Postproduction EditorHow much influence you have over the editing process does, of course, depend on your role within the production company. This article will assume that you have the right to supervise the cut of your film.

Just as a writer specializes in writing the screenplay and a director specializes in directing the making of a film, an editor specialises in the postproduction phase of filmmaking — working with raw footage, selecting shots and combining them in the right sequence to create a complete film.

While you have been busy shooting, the editor has been collecting and synching each day’s material and should have a few rough takes ready for you to view. With excitement and trepidation you watch the scenes, hoping that the nuances show through on the screen. But what if they don’t? Maybe the shots are too wide and don’t show enough detail; maybe the actor sounds too wooden; or perhaps the light isn’t as good as you remembered it. You may have to relinquish your much-anticipated long shot because there was a bump in the dolly track that made the footage wonky, or perhaps what you thought would look artistic actually comes across as visually confusing. There are endless opportunities for your raw footage not to live up to your expectations; for whatever reason, the footage might not be as tight as you had anticipated it to be.

When the editor starts talking about ditching shots or swapping the order of scenes, you might get upset. After all, you’ve been working on this for months! The first thing to remember is that the initial edit of the film will closely resemble the script as it is written, so you will have the chance to view it in its entity, as you imaged it, before any further changes are made. The second thing to remember is that, if you’ve chosen an experienced and accomplished editor, he or she will know what to do to make the film its best — so trust the person.

There are generally three types of relationships between editors and producers. In the first instance, you trust the editor to do his or her best and leave the editor to do his or her job, waiting until you are presented with the first cut to make any suggestions. You then step away until you are presented with the rough cut; again, you provide input, and then step back until you’re presented with the fine cut. Strong directors or producers who have good relationships with their editors will often take this route, placing their trust in the person they have hired to complete their film.

The second option is to remain involved in every aspect of the editing. You could peer over the editor’s shoulder all day, making suggestions and getting frustrated when your suggestions are knocked back or don’t work. You see every experiment the editor tries and get anxious when his or her idea doesn’t work the first time around. You do this for both the rough cut and the fine cut, biting your fingernails and pulling your hair each day. By the time the fine cut is finished, you are so invested in the final product that you are unwilling to listen to anyone else’s suggestions and are so involved that you may not notice the issues that a fresh pair of eyes would see. This is obviously not the best place to be in, but it can happen when an inexperienced or insecure director or producer doesn’t trust his or her editor.

The third option falls somewhere in between these two scenarios, and is where you will find many producers and directors.

What you need to be aware of is the value of letting your editor work unfettered. The editor may have wild, unusual or innovative ideas that need to be explored, or may simply be free of the preconceptions you have about the film. You need to remain open-minded and remember that, if something doesn’t work, your editor will be happy to try it another way. Holding onto your preconceptions can be damaging — it may become apparent that a scene that fit well in a certain place during the scriptwriting and filming is better off in another place. Maybe the scenes don’t mesh as well as you imagined, or something that seemed necessary is no longer needed.

Your editor is coming to the film with fresh eyes and less emotional investment, and will be able to look at it much more objectively. Likewise, if you take a break from viewing the raw footage and only step in to comment at each cut, your eyes will also be fresher and more able to pick up small mistakes or continuity issues that perhaps the editor has missed after spending so much time viewing the footage.

This is not to imply that all editor—director relationships are perfect. There are definitely times when the editor thinks the director has done a bad job and might not make the director aware of all the changes the editor intends to make, going behind the director’s back to “save the film.” There are also instances when the editor doesn’t bring fresh ideas or enthusiasm and needs the director to hand-feed him or her suggestions about the direction of the editing. Neither of these relationships is ideal, but one way or another you will establish a rough cut of your film.