Robert C. Jones got out of high school in the 1950s without a plan.

“I was drifting around,” he says. “I had no idea what I wanted to do.” His father was an editor and asked if he wanted to try that. “I thought for a while and said, ‘Yeah, it’s better than nothing.’ ”

That seemingly random choice led him to a career that includes two ACE nominations and an Oscar and a WGA Award as a writer.

From 1958 to 1960, Jones was in the Army, where he was assigned to make training films and documentaries. “I really did well at that, so that got my confidence lifted a bit,” Jones recalls.

A few years later, he earned ACE noms for “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” He forged successful partnerships with directors, including Warren Beatty, Arthur Hiller and Hal Ashby.

It was his prowess as an editor that led him to scripting.

“I was editing a film that didn’t go together so well, and I asked the director if he would take a two-week vacation and let me have my way with the film. I re-cut and reshaped it and worked on relationships and character development.

“He came back and looked at it and he turned to me and said, ‘Have you ever written?’ and I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Well, you just re-wrote my film via editing.’ I got a typewriter and the next weekend started a script.”

The ACE career honor is his first major award as an editor, but nowadays he spends more time writing — and sharing his experience with his students at USC.