Describing the job of the editor from a technical standpoint is simple. The goal of the editor is to take the raw materials created in production and deliver edited picture and dialogue. The more difficult question to tackle would be how the editor goes about accomplishing this, the creative objectives of the editor and what techniques he or she can employ.
Although the job of the editor is considered a technical position, the editor must have a strong grasp of story-telling and the ability to get an emotional read on the material they are working with. First and foremost, the editor should be occupied with telling the story. As with most other positions on a production, it is easy to lose sight of that one fundamental objective. The first pursuit of many novice editors is mastery of computer software and, unfortunately, that is where many remain enthralled for the much of their careers. An editor certainly must have Familiarity with the editing platform to accomplish the objectives but the computer is really only a means to an end, and the end is telling the story.
The first step to editing is familiarizing oneself with the footage. On larger projects, it is easy to allow the assistant editors or editorial interns do all of the ingesting and logging and that is a normal way to proceed. However, the truth is that the editor needs to view all of the material that has been shot.
A number of reasons recommend this approach. First, the editor is going to be looking at the footage with different eyes and sometimes the most minor details of performance, composition or movement will jump out at the editor and be an invaluable piece of footage to be used later. You never know where these little pieces will be found – sometimes they can come before “action” or after “cut” or even on a take that has been labeled “no good” by the production team. In the tedium of ingesting mountains of footage, assistants can easily miss these things, especially if they are marked as worthless by the production team.
The other reason is that viewing all of the footage draws parameters around the entire picture and what is available to work with. Even without a script, viewing the footage should give the editor an idea of the story and a mental game plan for how to put those images together to tell the story should begin to form.
The raw footage also tells a story of what happened in production. Seeing the number of takes on each angle, what close-ups are available, where shots start and end give the editor an idea of what was important to the director. The editor should be able to read the footage and see director’s intent. This is why the director need not be in the edit bay for the first cut. The editor should be able to see what has been shot and be able to form a clear idea of the pathway through the scene. The director leaves markers along a trail for the editor, the editor need only see them and follow.