharing.

June 5, 2019 at 11:00PM


Thanks Michael for this article I really liked it. In my case I'm trying to make an international crossover. I'm from the caribbean in the last 4 years I have edited 7 films, currently working on my 8th. Now I want to start working on international projects. Do you have any recommendations?

September 1, 2019 at 8:18AM

Gina Giudicelli
Film Editor

I changed careers at 37 to become a filmmaker/Editor/everything else. Won two screenwriting awards 7 AP awards a regional Emmy and three film festivals.

My mistake has been staying in Northwest Arkansas.

October 29, 2019 at 7:38PM, Edited October 29, 7:38PM

Paul G Newton

Hey, i am a 23 year old wedding video editor from India. Today reading your article at 3:30am here in India has been one of the best thing happened to me in this day. I feel really inspired and somehow i see a hope that there is a lot more to what i expect out of my life and myself. I was thinking of a career shift or something because i am kinda fed up of doing the same work for past 2 years now. But i really wanna grow now and be best at what i do. I am really looking forward to take a lot from this article and actually applying it in my life and getting a top notch result. Thankyou for your effort to write it all out for helping others.

April 17, 2020 at 3:07PM

Ananya Singla
video editor

Nice post

July 29, 2020 at 2:06AM


A bow from one self-made editor to another :) I've read the whole thing and smiled to myself, it's a lot like my story. After 10 years of this journey I work for TV now and thinking about switching to movies :) The hardest part was defo making wedding films for little to no money. Sticking through the risks I took and believing that it will pay off. And sometimes pay off comes after years, but oh dear :) Cheers!

December 13, 2021 at 7:15AM