Come, editors young and old. Let’s throw up our hands at the sky and yell:
“How the heck do I get editing work that I really want?!”
“How do I find those magical jobs that pay what I want to earn?!”
Or even more elusive, the quiet question: “All my life I’ve wanted to cut [insert dream gig here]. Is it even possible to get there?”
Members of online editing communities constantly ask the questions –
“Gosh, things have been really slow. Is it just me?”
“I’m tired of the freelance grind, constantly hustling for the next gig.”
Younger members of the group ask, “Why can’t I seem to get a break?”…while others, even established veterans, quietly give up.
Just recently, a member of the Power Edit community emailed me that he’s leaving editing – it’s taking too long to get established, and he has a wife and a baby to support.
I get that. I have both of those myself.
All those questions could be answered happily if the person asking them had a steady stream of editing work, whatever form that takes for you.
So how DO you book your dream gigs as an editor?
There are four major factors that all have to line up.
Spoiler alert, here they are:
1.You need the right skills.
2. You need the right opportunities.
3. You need the right connections.
4. You need to be the right person.
On the face of things, the list isn’t all that sexy.
But the result of putting all those ideas into play most definitely is.
Let’s discuss critical element #1 to booking your dream editing gigs:
YOU NEED THE RIGHT SKILLS.
To book the work you want to book, you have to know what your employers, collaborators, or clients expect of you.
Do they expect you to grab videos off their son’s iPhone, download videos of his most amazing high school sports moments from YouTube, and put it together into a killer demo reel for any collegiate sport scouts who ask for it?
Ya better know how to do all that, both the techie stuff AND knowing what sport scouts want to see.
Do they expect you to oversee a multiple-camera-to-digital-cinema-package workflow with monstrous file sizes, 19 codecs, 36 LUTs, and 7-channel sound mix?
If that prospect actually excites you, Godspeed. I feel physically ill just typing it.
Let’s just say, that’s a whole world of knowledge beyond mere picture cutting.
Heck, let’s just stick strictly to editing picture, sound, and music.
Do your people expect you to bring something new and fresh to their music video? (Good luck editing music videos that pay real money these days, by the way.)
You better have deep knowledge of the music video genre, plus ways to bring something new to the creative table.
And how about my most recent gig – a studio competition show with 15 cameras, 32 competitors, 3 judges, 1 host, and three days of shooting that have to get whittled down into 4 riveting episodes of television?
It’s an entire skillset unto itself.
I could go on. Suffice it to say, to get brought on to edit any given project, paid or not, you must know what skills are expected of you, and you must legitimately possess them.
Might seem like a no-brainer.
Thing is, The Skills are what people tend to think are the main thing.
If I get my doctor degree, I’ll get work as a doctor because I have the skills and the degree. (Possible, even probable.)
If I learn how to edit on Final Cut in my parents’ basement, I’ll get hired to edit videos. (Ahem… less than probable.)
But that’s only one part of the deal.
Here’s part 2 of securing your dream editing gigs…
YOU NEED THE RIGHT OPPORTUNITIES.
More specifically, you need to position yourself as close as possible to the right opportunities.
Skills are pretty obviously necessary. This one’s a little less obvious.
I first got into video editing when I was in high school, and I learned by copying sections of videotape from one VHS deck to another.
I spent my first two years of college in Omaha, Nebraska at a tiny school double majoring in music composition and Bible.
The school had no TV or film program.
Knowing my background in video, the dean of the college offered to hook me up with a local NBC news station.
Even then, I had zero desire to cut news packages or crappy used car commercials with the owner yelling about the AMAZING DEALS ON HIS CARS with lots of NEON YELLOW GRAPHICS FLYING AROUND THE SCREEN.
For all the good things it’s got going, Omaha is NOT a hotbed of opportunity if you’re looking to be a full-time television editor.
My advisors told me, “If you want to do artsy film, go to New York. If you want to actually get into the industry, go to Los Angeles.”
Off to California I went.
It’s where the greatest pool of opportunity was – and still is, if you’re in the US looking to get into broadcast TV editing.
New York City is a close second.
If you’re in England, the main center of editorial opportunity is in London.
If you’re in India, the main center of editorial opportunity is in Mumbai.
Opportunity might seem to be outside our control, but it’s much more within our control than we might think.
And it doesn’t necessarily require moving to the other side of the country.
VIP Growth Group member Tamara Stampone lives in New Jersey. Among her many projects, she does some very cool promotional videos for up-and-coming musicians.
How does she do this?
She searches Twitter and YouTube for promising acts and reaches out to them or their management.
She goes where the opportunity is – digitally.
Check out Tamara’s work at www.tamarastampone.com.
If you have a burning desire to cut scripted projects but have no prospects at the moment, then you need to figure out where the people are who are doing what you want to do…
AND THEN GO FIND THEM. Find out how you can be a genuine friend to them or make *their* lives easier.
Like Power Edit friend Chris Witt – he built his career in LA cutting unscripted shows, but he has always had his eye firmly fixed on cutting feature films.
For years now, he has kept the bills paid cutting reality gigs while he actively cultivates relationships with up-and-coming film students and directors.
He often has worked these projects for free or nearly free. But that’s starting to change, especially since he’s already contributing to Oscar-nominated work, and he’s cut one of the most watched short films of all time.
