Rules For Editors


November 9, 2012 | 5:29 am | 490 views

by Jake Oelman

Since I moved to Los Angeles over 10 years ago I’ve worn a lot of hats. Extra, PA, writer, camera operator, DIT, producer, director, and of course editor. FCP had just come out when I moved here and I bought version 1.0. I spent two days screaming at the computer and at one point was close to ripping the monitor out of the wall. Since those early days I have dipped my toes in many different project waters. I’ve cut reels, music videos, promos, behind the scenes, commercials, live events, corporate videos, documentaries, and narratives. Given my past editorial experience I offer up 8 rules to make your career as an editor a more fruitful and enjoyable one. In no way do I regard myself as an expert craftsman and directing is still where I feel like my filmmaking shines but these days the two things often go hand in hand and what I present here is a friendly tip of the hat, if you will to all my fellow filmmakers and editors.

Don’t Edit What You Won’t Watch
This should be self explanatory but often times we fall into jobs that we do merely for the money and this is a slippery slope. Nothing will help you reach burn out factor faster than cutting material you loath. Whether it’s a reality show with moronic shouting matches, infomercials selling the latest ass shamey, or soft core porno with balloon lipped actors, if you hate the material you will eventually hate editing. 95% of the people I’ve known who started out working on stuff they hated just to get their feet wet left the entertainment industry in a hurry.

Know The Trends But Don’t Chase Them
The editing landscape is changing all the time. Do you cut on Final Cut or AVID? Motion or After Effects? Is Premiere the way to go or is FCPX actually onto something? These are all important things to know and be aware of but also know what works for you and your client base. Computers and software take time to learn and cost a lot of money and if staying on the cutting edge of technology is where your business lies then you will need to keep up. If however you work for clients that require content that just needs to be cranked out on a regular basis and you have a system that you know and can churn and burn as they say then don’t be so concerned with constantly updating your system. The danger with staying with something for too long however is that if you are all of sudden presented with a great opportunity and you can’t wrap your head around the technicals you may miss the boat.

If No One Else Cares Why Should You
It’s amazing how often editors slave over projects pouring their souls into their work only to be left with radio silence. You turn in your first cut and no one responds for days, weeks, or even months. It’s as if the project fell off the map for the client and you’re left trying to right the ship. Or you tell the client what they need to do in order to make their edit work and they send out some gomer from their office with an iPhone in hand only to bring back the worst footage you’ve ever seen. It drives you crazy because you realize the potential of the project but no matter how hard you try you aren’t given the necessary tools to get it there. Some clients just don’t care about quality or their taste just happens to be vastly different from your own. That’s OK. If the client doesn’t care don’t work yourself up over it. Do a good job, try to make them happy, submit your invoice, and have a cocktail because if they don’t care you shouldn’t either.

Know That The Edit Is Going To Change And Not Always For The Better
This is a tough one for any editor. You put in the time and in your heart of hearts you’ve made the best piece with the material given to you and then comes the notes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been given the note, “It needs to be sexy, fun, and cool.” What this means in a nut shell is that the client has no idea what they want or even how to tell you what so they assume if you just keep cutting the project will magically arrive in the high five zone. When you find yourself in this spot just remember the previous rule and ultimately it’s not about you but rather about making the client happy. As your career progresses however you will more often work with people who are creative equals and who value the talents you can bring to a project. Basically don’t take it too personally and hang in there for the long haul.

Never Underestimate The Power of Collaboration
Collaboration is one of the most powerful tools in a filmmakers arsenal and unfortunately in this age of low budget filmmaking it is over looked and under utilized. Clients no longer want someone who just edits. They want that person to AE the material, cut it, color it, do the titling, do the after effects, and the special effects. They want one stop shops because they don’t want to spend the money and they don’t care that they may be compromising the projects final look. As editors we need to have a working knowledge of some of these things but if you’re a good editor it’s important to lobby to have other professionals brought into the fold. Often time hiring more people will be met with resistance but if the project has potential and the client can be convinced on the power of collabo everyone will win in the end.

Don’t Let The Client Take Advantage of You
As far as the filmmaking process is concerned no one takes it on the chin harder than the editors. Over worked and under paid seems like part of the everyday job description. Just like in any profession get it in writing. Stay away from flat rates unless of course it’s a stupid amount of money because most often then not you’ll find out that you’re making less then minimum wage by the time you finish your seventeenth revision. If you are going to work on a flat tell them how many revisions they get before negotiating a new rate. If you are absolutely in love with the project than it’s up to you to determine what you’re comfortable with. I’ve worked on my fare share of freebies either because they were my own projects or I loved the subject matter but you just need to make sure that you’re protected. If you don’t no one else will do it for you.

Don’t Fall In Love With Your Own Work
This is one of those traps that typically affects younger editors. You work tirelessly to deliver what you think is a great first edit only to be met with several pages worth of notes. Your heart sinks. You can’t believe the client doesn’t recognize the genius of your work. It’s important to remember that sometimes the directors, producers, and clients really do know what they’re talking about and are not just giving notes to exercise their dominance. They are actually trying to help you shape the material into something special. Falling in love with what you’ve done shows you care and that you’re passionate about the material but it also means you’re too locked in to seeing the material presented one way. The more you try things and let creatives inject their input the project is better off. This door swings the other way too. Directors, writers, and producers also fall in love with ideas that just don’t work or don’t serve the project and it’s up to you as an editor to get them to understand why it doesn’t work and that what you are trying to do is best for the final product.

Never Complain…To The Client
Regardless of how clueless, how green, or how bad a client’s aesthetic or lack there of may be nothing shows bad form quite like complaining. Now I’m a huge fan of referrals. Speaking highly of those I work with, recommending them and getting jobs for people who are not only good craftsman but who are good team players. No one wants to work with a complainer. I remember years ago I was directing a project and I got on the phone with the editor to do notes. I was both gracious and positive and before I could really get into the notes the editor just went on a tear. “You don’t know how hard this is”, and “That’s never gonna work”, and “How can you expect me to do that.” I was floored. I’ll come home after work and tell my friends and girlfriend how bad a client may be but never to their face. Anyone who does is basically taking themselves out of the work pool. This same editor emailed me recently asking for work and all I could think to myself was, “Why the hell would I ever want to work with you again.”


About montyedits

San Francisco based film and video editor.
This entry was posted in Editing. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s