We recently interviewed Jonny Elwyn, to find out why he chose freelancing and more about being a Video Editor.
What is a Film Editor, and what do you do?
A film editor (or a video editor) is someone who takes all the footage from a shoot, gives it a shape, structure and style and turns it into the final deliverable. The film editor’s hands are some of the last that the project passes through and they have a huge impact on what that film turns out to be like.
They might do this all alone with guidance from the client or director, or they might be working as part of a wider creative team including sound designers, mixers, colourists, graphic artists, animators etc.
How did you become a Film Editor?
I always wanted to make films as a kid and so I started editing things for friends in my bedroom as a teenager and at school - I was lucky enough to go to a school that had a TV studio and multiple edit suites in it - and then did a film degree. During that time I focused on editing (because everyone wanted to be the director in the group projects!) and really found a love for it then.
After that I went freelance as a ‘professional editor’ (cough) and slowly found my feet and made connections in the industry, one by one.
That’s the mechanics of how I made editing my job, but how I became an editor was through editing a lot, as much as I possibly could, and by working with talented and experienced directors and producers who taught me what they knew about story structure, making choices and the craft of editing.
So I’m very grateful to everyone who helped me learn.
How long have you been freelancing?
I’ve been freelancing my whole career (15+ years) so I’ve never had a salaried position. Personally I’ve loved being freelance but it does mean that I don’t know how it feels to have a steady, predictable income, nor the joys (and politics) of being part of an in-house team.
Why did you decide to go freelance?
I decided to go freelance because I had the opportunity to do so when I was finishing my degree in Film and TV Production in London, and it felt like a good way to put my faith that it was the right thing to do, into action. And I’ve never looked back.
What's the best thing about choosing to be an independent professional in your field?
Being entirely in charge of your time, money, career trajectory and daily choices.
Personally, I’ve been working from home for years (with some on-site editing) and loved just needing to deliver the results, without someone watching over my shoulder.
It also gives you the space to do other things, so for example when I’m not editing I run a (well-respected, I think!) blog about all things post-production at jonnyelwyn.co.uk, get paid to write for other sites and recently I started a daily subscription email for post-production pros called Cut/daily, which you can enjoy for free, once a week.
Has there been any negatives of your choice?
Being entirely responsible for your time, money, career trajectory and daily choices.
Well, sort of. If you don’t worry about where the next job will come from, it’s a very freeing life. If you do worry about that or need the structure and rhythm of working at the same place every day with the same people then maybe freelancing isn’t for you. It’s not for everyone.
What's one thing no one ever told you about freelancing you wished you'd known at the beginning?
That I could be far more proactive in generating work for myself than I first thought. Originally I believed the narrative that I was at the end of a long chain of people and events that had to align for me to get hired; A client needs to make a video, they need to contact a producer I know, that producer needs to think of me to edit it, they need to have the budget to pay properly and I need to be available at the right time. If not, then I won’t get that work.
What i didn’t realise is that I could, in partnership with others, kick start that process by pitching video ideas directly to potential clients and setting that chain of events in motion to my own benefit.
You have more power than you might otherwise feel you do.
How has YunoJuno helped you as a freelancer?
I wish I’d had something like YunoJuno earlier in my career!
Other freelance film and TV sites that were around at the time, circa 2006, weren’t particularly effective at creating a professional environment and it seemed to be mostly students asking other students to help that out on their short films for free.
Being able to connect with high-quality clients like those that are listed on YunoJuno would have been another way to empower myself to find work, not to mention another way to connect with other freelancers.
Can you tell me about a project you're proud to have worked on?
Tough to say!
There are films that I’m proud to have worked over the years which are aimed at making a difference in the world, like the Taken videos that I worked on with Photojournalist and Director Hazel Thompson about her experience covering the red light district in Mumbai. It was quite tough material to work with but I’m really happy with the result.
Or just projects that turned out pretty well in the edit like a short doc called Riva & Albert that came together when I discovered one of the central characters jazz music to weave into the film, or a 3 minute short about a man who says suddenly received the ability to paint like a master.
If I can still bear to watch them many years later, they must be alright!
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to become a Film Editor?
In some ways it’s easier than ever to become an editor - the tools and the training and all available online, many of them for free or for an affordable price. Video production has exploded with everyone ‘needing a video for their site’, running a YouTube channel or working for the streaming giants.
So there are tools and there is opportunity. What might be much harder to come by are the mentorship moments that actually help you to develop your craft and hone your instincts over time by learning directly from others who are ahead of you.
So I’d say take advantage of those tools and training but teaching yourself how to edit and then edit as much as you, but also be intentional about trying to build relationships with those who might teach you what they know, which actually you can get when you freelance at a lot of places because you get to interact with a lot of different people.
If a client was reading this, why should they hire you?
Because I’m fast, experienced and I can tell a good story.
Jonny Elwyn is a freelance film editor and writer working for a diverse range of clients, handling everything from on-set rushes and offline editorial through to the final sound mix and colour grade.