My first job right out of film school was to take over an overnight unpaid assistant editing job on a low budget feature… and I had no idea what I was doing.
Film school gave me friends in the same industry, and a good grasp on how to use Avid and what editing was about creatively, but at the time there was little instruction on the technical aspects that the assistant editor role required. I think we only had one day on how to assist!
I was given a short overview of the job by the previous assistant and was left to it. It was a little bit of a trial by fire but (thank goodness for the internet) I was able to google answers to just about everything I had questions for.
I communicated with the editor via a notepad, and he offered something amazing—if I wanted to cut some of the rushes, he would watch and give me feedback. So I spent half of the night importing, syncing and organising, and the other half cutting! It was an excellent learning experience and when we eventually met in person, he told me that he always offered that to his assistants, but nobody ever took him up on it! My next three projects were with the same editor, since at the time nobody else knew who I was.
My first job outside of my editing mentor came through Women in Film and Television (WIFT). I met a producer at a networking event who needed an assistant. My following job also came through attending a WIFT meeting, though kind of sideways… I had been offered a data wrangling job via email but the message went to my spam folder! Luckily the person who messaged me saw me at a WIFT event and asked me about it.
My first job, the unpaid overnight one, was in December 2009. The data wrangling job came in July 2010, and it allowed me to finally quit delivering pizza and move into the film industry full-time.
My first bit of advice, and I know this may be super obvious, is to make sure you do your job reliably. You don’t have to go overboard, but producers and editors expect you to get your work done. Make sure you know what they need from you—and do it well. If you make their working life easier, they’ll call you again.
I assisted full-time from 2010 until 2016. During this period I cut as many side projects as possible in my spare time. At the beginning, most were unpaid (or lightly paid) passion projects from other creatives who were also in the early stages of their careers. It took a lot of energy, and it sucks that most of these early jobs are unpaid, but working on so many short films and music videos really honed my storytelling skills. I should also shout out the DEGANZ editing masterclasses! I had the opportunity to attend two of them and they were so valuable in helping me upskill.
Making the move from assistant to editor was really scary. I was at a point in my assisting career where I was very busy. I was also occasionally getting offers for small editing jobs that I had to turn down because I was already occupied by assistant work. You could make a great career out of assisting, but that’s not what I wanted, so I had to stop taking assistant work and focus on selling my skills as an editor. My first year exclusively editing was slow, and as a result I took a big pay cut. But I kept pushing and slowly built a good reputation as an editor and started getting return calls.
My advice for people entering the industry is to say yes to opportunities as often as you can without burning yourself out. Work hard, practise your craft, and be kind. Be comfortable turning down work that won’t take you where you want to be. And let the people you work with know what your goals are—you’d be surprised how much support you will find!
I’ll always be grateful for the willingness of New Zealand editors to be mentors, to give their time and to uplift anyone who wants to give it a go. I hope I can pay it forward!
About Kerri Roggio
Kerri is an Auckland-based editor. In the last few years, she has edited the comedy horror film DEAD; on TV series Mystic (season 2), My Life is Murder (season 2) and The Brokenwood Mysteries (seasons 4-7); as well as short films, documentaries and music videos.
How I Got Started in the Industry is a new guest blog series from the Directors and Editors Guild of Aotearoa New Zealand (DEGANZ). Our members reflect on how they made their way into assistant editing, editing, and directing—with no two stories the same. They offer advice for those starting out. Get in touch with email@example.com if you’re a member and would like to share your story.