Are you getting started as a video editor? Here are five concerns that plague new editors — and what you should do about them.
Cover image via LanKogal.
When I was just starting out as a freelance film editor, there were a few things that I used to worry about pretty much every day. Over time, and after a good few miles in the editing suite, I learned I was worrying unnecessarily.
If you’re an up-and-coming editor, you’re probably worried about some of the same things that bothered me. While there are good reasons to pay attention to some of these concerns, you shouldn’t let them get in the way of your workflow. Here’s why.
1. What Should I Cut? What Should I Leave?
As the editor, it’s your job to finish the hard work put in by the director, the producers, and any cast or crew — and then present this collaboration in its most effective form. To do that, you have to make decisions about what to include and how to include it. And yes, those decisions can have consequences.
So how do you know what to cut out and what to keep?
It takes practice, but you can start by trusting yourself. If you think something is interesting, it should stay in, and if you think something’s dull, cut it. Learning to trust your instincts is crucial to your development as an editor. It will be all you have to go on when you’re making thousands of decisions every day. Stopping to agonize over every cut will simply shut you down as an editor
Confidence will always show through in your work, and if you stay open to feedback, then you can add experience and insight to your editing toolkit. And if you’re fortunate enough to be work with more experienced filmmakers, ask for advice. And listen.
2. Receiving Feedback
Worrying about feedback is closely tied to worrying about what to cut. It comes from a desire to be a good editor and deliver work that everyone loves. Every editor feels this way.
But editing something perfectly, in isolation, isn’t really how filmmaking works. Every project goes through a first draft, a second draft, a third draft, etc. Everything starts as an experiment and improves over time.
What will make you a “bad editor” is the inability to receive feedback, to analyze it, and improve your work without taking anything personally. Feedback and revisions are a part of every editing project, no matter how long you work in the field, so learn to use them to your advantage.
3. How much am I worth?
Knowing how to set appropriate rates seems like a simple matter of hard facts: the going rates in the industry, the producer’s budget, how much you need to survive, your experience level, etc. And all these things come into play, but setting your rates is really a personal calculation tied to how you view your work. And that can go either way. We can either downplay our abilities (and our contribution to the project) and feel awkward about asking for anything, or we can overplay our hand and ask for more than we can really deliver.
So how much should you ask for?
I think the answer depends on what’s important to you, at each particular stage of your career.
If you’re a new editor with very little experience, then the real value of taking on a job is the experience — the opportunity and the networking. These are far more valuable than a little extra on your day rate. That said, you still need to earn enough to survive and stay in the game, but you’re “earning” more than money in this first scenario.
After a while, when you have more experience, then you should increase your rates because what you’re contributing is simply worth more.
My approach was to ask other editors I knew (who had been working longer) how much they charged, and then set my own rates based on the experience I could bring to a project compared to what they could bring. Soon enough, we were working on a level playing field, and I set my prices according to market rates.
4. Am I a Good Editor?
I used to worry about this a lot.
Am I a good editor? Am I good at editing?
This gets to be a pretty tiring question — and a fruitless one.
My clients keep asking me back, people have nice things to say at the end, and I am usually okay with the final results, so I guess I’m a “good” editor. Are there better editors? Definitely. Over time I just decided to swap out the question for: “Am I a better editor?”
- Am I growing as an editor?
- Do I have more to offer than I did a year ago?
- Am I working toward the kinds of projects I really want to be cutting?
- Am I investing in my creative, technical, and business skills with additional training?
- Am I cutting side projects, reading books, and watching as much great content as I can?
This is a matter of confidence, which, luckily, you can build with practice. Concentrate on what you can do for the project at hand, and strive to be capable of more on your next job.
5. Not Knowing All The Answers
Nobody knows anything . . . Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one. —William Goldman, screenwriter
When I first got started, it bothered me that I didn’t have all the answers; I felt like a good editor would know how to solve every technical conundrum — or how to do “that thing in After Effects.”
But, an insatiable appetite for learning is more important than knowing everything. When I didn’t know something, I just had to get used to saying “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.” As with feedback from other filmmakers, finding gaps in your knowledge simply means you get to fill them. Everyone is always doing this, throughout their careers.
(And if you need somewhere to get started, our friends at RocketStock have all the editing and post-production tips and tricks you can handle.)
So there are five concerns that plagued my early career as a film editor. If you’re working through them yourself, just remember that it’s a natural part of your development as an editor. Embrace growth, seek knowledge, and concentrate on being a better editor tomorrow than you were today.
Looking for more filmmaking advice? Check out these articles.