Three emails got me thinking today. The first was from Jack Reilly, of Future Media Concepts who is organizing Post-Production World at NAB. He's asked me to host a
Hot Panels session Wednesday at NAB on The Future of Editing.
The second was a YouTube comment from
Ray Roman who wrote: "I recently had a dream where there was a software that analyzes all of the content and edits 'the best' outcome possible. It was a nightmare!"
The third was also a YouTube question from
GambitRocks, a student who asked: "I was considering going to graduate school for Post Production Editing, but I'm really concerned about future employment prospects. It seems like video/film production is having the same problem right now. Do you have any tips or advice in regards to pursuing a career in Editing?"
And, you know, I had a hard time finding a reassuring answer to GambitRocks question.
Story-telling has been around since we first learned to talk, so I have no doubt that stories will continue long after all of us are gone. But, the ability to make a living telling stories - THAT is a much more difficult question to answer.
The opening sentence in Charles Dickens' "The Tale of Two Cities" describes editing today perfectly: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
Never have we had such incredible tools, so affordably priced, and available to as many people. That's the good news.
The reality, though, is that all these tools have opened the floodgates to so many new people that it is difficult to make a consistent living.
No one works on staff anymore; editors are primarily free-lance. I tell my students to expect to be out of work half of the time, then to work furiously to make up for it the other half. We spend as much time marketing ourselves as we do creating compelling stories. (Which is great if you love marketing; but if we loved marketing, why did we become editors?)
Budgets are a fraction of what they were even five years ago. And not just the event videographer is affected by competition from college kids working for free to establish their career. Look at the high-end financial drama with Digital Domain and Rhythm and Hues. After looking at the empty store-fronts littering Burbank, it seems like running a post-production facility is a direct line to bankruptcy.
It isn't just a case of the strong survive. Even editors with solid, network-level skills are struggling to find work.
Directors, afraid of missing a key shot, are recording 100:1, 500:1, even 1000:1 shooting ratios - generating MASSIVE amounts of material that can only be processed with platoons of low-paid production assistants, or metadata-based editing to automate the editorial process; the process that Ray Roman was lamenting.
At the mid- to low-end of the food-chain (however you decide to define it) editors are forced to compete on price, because clients, who grew up watching YouTube videos, can't tell the difference between changing shots and telling a story. And when you compete solely on price, pretty soon everyone is either working for free or leaving the business.
It used to be that editing was the springboard to a creative career that would allow you to pay your bills, feed your family and enjoy your life. Now, that idyllic vision is the province of only a few.
Collapsing budgets, exploding competition, ubiquitous tools - its enough to make someone thinking about a career in editing consider something safer, like chain saw juggling.
All this turmoil in our industry, and it seems worse now than ever before, got me wondering - is editing as a craft and an industry likely to survive for the long-term?
For me, the answer is: "I think so, but it will never be what it was."
I had a lunch meeting today with a software company that was extolling the virtues of their latest product. As the conversation wound down, I asked them why someone should buy their product, versus the competition.
They looked at me in surprise, paused a moment, and said: "Um, yeah, we need to be able to answer that."
As editors, we need to answer EXACTLY this same question: Why should someone hire you? If all we can answer is "I'm the cheapest," keep your bags packed, because you won't last very long. There is ALWAYS someone cheaper than you.
When there are no other criteria upon which to make a decision, clients will always pick the cheapest. Our job is to educate potential clients on the benefit of working with us.
What benefits do you provide that are hard to find anywhere else? What does the client get by working with you - in addition to a completed video? What skills do you have that make you unique?
Every single one of us is different - we need to emphasize how our uniqueness benefits our clients.
"But, wait!," you say. "If I do that, I'll lose jobs."
My answer to that is: "If they aren't paying you enough to live on, you don't need that job in the first place." Over the years, I've discovered that if a producer convinces you to work for them for free, they will never give you a paying gig. Why? Because they have already proven you will work for them for free.
Yes, there are times when donating your time - though not your equipment - can make strategic sense. But you can't build a career on it.
What makes you unique? What do you do different/better than anyone else? WHY SHOULD THE CLIENT HIRE YOU?
Create a clear, coherent, concise answer to that question and you have a career. Compete on price and you might as well start selling your gear on eBay to pay the rent.
As always, I'm interested in your comments.
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Larry Jordan is a producer, director, editor, author, and Apple Certified Trainer with more than 35 year's experience. Based in Los Angeles, he's a member of the Directors Guild of America and the Producers Guild of America. Visit his website at www.larryjordan.biz.