Unless you habitually watch a film through the end of the credits, it can seem baffling just how many people work on a film at any given stage of production. Over the past two decades, 77% of films released in the United States only had one film editor. Despite offering an overall look at how many editors work on the film on average, this statistic fails to reveal editorship trends in recent years.
In the decade and a half between 1997 and 2011, between 81% and 75% of films credited one editor only. However, by 2016, the number of single editor films had dropped to 68%! So why is it exactly is causing films to increasingly bring on board multiple editors to get a film cinema-ready? In 2016, roughly 9% of films employed five or more editors, an extraordinarily high number of editors in relation to standard practice. Most films with a large number (5+) of editors, tend to be compilation or anthology productions that feature various directors, often also shifting narrative. The 2012 film The ABCs of Death 2 featured more than two dozen directors and a whopping 22 editors. Movie 43, a comedy anthology film, featured 13 editors and both New York, I Love You and Paris, je t’aime credit 8 individual editors.
Although compilation films tend to employ more editors, it is hardly a genre in and of itself. Is there however a genre that tends to favour more editors, perhaps due to budget or other constraints, to produce the film? By looking at the credits of various films across different genres, it becomes apparent that certain genres do indeed favour multiple editors. Almost 35% of science fiction films over the past two decades have used more than one editor while the number of Musicals that tote more than one editor is less than half that! These days, more than 50% of Sci-Fi, Action, Adventure and Sports films credit multiple editors.
With more editors being hired for films it’s forgivable to assume that they must work consistently, but that’s not the case. Between the 7,617 films which grossed at least $1 in US box office in the past two decades, the most frequently hired editors were Academy-Award winner Pietro Scalia (Black Hawk Down) and Chris Lebenzon (Top Gun). Although both Scalia and Lebenzon have 24 credits to their names between 1997 and 2016, 56% of editors credited in those years only have one credit to their name. This is not inexplicable, as most editors don’t limit themselves to cinema and instead cut for television, music videos and online content alongside feature work.
Despite more films hiring multiple editors, there’s been a noticeable decline in editing apprenticeships in film. In 1998, 23% of films had an apprentice while, in 2016, that figure dropped to just 4%. Whether the lack of editing apprentices is caused by seniority in the industry, or the accessibility of at-home editing suits and the overall abandonment of apprentice-style education, is still unclear. Besides certain genres favouring multiple editors, particularly those that tend to contain more visual effects, it’s interesting to also see the correlation between films with multiple editors and the growing trend of digital filmmaking.