So You Want to be a TV Editor?

…Then you need to listen up to Mark Sangster, Director and Editor at Editworks, a post production company with a base in London and Glasgow. This is a man who understand edit suites and the role of an editor and his many years of experience qualifies him as a master of much more than the cut, mix and wipe!

Television ‘newbies’ need to know that the edit suite is one of the best places to learn about production. It is in the edit suite that the mistakes made by others on the team, earlier in the process, really come to light. And there is no better way to learn how do things right than by watching how they’ve been done wrong!

Mark joined the BBC in 1980 as an engineer and quickly became an assistant editor working on a variety of programmes. He became an editor in 1987, and joined Thames TV in Euston later that year. Mark began working for Editworks in 1992 and joined the board of directors in 1996.  He agreed to answer our questions:

How did you get into telly and what route did you take to get to your current role?

I trained as an electronics engineer with Marconi Avionics and worked on the Tornado Foxhunter radar and the Nimrod Airborne Early Warning system.

When I qualified I decided to follow my Stepfather into television and he recommended that I join the BBC, because of their excellent training scheme. (This was the early 80’s mind!)

I joined the BBC as a direct entry engineer and after several weeks at the BBC’s Wood Norton training centre, I started work at Television Centre. In those days, the BBC sent fresh recruits on a ‘circus’. Basically we spent some time in every department to get an appreciation of how the BBC worked.. We spent time in a News gallery, Studio lighting, CAR (Central Apparatus Room), Telecine, the lot!

It was a great experience to see how intricate and interwoven everybody’s roles were.

I ended up in VT maintenance and hated it. After a month, I asked to be reassigned and was put into VT Operations. This involved recording the output from studios, transmitting programmes off tape, playing inserts into studios, and assisting editors create the programmes, inserts, promo trailers, sports edits, etc.

This aspect of working in VT appealed to me the most, as it seemed to be the most creative. I set out to become an editor and after six years I finally achieved my goal. I subsequently left the BBC for Thames TV and when they carelessly lost their franchise in 1992, I joined The Editworks.

How would describe an editor’s job?

An editors’ primary role is join all the pictures and sound together to construct the programme which the Producers want and to the time slot it has been allocated. Depending on how complex the programme is, it can take anywhere between a few hours and several weeks to achieve the desired result.

What skills do they need to have?

I believe the best editors have a sound technical knowledge, a good idea of story structure, a willingness to experiment and try out new ideas, enduring patience and a good sense of humour!

What do production teams most misunderstand about the editor’s job?

That’s a tough one, but I think a common problem with inexperienced teams is not realizing just how long it takes to do a job. Things do not happen instantly. Tapes need to be digitized, Data files often need to be converted, Effects may need to be rendered. The various processes involved can often be time consuming, dull and frustrating.

How would someone best go about getting their first job in television post production?

The way the system seems to works these days is that you start as a runner, making teas and coffees, photocopying etc., blag your way into the technical area and learn about tape machines, data storage and management, digitizing etc. Big tip: Work on your own pet projects, weddings videos, your Mum’s holiday film, etc. Learn how to work Avid and FCP and then get bookings to give you your big break.This is usually with a client who has no money and can’t insist on an experienced editor. Be amazing with new client and hope the word spreads. I know one editor who went straight from running to editing by relentlessly nagging the facilities’ owners and ended up calling himself It worked for him, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

That’s if your quest is to become an editor. If you want to get into bookings, runner’s still the best bet. The best Facilities Manager we ever had, however, started as our receptionist. She used to be a nursery school teacher. No better qualification for dealing with everyone from petulant Exec.s to stroppy editors!

 What advice would you give someone starting out in telly?

It’s all become a bit of a sweatshop, so you need dedication, talent, patience and a bit of luck.

What has been the worst experience of your professional life and what did you learn from it?

I’ve had some challenging moments. The day I was editing a Rugby match which over-ran and we ending up cutting live to extra time gave me a fright, but the worst was when my assistant plugged the wrong timecode into a football record and my AP’s logs became irrelevant. God did I shout and swear at him. We did just manage to get the Match on air, but I felt awful. Shit happens and no-one makes a mistake deliberately. I apologized profusely and took my assistant out for a drink. I’ve never shouted at anyone since.

Are you more likely to employ someone with a media degree than one without?

One of the best editors we’ve ever trained used to be a hod carrier for his brothers building firm. It’s talent I look for wherever you’re from.

Thank you, Mark, for the insight into edit suites.

1 comment

  • A Video Guide to the Role of a Post Production Runner | So You Want to Work in TV says:

    […] Mark has written for this site before, providing excellent advice for anyone interested in a career as a TV editor which you can read here: So You Want to be a TV Editor? […]

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