In order to be a successful editor, you need to possess a masterful ability to control pacing, character, and story, all while using a style that fits the tone and subject matter of the piece, but is uniquely your own. Easier said than done (every editor has probably had numerous run-ins with people who think the editor simply “removes the bad parts” and selects the best takes, and the rest of the film creates itself).
In order to be able to implement your creative vision, though, you also need to possess a certain mastery of the tools used to edit a film or television show together. Until recently, this was done with expensive specialized hardware (KEMs, Moviolas, Steenbecks, etc.); now the vast majority of it is done with computers. The learning curve has been significantly flattened, as anyone with a Mac computer and a copy of Final Cut Pro can edit their own movies as easily as a professional editor can.
This “democratization” of editing (and filmmaking in general, with the invention of cheap digital video formats like MiniDV) is viewed with enthusiasm by some and apprehension by others. The YouTube generation consumes virtually as much amateurly-produced media content as it does professionally-produced content. Does this help or hurt the industry as a whole? Hollywood is notoriously allergic to change of any form, and those in power are quick to believe that our media content is being “watered down” by amateurs who have the tools to create without any real grasp of how to use them effectively. The problem with this theory lies in its underestimation of the intelligence of its audience. While your average moviegoer can’t recognize good editing categorically, he or she can still tell that a slick, well-paced piece is better than a shoddily assembled mess. Good content attracts eyeballs, no matter whether it came from the mind of a producer making half a million dollars a year, or a 16-year-old kid who thinks, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I re-cut a scene from Star Wars and replaced their lightsabers with Slim Jims?” (OK, maybe that’s not good content, but you get the point.) The studios are trying feverishly to protect their multi-billion-dollar industry, while ignoring the ever-deepening pool of talent from which to hire their content creators.
What’s happening is that the flattening learning curve and decreased overhead cost of creating multimedia content these days, coupled with a cheap, easy, and effective distribution method (the internet) allows the cream of the crop to rise to the top; people who have the skills necessary to succeed in the film industry can get noticed and be given a first chance (with minimal cost and risk) based on the competence of their amateur content, not the number of years they spent learning by osmosis from their superiors. The only filmmakers who should feel threatened by the sudden increase in people who know how to use the tools of the trade are the ones who aren’t very skilled to begin with. The next generation of filmmakers will be more technically savvy when they enter the industry than their predecessors ever were. This can only be a good thing. When the technical barriers are removed, an editor can focus on the creative side of editing… which is what good editing is about in the first place.