These days, he is ALWAYS cutting a short or a feature.
Check out Chris’ work at www.chriswitt.com.
Decide what you want to do – or even what you think you want to do – and put yourself as close as humanly possible to the place where opportunities just might magically appear and fall into your lap.
And when it does, be ready to catch it.
But it’s not enough to catch the opportunity.
You need to be able to deliver on what the opportunity requires – have the skills, as discussed above, plus a couple more things, including Element #3…
YOU NEED THE RIGHT CONNECTIONS.
This sometimes overlaps a bit with the above thoughts on opportunities.
But say you’re pursuing a certain sort of editing work whose opportunity concentration requires moving to a specific geographic region. And this could be moving to Los Angeles because you want to cut scripted TV, or you want to move to Chicago for its expanded market for corporate video shooting and editing.
Or you’re pursuing your own work shooting and editing wedding and event videos, and you want to move from Middle of Nowhere to the Nearest Big City – because it actually has enough people getting married there to actually keep your bills paid.
Putting yourself in geographic proximity to opportunity far from guarantees you’ll get the connections you want…
Because the right connections exist between people, specifically people who have the ability to recommend or approve bringing you on to a project.
So it would behoove you to figure out who those people are, what companies they work with, and most importantly:
How you can bring legitimate value FIRST to those people without being a pest.
Frankly, one of the easiest ways these days is to become casual acquaintances or genuine friends with these people via social media.
Facebook and Twitter are the top two. YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest are next.
LinkedIn can be a bit of a crapshoot… much more business-driven than social exchange-driven.
Whatever the platform, find out what your ideal connections are interested in. Comment on that. Forward, share, or pin things you know they’d like.
Promote them, their causes, and their projects – again, it’s gotta be genuine. If it’s fake, people WILL know.
And in the process of being a welcome guest instead of an unwanted pest, be forthright about what you’re seeking.
This is not an overnight process – legitimate relationship building never is.
But if you stick with it, you WILL see your network of connections growing. And with it, your chances for securing the editing work you seek.
You can have the right skills.
You can put yourself in a place of opportunity.
You can have great connections with the right people.
But if you don’t have the last element, everything tumbles down like a house of cards.
The all-important fourth element to booking your dream editing gigs is:
YOU HAVE TO BE THE RIGHT PERSON.
And by this, I mean you have to have the required background and character that will support your success in your dream work.
This idea can go off in a million different directions, unfortunately some of them very prejudiced and stereotyped.
Sadly, today’s world runs on stereotypes. “You’re X, so you could never cut Y.”
I’ll just use myself as an example. I’m as white-bread Midwestern US as they come – I grew up mainly in rural South Dakota and Iowa with a very traditional, conservative upbringing.
If for some reason I decided I wanted to edit telenovelas (Latin soap operas) for Univision, or Bollywood musicals in Mumbai, I would have to have a damn good reason for people in those worlds to even give me the time of day.
Flawless, culturally grounded Spanish or Hindi for one.
You can indeed be disqualified because of your background. Or your age, race, gender, or sexual orientation.
But let’s say your personal background matches with your desired niche.
Then…what about your character?
Please believe, if you are a bitter, cynical soul who believes love is a gigantic fraud perpetrated on the unwashed masses by sheep-like cultural conventions… you might not be a good fit with editing wedding videos.
If you want to cut action movies, you better have the temperament that can deal with the enormous egos, testosterone, and childlike tantrums that come along with the people who make them.
Let’s go broader, though –
Do you act as if you deserve a life of unicorns and rainbows handed to you simply because you grew up being told that you’re special?
Millennials, I’m lookin’ at you. That attitude could be a problem.
Do you believe that all members of management are evil, hence you howl and complain about how you deserve every vestige of posh corporate benefits that no longer exist in the modern world?
Union evangelists, I’m lookin’ at you. That attitude could be a problem.
And don’t be thinking I’m hating on millennials or union folk – at age 37, I’m not that far from the outer edge of being a millennial myself, and I’m a dues-paying member of the IATSE Local 700 Editors Guild here in Los Angeles.
I’m just saying there are plenty of decision-making folk who withhold opportunities to people with attitudes of entitlement.
So even broader –
Would the people who do [insert dream editing work here] actually like being around you?
I suggest getting some external feedback on this one.
We optimists have notorious cases of tunnel vision.
At the end of the day though, the single most important thing of all is that if you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you want to edit [insert dream work here]… then you need to move heaven and earth to get there.
Align yourself with these four elements of the right skills, the right opportunities, the right connections, and being the right person.
Because to paraphrase the iconic Apple commercial:
Those who are crazy enough to think that they can edit their dream projects are the ones who do.
Onward, friend. You got this.
These ideas are taken from multiple offerings of the daily Power Edit email. If you like them, then you’d love joining our email list.
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Jeff Bartsch is the founder of The Power Edit and teaches and edits television in Los Angeles. His editing clients include ABC, NBC, Universal, Disney, ESPN, MTV, and many others. His book Edit Better: Hollywood-Tested Strategies for Powerful Video Editing is available worldwide on Amazon, Audible, Kindle, and iTunes. His commentary has been featured in TIME Magazine, USA Today, and the Associated Press.