What Does an Effects Editor Do?

Effects editors are critically important figures in the entertainment world. Without them, the sounds that accompany real life and the noises that make fantasy worlds seem real—from rustling leaves to a spaceship landing—would be missing from games, movies, and television shows.

A sound effects editor begins a project by making a master plan that details all sounds mentioned in a script or indicated by the action. Some effects can be sourced from sound effects libraries, which are stocked with thousands of digitally stored effects. These sounds are used mainly to replace unusable background sound recorded during principal photography on a film, such as birdsong or traffic, or everyday sounds to be used in a video game soundtrack.

When natural sounds that correspond with specific action visible on screen need to be recreated for a film, such as footsteps or a closing door, effects editors collaborate with Foley artists to record the effects on a Foley stage and then synchronize them with the visual action in the picture. Depending on their budget, video game effects editors may work with Foley artists, as well, but they are more likely to record effects themselves.

When there is a need for so-called designed sound—unnatural audio that cannot be captured from real life, such as a mountain morphing into a magical creature in a fantasy sequence, or an abstract soundscape to underscore a scene—the effects editor will collaborate with the director and sound designer (who in some cases doubles as effects editor) to manipulate existing recorded sound, or synthesized new audio tracks, into the desired effect. Finally, the effects editor is responsible for delivering SFX cue sheets along with all of the project's effects to the mixing engineer, and will be present for the final mixing and syncing sessions. 

Effects Editor at a Glance

Finding Work and Advancing

Sound effects editors may work as freelance technicians or may be employed full-time or part-time at a postproduction sound studio. There are many opportunities for apprenticeships and internships under the tutelage of a seasoned veteran, especially one working on independent or low-budget projects. As in any job in the entertainment field, networking and making industry connections is the key to finding a job. Meanwhile, volunteering on a student film is a great way to get a feel for the work. Advancement means moving up from an entry-level job as assistant effects editor to senior effects editor, and beyond that to a position as sound designer or sound editor. 

Employers

Postproduction sound companies and video game studios

Professional Skills

Film editing, video editing, Foley, audio editing, audio engineering, audio mixing, audio recording, Avid, Pro Tools, DAWs

Interpersonal Skills

Although there are collaborative aspects of the job, sound effects editors spend the bulk of their work days in an editing bay with headphones on, so the capacity to be alone for long stretches of time while maintaining exceptional focus and meticulous attention to detail is vital. Also important is a passion for visual media and a real feel for how sound and images work together to create compelling art and entertainment.

Work Life

Effects editors generally work standard business hours, but the days often are longer than average, and all rules go out the window when a deadline looms.