Assistant Editor – (now Editor) Tom Strachan

What is your job role and what does that involve?

Assistant Editor. As an assistant editor is really varied. Typically a day involves syncing rushes, organising them for the editor. Sourcing sound effects and music. Uploading the dailies to be reviewed. Co-ordinating with the post production house to ensure they have everything they need for the online edit/sound mix.

Other jobs that I can end up doing frequently include assembling scenes for the editor, so they don’t start from scratch. Cutting trailers as well as previously/next times. Cutting additional content for online extras etc.

On a visual FX show such as Wolfblood I will be involved with creating naming conventions for the VFX shots. Sending them to the VFX company and keeping track of where each shot is at in terms of progress.

When I’ve worked in house for ITV my job would also see me conforming episodes to bring them back up to full resolution and let me be involved from start to finish.

What are a few of your career highlights so far?

I’ve been lucky enough to work with some very skilled editors, including Les Healey, who had been an assistant on some brilliant films including Blade Runner, Alien and Snatch. Each editor has really taught me different things along the way.

I’ve also been lucky enough to travel all over the country for work, as well as spells in Spain and Dublin.

This year I was put forward for an award by a producer I have worked with a couple of times. I’m not sure if I will win it, but it’s really nice to know how much your hard work is appreciated.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first time I saw my name on the credits of a TV show; that was a special moment.

How did you start in the industry?

Whilst at university my tutor recommended me to the corporate media department who produced videos for various parts of the university. This really helped me start learning what to expect when editing for a client. I kept working in corporates wherever I could once graduating, keeping my showreel and CV fresh. Almost a full year after graduating I got a job on the first series of Geordie Shore, working as a logger. I quickly showed my ability in other fields and the soundman recommended me to the line producer of Tracey Beaker, where I secured my first Edit Assistant job. From there I would say 70% of my jobs have come from contacts spreading from that initial job with MTV/Lime Pictures. I think it’s a really valuable lesson that you may not want to work in a particular genre, but the contacts you can make could help you get into your ideal job.

What training have you had?

The only training I have had was four years at The University of Cumbria (formerly known as Cumbria Institute of the Arts), studying Media Production. I chose to do a foundation year as I didn’t have much hands on experience with filming equipment and this really benefited me. Although parts of the course didn’t teach me as much I would have liked technically, I found the AV technicians an excellent source of information for learning how edit suites really run. They taught me about codecs, storage, how to wire an edit suite up and a lot more.

I also view every job as an assistant as a lesson in how to become an editor. Over the years each editor or director has taught me something different about becoming a better story teller, which is essential to an editor’s skillset.

What key skills do you need for your job?

A real technical understanding of camera and editing codecs. Knowledge of offline workflows and correct storage practices. These are basic requirements. You’ll learn plenty more on the job, but if you don’t understand the best ways to get your footage into your programme you are going to struggle.

As the assistant you are responsible for the well running of the machines, if an error occurs you have to be able to solve the issue quickly. Nobody knows all the errors, but if you understand and familiarise yourself with the most common it can save you and the editor valuable time.

Storytelling is something you’ll need to learn to become an editor. It’s something you’ll learn more and more of over time, but you have to be open to learning how you can become better at it.

And of course you need to understand the program you’re editing in. Learning Avid is essential if you want to work in broadcast or features. Premiere Pro and FCPx are used in a tiny minority of shows, but they’re good to know in case someone wanted you to work on them.

Is there anything that people should be aware of when pursuing this role?

As an assistant on a drama you can be responsible for the setup of the entire workflow and co-ordinating with many people. You have to be organised and able to stay across many things at once. The hours can be long and there have been times where I haven’t had a day off for several weeks. It’s not an easy job, but it is a very rewarding job. If you show your worth it will be easy to see to others and you’ll often be working with directors and producers who will be able to help you progress.

What would you look for if you were to hire a trainee?

One of the most important skills I look for is knowledge of Avid. Not enough colleges/universities teach it these days, and students/graduates have to learn this program. Of course you’ll expand on that knowledge as you learn other aspects of the job, but you can’t expect to become an assistant without some knowledge of this program. Obviously if you can demonstrate extensive knowledge of another editing program and that you have skills transferable you’ll be looked upon favourably.

What are your top tips?

It’s really important to be humble and be ready to learn. Editing projects at university is great experience and a good starting point, but it doesn’t count for a huge amount in the working world so to remember you have a lot to learn about how TV shows are made.

If you get an opportunity to spend time shadowing an editor or assistant make sure you think of some good questions to ask.

Learn everything you can about codecs, workflows, offline editing, solving crashes and try to get as much experience as you can with Avid Media Composer.

Read as many blogs as you can with feature film editors. There’s a plethora of these around online and every interview/podcast has great insights into how the top editors work.

Lastly I would say keep the faith, there are dark times where the work isn’t there but if you keep your head up and always look a couple of months down the line, providing you have a good attitude you’ll get there in the end.

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