Different approaches to a career in the Edit Room

This post is really in reply to another blog post which I first saw here, so please have a read of that first.
I feel that it’s a more complex issue than Tej suggests over there but rather than start hammering my keys into that comments section, I thought I would have a look at it in a more constructive way in this blog.

Firstly, I think to assume that all assistant editors are waiting to be editors is a little disrespectful in itself. The role can be a career on it’s own, and there are many skilled, dedicated professionals out there who have spent many years assisting on feature films, are hired again and again for their experience and who have no desire to change jobs. It is a full-time role, requiring a wide range of skills and technical knowledge. This rings true even more in the current shifting landscape of digital filmmaking, where there are a myriad of options and pitfalls at each point of the various post workflows available.

But even if we properly align the discussion around the process of learning to be an ‘editor’, it’s still important to understand the complexities of that craft and where it has come from.
Let me say up front, I’m what you could call ‘self-taught’, in that I did not train at film school, nor did I spend many years as an assistant before cutting in my own right. However, my early decision to learn to ‘operate’ and then cut as much as possible  and learn that way was a thoroughly informed one, and not at all a gung-ho, arrogant tactic, like is sometimes implied. While I’m sure there are those who think that all you need to be an editor is some knock off software and a laptop, I would hope that far more have made an educated decision about their approach to learning the craft.

I was lucky when I was starting, as I was able to get in touch with a number of seasoned, senior feature film editors to ask they’re advice on moving forward, and their insight was pretty interesting. It was suggested to me that as the computerized edit room had developed, the role of the assistant had shifted both figuratively and geographically  to the point where they were no longer as close to the crafting of the film as had been the case previously. The apprenticeship environment of learning the craft on the shoulder of the editor and director had changed, and while it was still an option to approach a career that way, and successfully so, it might be well worth embracing the digital age, and going out to learn by doing, and making some mistakes, as it would likely offer more experience relevant to ‘editing’ than an assisting role on a film.

That is what I chose to do. I learnt to operate the basic tools relatively quickly, and have been learning about the craft of ‘editing’ with every job I have ever done since then. In the early days, because of my lack of experience, I would offer myself for free to anyone who would have me- a fair deal as I hadn’t proved myself in any way- but I learnt lots, and fast.
At that stage of a career, to argue that an inexperienced editor costs clients money is a bit simplistic, as an editor with no track record simply won’t be hired by anyone with any real budget- they’re certainly not going to be charging ‘top ‘dollar’. When I started, I was able to cut my teeth and gain trust  on low budget music videos and shorts with great directors who knew they’re vision- there was little risk for them, just a free ‘operator’. But as I built up a body of work that showed my instinct and ability, I began to prove my worth and settle into the job as a professional. I’ve still got a long journey ahead, but that is what every editor has to do, regardless of whether they have spent 15 yrs as an assistant or been to every film school in the land- they have to prove they’re worth with a track record.

Whichever approach is taken, there are struggles along the way. I have met people who chose the route of assisting, and some of them are undoubtedly keen to cut more, and feel they don’t get enough opportunity. It’s a full time job and only rarely is there an chance to cut a scene. Even if that opportunity arises, and it’s done well, the credit will often still go to the main editor. They also find that because they haven’t cut different sorts of work already (say music videos or short films), they don’t get asked to work on those things either, the very things that can give them the beginnings of a showreel.

Conversely, those who chose the other approach, may have a long track record of certain types of work, but aren’t given as many opportunities to widen their horizons on other material, as they haven’t yet done their time in the assistants room.

It’s certainly an interesting conundrum, but I would suggest that we could do well as a community to try to create a good environment to foster talent- wherever it’s come from, and whatever background it has, because a strong, robust post-production industry benefits all of us. Avid vs FCP, Film School or no film school, Assisting or Not. These issues are unimportant when we look at the bigger picture. While the petty arguments carry on, the wider landscape in our industry is shifting under foot, and we should really concentrate more on supporting each other through these changes, so we’re well positioned to adapt to the new and exciting times ahead. There are cowboys in any industry, but the cream will rise to the top eventually.

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~ by cutlertv on September 21, 2010.

3 Responses to “Different approaches to a career in the Edit Room”

  1. Amazing!

  2. The prevailing view of features editors I’ve spoken to recently is that assisting is becoming its own career – that so much of the job now is technical troubleshooting and organising that there’s no creativity left in the role – and very limited opportunity to work with the editor.

    One also spoke of having asked one of his assistants if they would like to stay late one evening to sit in and watch a session with the director – and he was astounded when they declined and appeared to have no interest at all.

    I think that the routes ARE separating (which makes it even harder to get into the ‘good stuff’), but at the same time both editors and assistants are going to need to be aware of each other’s roles and needs to work effectively together. The best way of doing this in my eyes would be to DO both jobs (or at least show an interest in observing the other at work), but that’s my ideal scenario.

  3. I am a music composer and sound designer, although I am in a different craft the same rules apply! Thank you for writing such a brave article!!!!!

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