I am asked this question all the time. Even people who work in the film and TV industry are often unclear of exactly what to expect from working with a Script Editor. I prefer the title Story Editor because I think it conveys a more accurate description of the craft. More specifically, I call myself a Story Consultant because of the freelance, troubleshooting nature of the way I tend to work. But whichever term you use, the role is hard to pin down and varies greatly between individual script editors.
When I work on a project I’m not focusing solely on the script itself, I’m working in the realm of the imagination too; on the project that is yet to be made. Through a process of intuitive and analytical reading and, where possible, through detailed discussion with the writer, I try to tease out the ambition at the project’s heart, as well as working with what is already on the page. Gradually I can enable those things to come closer together and help the project achieve its best potential.
That basic principle is the same whether I’m looking at a script for a feature screenplay, footage for a documentary, reading a draft of a novel, or working on my own non-narrative video projects.
For me, respect for the writer’s vision is the most important principle of story editing. I don’t work to a prescriptive formula, and I won’t have all the answers. Only you will know if a suggestion feels right or not. But, whatever your level of experience, I will ask the questions that set you on course to finding those answers, and help you move forward with enthusiasm to the next stage of your project.