A script editor is a film industry professional who reads and improves a screenplay or script for a feature film, TV drama, comedy series, radio show or quality short film.
They usually work with screenwriters on the development and editing process, and their job is to make a screenplay as effective, powerful and accurate as it can be.
A script editor is an important position in the film industry, but you are probably wondering what exactly they do because their role is seldom discussed outside the entertainment industry. So let’s take a look.
What does a script editor do?
The script editor’s work varies between jobs, according to the type and scale of the project, and the size of the Script Department. But script editing involves the following tasks:
- A script editor is brought in by the producers to work with the writer on their script
- sometimes the script editor hires the writers too
- they develop story lines and series ideas with writers
- ensure each script draft is structurally sound, clear, and follows the agreed format
- check factual accuracy (if there isn’t a researcher on board)
- explore copyright infringement, libel and other legal issues
- review for consistency in story line and dialogue
- clarify and cut dialogue where appropriate or necessary
- review screenplay and location schedules to highlight conflict and omissions
- edit screenplay to identify and action vocabulary and grammatical improvements
- work with the writer to improve the drafts and produce a final version of the right length
- liaise with other departments, including director, producer and art department, allowing the writer to concentrate on writing
- keep the writing within budget
Large script departments
Some long running TV shows have a large Script Departments with managements structures in place. It’s even possible to have a producer in charge of two teams, one running story development and the other producing screenplays.
Script editors in animation
For animation projects, getting script editors to finalise the script at an early stage saves resources creating scenes which are later cut.
What skills does a script editor need?
You’ll need to understand the script development process of getting new script drafts into the final shooting script, be adept at analysing and improving script text, have a good memory to spot issues with the current script versions, be able to follow all aspects of the story over the noise of people and ideas, and carry out script editing to a very high standard in a short amount of time.
As you’ve probably realised, professionals in this role need excellent interpersonal skills because they’ll be under pressure to resolve queries and issues between different departments quickly. The writer must be supported and motivated, the producers, directors and art departments kept up to date and have their questions answered, and all without faltering under the time pressures.
A window into the life of a Script Editor
This video features script editor talking about her job. Kate has worked as a script editor, script supervisor and script consultant for more than a decade.
How do you become a script editor?
If you’re interested in becoming a script editor, there are a number of routes in. Each involves a mix of luck with timing, connecting with the right people, and the tenacity to keep finding opportunities even when the odds of securing script editor experience seem stacked against you.
Script Editors usually have degrees or postgraduate qualifications in English, Journalism, Creative Writing, or Screenwriting. Getting experience is the central issue, since this is a freelance career so trainee positions exist but are rare.
The lucky few get accepted into trainee script editor jobs.
If you’re finding it hard to access work experience or trainee script editor jobs, you might try a script editor course. It can be a vocational course, such as the Script Development curse offered by the National Film and Television School (NFTS).
Alternatively, find work as an assistant in the development office of a broadcaster or independent production company making films or TV drama. Grab opportunities to read multiple scripts as a script reader or researcher. The experience will teach you a lot about good writing and ways to improve scripts.
From any of these routes, move on to assistant script editor, or script secretary to gain more experience and on the job training in script editing. Build a good reputation and negotiate for script editor jobs when the opportunity arises.
Trainee script editor jobs
If you’re interested in finding trainee script editor jobs in the UK, keep an eye on the ITV jobs pages and BBC Careers. Other trainee script editor vacancies as they arise are advertised on industry jobs boards. The BECTU Vision Facebook page also highlights a good range of opportunities as they arise, including trainee script editor positions.
Be warned, though, these trainee script editor roles are for graduates, and competition is tough.
Script Editor rates
Script editors are usually freelancers who work on a project basis, invoicing for their time rather than receive a script editor salary. They negotiate their payment with the producers who hire them, although some new writers pay for script editing services before application to literary agents or production teams for consideration.
The Freelance Rate Cards recommended by Bectu (Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union) sets out the going rates for this area of work. But some aspects of an individual’s track record, such as connection to an award or award winning project, can shift the price negotiations in favour of the script editor.
The production’s budget and project is critical to the agreed fee too. The higher the finance, the more the script editor is likely to receive, and the more time is required.
But to put this in context, some script editors working on very low budget independent projects accept an hourly or daily rate not dissimilar to dance teachers or visiting lecturers.
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Thanks to Alex Avila for use of the featured image on this page (under CC by 2.0 licence)