Starting out editing generally sucks, not because you or I as an editor suck but because the quality of the material we have usually sucks. There is rarely if ever a multi-cam shoot you can cut your teeth on, if it’s a single camera project it’s not usually drama filled with actors and directed so that there is continuity between setups and the lighting is consistent through the flip. Or really nice looking, well composed corporate material with a coherent story to tell. I was reflecting recently on my early days as an editor when I was given really low budget corporate gigs or the odd wedding that allowed me to pay for my Sony PD150 and the Avid system I had purchased, and in turn I was hoping these would propel me into the big time. Well that never really happened. At least not because of the tools I had.
What did happen was a lot of years of taking on non-ideal jobs and becoming more of a problem solver than what I thought a real editor who was telling stories was. I worked with what I had and improvised when needed. I learned how to technically manage my systems and resources because I couldn’t afford technical support contracts. And I spent money on learning course materials which I spent countless hours practicing with to learn more about editing and compositing. I learned a lot about how to approach problems when there wasn’t something else to cut to, or nothing in camera, so something had to be created. Cutting your teeth on projects is, in my opinion, less about what might look good on your showreel and more about how you approach problem solving and working collaboratively with whomever else is working on a given project. Looking back on my early work (and I mean full pieces because I didn’t have enough diverse content to build a reel), it wasn’t terrible but if I were the guy hiring at the time and was looking for something that stood out and demonstrated competency or skill, I’m not sure I would have found it and probably not hired me.
I started thinking about this recently when I was reading an article about whether or not a camera assistant should ever have a showreel, and really the answer is no, they shouldn’t because their role in the project has nothing to do with the creative, maybe some references along the lines of ‘Joe Blow nailed focus all the time, real pleasure to work with’, but the article did get me thinking about the usefulness of a reel in the first place. An editor on the other hand has a direct role to play in the creative execution of a project. So I was thinking that when starting out, a showreel isn’t really of much value, if anything (entirely my opinion) it might actually hinder getting a shot at working somewhere, because in general student reels and early self taught independent work tends to suck. And really a crappy reel for whatever reason isn’t really a true measure of a persons ability is it? Given the right tools, the right guidance and good materials to work with in the first place can be the factors that make lack of experience irrelevant and allow a persons actual skill to shine through. So what should a person do who wants to be an editor?
First of all, there is no job beneath you. No task too shitty. I’ve had conversations with students just getting out of film school or some arts program, whether that be from SAIT or Mount Royal University or another school not specifically in my community, who tell me that they are done with logging tape, or more so now, logging footage. This is one of the most important (and boring) tasks that an editor does but it isn’t something you can sluff off onto an assistant because the only way for you as an editor to know what you have to work with in executing your vision, or the vision of the director is to go through all the material, watch performances, watch for best takes and so on. So be up for anything, be positive and enthusiastic and curious about everything and you will be more likely to be afforded chances and opportunities. And what is the best way to be given a chance? Well two things come to mind, firstly to get a chance you have to take a chance. Either get together with others and create your chance, make a passion piece that can showcase your talents. Or volunteer to cut something, I know there is a lot of discussion right now about whether unpaid internships should even be allowed or legal for that matter, but not many people are going to hire you because you say you can do something, you have to prove yourself. Having a piece of paper from a post secondary or trade school isn’t proof of anything, it might look nice as a throwaway on a resume or hanging on your wall and mom would like you to have it, but it doesn’t mean you can do the job, or do the job well.
Secondly, build relationships. The key to getting opportunities and to getting the proverbial foot in the door is largely dependent on the quality of your relationships. You can have little experience and a weak showreel, but build a level of trust with someone who is in a position to create an opportunity for you and that relationship may very well provide the opportunity you need in order to shine. Then, parlay that into the next opportunity by continuing to build on that relationship. Most people who go into media programs in my opinion don’t really belong there. Not everyone can be an editor or a graphic designer or anything professionally creative for that matter. Similar to how not everyone can or should be at the C-Suite level of an organization. I’ve been fortunate to be within close proximity to some very successful and esteemed leaders, from whom I’ve learned a great deal about success and leadership. Two things stand out. First, as mentioned, the quality of your relationships, at a fundamental level, are going to determine your success and the quantity and quality of your opportunities. The next piece of the puzzle is, know yourself and what will make you happy. I know this is a bit ambiguous but we as a society in general need to re-orient ourselves to what constitutes success. As I said, not everyone can be the creative director, or the senior editor or post supervisor or CEO or President. What everyone can be however, is fulfilled. If you go to work every day and enjoy what you do, do the best job you can, be appreciated and recognized for your contribution to the larger collective and be monetarily compensated for that contribution at a level which allows you to live your life on your terms. Then I’d say that is a pretty successful outcome.
Being fulfilled and happy in a creative business doesn’t come from working on a movie or a television commercial or corporate video that you are proud of. If comes from doing the job with excellence and deriving enjoyment from that job well done. And I’ll tell you what; The person who is fulfilled by their work. Isn’t just there for the accolades and perceived cool factor of the work they do, who wants to continue learning and is interested in collaborating with others, is the kind of person others will want to be around, and who will be afforded the opportunities to grow and be challenged by the things that will lead to more, and continued fulfillment. Because they are incredible, self aware individuals, who just happen to be creative and in the business of creating compelling moving pictures. Is this the end of the story? Well, no. The entire topic is huge and constantly evolving, and I need to be able to write about something in the future, right; and get client projects out the door now; so I’ll leave it at that for now, be authentic and work on your relationships, no matter what, you will find what you need out of life in doing that.
And maybe edit something along the way.