The 5 Skills Every Assistant Editor Needs To Know

'Dead to Me' Credit: Saeed Adyani/Netflix
Here's how you can improve your worth as an assistant editor. 

While assistant editing is absolutely a career in itself, many assistant editors are working toward becoming an editor. Unlike many jobs outside of the film industry, there’s no real clear-cut way to make that jump—every editor’s trajectory is different.

We spoke with editor Nicole Brik of the Netflix series Dead To Me about her path to becoming an editor, what she thinks are the essential skills every assistant editor should have, and how to learn them.

'Dead to Me'
Judy Hale (Linda Cardellini) & Jen Harding (Christina Applegate) in 'Dead to Me'Credit: Saeed Adyani/Netflix

No Film School: Hey Nicole! Thanks so much for chatting. Can you share where you're from and what you love outside of editing?

Nicole Brik: I’m a first-generation American, born and raised in Los Angeles. My family immigrated from Odessa, Ukraine, from the former Soviet Union. (Yes, I speak Russian.) I’m obsessed with my pets and women’s wrestling!

NFS: Editors are just unanimously obsessed with their pets, it’s a theme. Tell us how you became an editor and got to work on Dead To Me—which is absolutely a quarantine gift if anyone hasn’t yet seen the show.

Brik: I was an assistant editor for about four and a half years before I got the bump to editor. I started as a night assistant on NBC’s Community, which got my foot in the door. I landed a “regular” full-time assistant editor position about a year later on The Blacklist. I was on the show for two seasons. It was one of the most challenging shows I’ve ever worked on. The schedule was brutal, but every single editorial member on that show worked together as a team, and we got through it. I eventually decided to move on when it became clear there would be no opportunity for me to grow. It was scary because it was a very successful show and guaranteed employment, but I decided to take the risk, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

On my next job, I met my mentor, Michael Ruscio. He changed my life and the trajectory of my career. He treated me as an equal in the cutting room, which translated to the producers exactly how valuable and essential assistant editors are to the creative process. When the opportunity presented itself to get bumped up on the show, there was no hesitation from the producers. I’ve been editing full-time ever since.

'Dead to Me'
Ben Wood (James Marsden) & Jen Harding (Christina Applegate) in 'Dead to Me'Credit: Saeed Adyani/Netflix

NFS: So your break came from working extremely hard and showing your collaborators that you have the chops to handle more. Can you give the assistant editors reading some advice?

Brik: Everyone’s path is different. Some people get bumped up faster, some longer. In the end, hard work and persistence pay off. Set goals for yourself.

Don’t be scared to take the night job and put in the hours. Network with people in the industry and start genuine relationships. Never go into it thinking, “What can you do for me?” People see through that easily. Go with your gut. Take risks.

NFS: Being a good person really does go a long way in this business. Are there any must-have skills an assistant editor should have?

Brik: Some of these may fall in the same category, but are worth emphasizing individually:

1. Technical skills
Whether you’re working on Avid, Premiere, FCPX, Resolve, etc., you should be well-versed in the software (especially Avid if you’re planning on working in scripted TV and/or features). Being proficient helps you be quicker and reliable.

And of course, turnovers are very important. The assistant should be able to turn over to the appropriate departments per their specs. Here is a resource to learn more about turnovers and prepping editorial for other departments.

2. Organization
There’s a must-read book for anyone looking to become an assistant editor. It goes into further detail than what I can briefly write: Make the Cut: A Guide to Becoming a Successful Assistant Editor in Film and TV by Lori Coleman and Diana Friedberg.

If you’re first on a show, you want to make sure you have organized partitions (project, SFX, music, media, etc.). Here’s an article that outlines some tips for organizing your project.

'Dead to Me'
Michelle (Natalie Morales) & Judy (Linda Cardellini) in 'Dead to Me'Credit: Saeed Adyani/Netflix

3. Creativity
Assuming the goal is ultimately to become an editor, assistant editors should be great at sound design and music editing.

Check out John Elwyn’s tips for sound design during the offline edit.

4. Quick VFX
Temp VFX is good to know. It can be as simple as a phone comp or getting rid of a boom mic to something more complex. Even if there is a VFX editor, the assistant editor should be aware of everything related to the project. It’s still their responsibility to make sure nothing slips through the cracks.

Content Aware Fill in Adobe After Effects makes object removal easy. Premiere Gal has a great tutorial on this.

5. Communication and Attitude
You will be interacting with different departments, so communication skills are essential; be concise, and polite. You are representing both yourself and your editor. A great attitude is key. This is the most important of all.

When hiring an assistant, I’m really looking to see if I can see myself working with them 12+ hours a day. Days can be long and hard, and there’s no room for negativity. A great attitude will take you far. (There’s no tutorial for this one, just work on being awesome to be around.)

If you’re interested in learning more about becoming an assistant editor or specific skills, let us know in the comments.      

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