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How to Be an Editor

1 Dec , 2000  

Written by Kristen Paulson | Posted by:

Academy Award-winning editor and co-founder of Avid Technology Thomas A. Ohanian offers advice to wanna-be editors.

Recently, I caught up with Mr. Ohanian, Director of Product Design and Corporate Fellow at Avid Technology. This was no mean feat, since he divides his time between many roles, including award-winning designer, product evangelist, digital post-production supervisor, educator, editor, mentor, author and inventor.

In fact, he has directly contributed to the widespread adoption of digital nonlinear editing equipment, workflow strategies, and LAN and WAN digital media collaboration. Mr. Ohanian was responsible for the research and design of the Avid/1 Media Composer, a digital nonlinear editing system that has revolutionized the field of professional video editing, replacing the use of videotapes with digital hard disks.

Here he shares some insights on becoming an editor as part of’s "How to be a…" series.

Kristen Paulson: Can you explain for the layperson what Avid editing software is?

Tom Ohanian: Technically, it’s a digital nonlinear editing system. Think of it as a word processor for picture and sound. It’s used in markets ranging from feature films like "Titanic," to television shows and commercials — literally every market segment that uses video.

KP: What led you to its creation and who is your co-creator?

Ohanian: I share co-invention with talented engineers. Our goal was to take a traditionally laborious process and make it easier while allowing people greater creativity.

KP: What is an editor?

Ohanian: An editor breathes life into footage.

KP: What are the events that led you to become an editor?

Ohanian: I’ve always loved putting together films and it seemed like a natural choice. It picked me — I didn’t pick it!

KP: Can you comment on traditional or non-traditional career paths to becoming an editor?

Ohanian: People who are editors come from all different backgrounds. Some study broadcasting and film, while others are English majors. It’s very interesting to note that many are musicians. [Interviewer’s note: Mr. Ohanian received a Master of Science degree in Instructional Technology from Rhode Island College, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Broadcasting and Film from Boston University.] It’s a great job. I get to design and implement solutions that help people become more efficient, retain and improve their creativity, and add to communication around the world.

KP: What would you recommend for someone breaking into your field?

Ohanian: Learn everything you can by being an intern at a television station or a post-production facility. Learn the basics by taking some film courses. Know the history of the medium you are planning to work in.
Check out or (of course). [Interviewer’s note: Mr. Ohanian, apparently too modest to mention this, wrote the industry guidebook "Digital Nonlinear Editing," and is the co-author of "Digital Filmmaking," both by Focal Press. These textbooks are used in film and video schools worldwide.]

KP: What inspires you? Are there aspects of your job you dislike or pitfalls you recommend avoiding?

Ohanian: I really love bridging the creative with the technical and inventing solutions. There isn’t much I dislike about my job although being able to implement every great product idea would be ideal.

KP: How do you divide your time between editing and designing editing software?

Ohanian: I work with independent filmmakers, who have a flexible schedule, and it works out just fine.

KP: How much technical expertise would a person in your position need and how would they go about gaining it?

Ohanian: It depends on what one really wants to do: networking, editing, storage, or applications. In my position, for example, I have to be knowledgeable about a variety of topics to best understand what people want to do and how their business is changing.

KP: What is the market like right now? Is there a demand for editors?

Ohanian: Yes. More and more companies are using video, which fuels this demand. Now is a great time to be an editor. When I started it was really difficult to find work. Now everyone can make videos and express themselves. It’s really wonderful to see people using technology to tell their stories.