This post originally appeared in my Sunday newsletter where I talk about trailers. If you like these posts, please subscribe!
Even though we watch a ton of trailers, the industry and the people making them are largely unknown. So if you want to be a trailer editor, how the heck do you get in?
The tl;dr is: Look up trailer houses via the Golden Trailer Awards directory, apply to be an assistant, and if you're successful, move to Los Angeles where the agency you applied to is probably located. That's it really. The answer is a bit different if you're already an experienced editor. In that case the tl;dr is to have work experience, and a very good reel. Then you might get some freelance opportunities.
Okay, that was obviously a gross over simplification, but also kind of not. What about interviews? What about reels? The truth is, if you're being hired as an assistant, they really don't care about your reel. Just leave your ego at home, have a good work ethic, and get ready to work hard. Sure, if you stick around long enough you might incrementally get creative stuff to do, but just to get in, it doesn't matter how good your reel is. A lot of trailer editors didn't even have that job as a goal when they started as an assistant!
The real hard truth of the industry is that the city you live in does matter. Los Angeles is where the vast majority of trailer agencies are located; there are also some in London, and a handful in New York City.
Video game trailers are also currently made at a handful of agencies in Los Angeles, but some game developers are big enough that they have an internal video editor or team. Some of those companies include: Bethesda, Naughty Dog, Blizzard, Riot Games, and Telltale games (Irrational Games used to have its own video editor too).
In this post I'm talking primarily about getting into an agency, because they're always looking for new people. The turnaround for a video editing job at a game company is going to be much lower unless it's a HUGE company like Riot Games. If your goal is to work for a very specific game developer, then keep an eye on their job listings.
The other difficulty of getting an editing job at a game company is that it's less likely to be a job where you can start as an assistant, and work you way up to an editor. It's more likely they'll want someone with experience. That said, it doesn't hurt to send in a reel, the worst thing that can happen is they don't respond, or think you need more experience. You miss 100% of the shots you don't take (Wayne Gretzky, probably).
I started as an intern at Giaronomo Productions in New York during my senior year of college; they didn't have an assistant position open for me when I graduated, but I got called back in about 8 months later. Before then I survived off of savings, and an incredibly boring job at a fashion video company that was still shipping videos on VHS in the year 2003.
With very few exceptions, post-production is an industry where you have to start as an assistant or intern. There are simply too many moving parts, and processes that you can only learn by working at a company. In my first week at Giaronomo I learned so much my head felt like it was going to explode. I saw unreleased movie footage, heard trailer narrators chat with the control room engineer (one was Miguel Ferrer! RIP), learned about music cue sheets, saw shelves upon shelves of footage on tapes, listened to people talk about trailers all day long, and so much more.
Getting hired as an editor from the very beginning sounds great, but being an assistant put me on the path to being a better editor. Editing is fun, creative work that happens on a foundation of hours upon hours of incredibly tedious work. As an assistant you learn about everyone's job because everyone is asking you for help. There were days I was literally running up and down the hall helping people out.
Being a good assistant will make you a better editor.
There are also a lot of non-technical skills you learn as an assistant like prioritizing tasks. On the busiest days I'd be thinking something along the lines of: "Okay, this needs to be done by 1:00, this editor is more impatient than this one, so I should do their task first, this one I can't do until this other editor is on lunch break..." etc.
How to be a good assistant is another post entirely, but my point here is to say that it's very unlikely you're going to get hired as an editor if you have no professional experience, especially at a prestigious agency. You're going to have to pay your dues as an assistant somewhere, and that's a good thing! In the grand scheme of things, a couple years as an assistant is nothing; don't think you have to be at a top position right away. Also, even once you "make it" and become an editor, I guarantee you will still have to do the menial work at some point, especially if you're freelance.
The key to getting more interesting work as an assistant at an agency is to take care of all the boring stuff so then that you're available to do the interesting stuff, but never ever let the day to day work suffer just because you wanted something more exciting. While you're an assistant, you should also work on side projects, because reels and work to put on reels doesn't materialize out of thin air. If you need footage to cut with, read my tutorial on how to get footage and clean audio from movies and games.
Now, if you're applying to a place with 1-3 years of being an assistant on your resume, AND you have a reel? That's an entirely different story. That is the scenario when you might get hired as an editor, or at least for a short freelance gig so they can suss out how you work. It really depends on where you're applying, because some agencies might want to put you into higher stress situations than others.
When I lived in San Diego, I did a short freelance gig working at Sony PlayStation's multimedia department. I didn't have a lot on my reel, so I showed them some of my fan trailers. Once I was finally working with them, my manager was pleasantly surprised. He said something to the effect of: "Oh, I thought you just made videos for YouTube, I didn't realize you had experience." Which now that I write that out, it sound like I didn't need experience to get hired, and everything I just told you to do doesn't matter. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Regardless, I heard this sentiment more than once at the start of my career editing game related videos (which wasn't until 7 years after college). People would partially write me off as someone who just uploads videos to YouTube, but then changed their mind when they saw I could work professionally. YouTube videos might turn heads, but what gives people the confidence to hire you is work experience.
One more thing specific to the game trailer industry. Right now, game capture is typically an entry-level job! I think that high level game capture jobs should absolutely be a thing, but I haven't yet worked at a place where there was a senior capture artist for whom that was their career goal. Most capture artists I've known wanted to become editors, writers or producers. People like SunhiLegend make a compelling argument for hiring people specifically to do game capture, because it is absolutely a skill that can and should be developed to a high level of artistry (and just recently he was contracted to do capture for the Horizon: Zero Dawn Frozen Wilds trailer!)
So here's a summary of how to get into the trailer industry:
- Find where the work is via award show pages
- Move to where the work is
- Start as an assistant to get professional work experience
- Do side projects if your job doesn't give you creative work
- Work your way up to editor, or apply once you have a reel and experience
- Don't be a dick
The last one is very important for work, and life in general. It's a small industry; you never know who you're going to work with or for later in your career. People will always prefer the person they like working with who's good enough at their job, than the wiz kid who's terrible to work with.