How Much Does a Film Editor Make? A Salary Guide

Updated June 24, 2022

Several important factors can impact a film director's salary. Learning about these factors and the average salary for film editors may help you decide whether to pursue this career path. In this article, we discuss how much money film editors make, the locations where they earn the highest salaries, their key responsibilities and how film editors can increase their earnings.

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How much does a film editor make?

The national average salary for filmmakers, including film editors, is $61,160 per year. A range of factors impacts the salary of film editors, including:

  • Years of experience

  • Education

  • Skill level

  • Geographic location

  • Clients

  • Previous credits

Studio productions have larger budgets than independent films, so film editors working on these projects may earn more money. Union productions must also pay their film editors within a set range, which is typically a higher wage than film editors make working on non-union projects.

Related: How To Become a Film Editor

Where do film editors earn the highest salary?

These three cities have the highest average salaries for filmmakers, which includes film editors:

  • New York, New York: $50.94 per hour

  • Brooklyn, New York: $36.77 per hour

  • Los Angeles, California: $30.02 per hour

What does a film editor do?

A film editor takes raw film footage and audio clips and assembles them to create the final, refined film that audiences see. They make sure the film tells a cohesive story that fulfills the director's creative vision. Some of the common tasks film editors perform include:

  • Reading the script to familiarize themselves with the film

  • Meeting with the director to learn about their goals for the film

  • Visiting film locations during shooting to monitor progress

  • Sorting through raw footage and selecting the scenes that will make the final film based on their entertainment value, dramatic qualities and benefit to the narrative

  • Trimming filmed scenes to required lengths and putting them together to tell the most coherent and effective story

  • Collaborating with sound editors, sound effects editors and musical directors on the audio required for the film

  • Inserting dialogue, sound effects and music using editing tools

  • Preparing first cut for the director and producer to review

  • Revising the first cut according to director and producer's recommendations to create the final cut for release to the public

Film editors may work as the solo editor on a project, or they may collaborate with other editors. When collaborating, these professionals split the scenes they edit, then swap their work and re-edit for further improvements.

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How can you increase your earnings as a film editor?

There are several things you can do to increase your earnings as a film editor, such as:

Earning a degree

Some successful film editors have extensive industry experience rather than formal qualifications. However, earning a film degree may help you secure a higher salary, especially while you are still gaining experience. Completing a Bachelor of Arts in film production or Bachelor of Arts in film editing can teach you valuable skills and help you make connections in the film industry.

Related: 15 Jobs You Can Get With a Film Degree

Negotiating for better salaries

Most film editors are freelance workers who negotiate their own salaries. Film editors who can successfully advocate for better salaries earn more money than those who willingly accept lower pay. Successful negotiating requires confidence and good communication to express why you believe your work is worth the salary you are requesting.

Related: How To Negotiate at Every Stage of Your Career

Working efficiently

A film editor's hourly rate is largely based on the amount of work they can complete within that time period. Film editors who work efficiently earn a reputation for their productivity, which can help them command higher salaries. Film editors typically become more skilled and strategic with experience. However, staying focused and practicing good time management can also increase efficiency.

Working to your deadlines

Film editors may be responsible for setting their own deadlines within the larger production timeline, or they may receive clear instructions regarding deadlines. Once you know your deadlines, delivering your work on time helps you develop and maintain a positive reputation within the industry. Setting realistic deadlines will help you deliver your work on time, so it may be useful to track your editing time on various projects so you can correctly estimate the amount of time you will need to complete work on future projects.

Being proactive about finding work

Some film editors are always busy, while others can go months at a time without any work. Applying for a wide range of projects and accepting available jobs can help you earn money consistently. The experience you gain and connections you make on different projects can help you secure more work.

Related: How To Get Into the Film Industry: Steps, Benefits and Typical Jobs

Joining the Motion Picture Editors Guild

Film editors must join the Motion Picture Editors Guild to work on most theatrical films. To join the West Coast chapter, you must first earn your place on the Industry Experience Roster through working on non-union productions, though placement on the roster does not guarantee guild membership.

The East Coast chapter accepts film editors living in the New York or tri-state area. Unlike the West Coast chapter, it does not use the roster system, but it encourages applicants to discuss their situation with its representatives before deciding to join. Applicants must pay an initiation fee, and members can also access training courses that can help them further develop their skills.

Gaining certification for editing software

Gaining certification for editing software shows your mastery of these programs. You can become certified for using most of the most popular programs for film professionals including Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Pro and Media Compressor. Certified film editors may secure higher salaries than editors without certification.

Related: What Are Certifications? Definition, Benefits, Types of Certification and Examples

Understanding modern trends

The world of film editing is constantly evolving, and being aware of changes in methodologies and technologies can help you identify your own areas for improvement. The best-paid film editors understand what's happening in their industry and spend time researching current trends that inform their work.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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