If you watch a lot of film credits, you may have seen the job title "story editor" scroll by and wondered what it meant. Also sometimes called a "script editor," a story editor's job is to take a film script that has already been written and reshape it to suit the director's vision. In television, a story editor may simply be a more experienced writer who is responsible for the overarching storyline and development of shows in a series.
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Because most films are not directed by their scriptwriters, the writer and the director may have different views of the story. Overall, the director and producer dictate the way the film will be shot, so the writer's original vision must be tailored to the vision of those in charge. This may mean cutting or combining characters, adding or removing subplots or revising scenes for practical reasons such as an inadequate budget to properly reproduce elements of the writer's story. In television, shows that use multiple freelance writers for various episodes require someone with a knowledge of the overall storyline to ensure each episode fits well with the surrounding stories.
Story editors may rewrite the script themselves or they may offer advice to the writer in either verbal or written form and have the writer revise the script. Quite often in film, a new writer is brought in to completely rewrite the screenplay based on the story editor's commentary. In this case, the film credits may denote the original writer with a "story by" credit and the second writer with a "screenplay by" credit.
Time frames are quite fluid in the film industry and often are highly dependent on funding. This means that a story editor may receive a script and be required to have it completely revised within the space of a few days. Alternatively, the revisions may have no set deadline if the film is in its early stages. Story editors must be able to prioritise quickly and shift priorities just as fast if they receive notice that funding has come through for a specific project. This may require late nights and nontraditional work hours.
The ideal story editor is level-headed and diplomatic, as he must work with writers who may be very emotionally attached to their original scripts. There may be no direct interaction between the story editor and original writer on high-budget productions where rights to the script are purchased in full and the production company is not beholden to the writer. However, on smaller productions, the story editor may need to negotiate directly with writers for approval of changes. This requires excellent negotiation skills and a high degree of politeness as well as the ability to remain calm even if the writer becomes angry and insulting.
Story editors generally have proven success as writers. Many are have produced films or television shows and have a deep grasp of the technical and practical aspects of film-making. Good story editors also have marketing knowledge and understand how to make the script appeal to the film or TV show's intended audience.
Contrary to what the name might imply, story editors do not actually edit the grammar and mechanics of a script, although some may choose to as they revise the original writer's material. They also do not work directly with film editors, who are responsible for piecing together the scenes of the film or television show and selecting the best "take," or filming of each scene.
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