Whether they realize it or not, television editors are right in the middle of a game-changing industry shift driven by inexorable forces outside their control. If television editing in a major city that has lots of editors is your only income, you need to build a Plan B right now.
If you’re an independent editor who edits anything in exchange for money, this could be very good news for you. If you’re editing just for fun, still pay attention. It affects us all, in light of our ever flattening world… and an incendiary comment from an editor in Orlando.
In times past, film and video editing was only done by a select few people with access to either complicated machinery, huge studio infrastructure, or both. Technology has now progressed to the point that literally anyone with a modern cell phone can shoot, edit, and upload video to the world with mind-blowing ease.
So the chair in which I currently sit – as an established, Los Angeles-based editor of broadcast television – is a unique and increasingly rare one.
Maybe not to my editing peers around Hollywood, but ever more rare to the rest of the world who now has easy access to real tools. And I’m talking “big boy” gear – 4K cameras, Avid Media Composer, ProTools, and DaVinci Resolve, all ready to spit out air-ready master files or even DCP deliverables.
To the independent editors and content producers: this is very, very good news for you. But you’re not out of the woods yet. Keep reading.
To my professional peers – listen up, because keeping steady editing work into the future is becoming harder, not easier, even for those of us with established credits and professional networks. Here’s why.
In recent years, production has been fleeing Los Angeles to states and other countries for two main reasons: progression of technology and economic force. Modern technology now allows anyone to shoot high-quality content anywhere, not just on a stage at Disney or Paramount. And the tax incentives offered by other states and countries blow away the economic policies and red tape of California.
Make no mistake, the warm fuzzies of “Film is our culture, keep it in California” will ALWAYS be trumped by economic realities.
Yet post-production keeps a huge presence in LA and cities like it. Why? I say it’s because of industry legacy, and multi-seat television post. Legacy because, well, that’s the way things have always been done here. Offices and studios are here, execs have their swanky houses on the beach or up in the canyons. That’s one reason. And it’s reasonable to say that there will very likely always be some concentration of editing here. But how much?
Thing is, the bulk of professional editing can already take place anywhere, from personal projects to multi-million dollar feature films. Except for multi-seat TV post.
The torrent of content required by network and cable requires lots of content, distilled from hundreds of hours of source material, and done FAST. The only way to make that work is a team of assistant editors feeding a big fat media server physically connected to multiple edit bays in the same building. And keeping these teams running requires a signficant pool of editorial talent.
LA-based editors (and similarly to the concentration of edit peeps in New York, London, etc.): the number one reason jobs stay concentrated here is that little fiber or network cable dropping down from the ceiling to your edit gear. It requires you to show up… in person… to operate a machine.
The instant technology proves that moving editors to remote locations is both feasible and financially profitable, it’s gonna happen. Why?
Economic forces, baby. Economics will always trump tradition and warm fuzzies. Editor interaction with producers? Skype. iChat. Done.
And this is not some pie-in-the-sky thing – the tools are already here, people. The reviewer of this product literally performed a remote edit off a Wi-Fi connection at Starbucks. The tools are still a bit clunky, but they’re getting better, and they are here. Once they prove themselves, it’s game on.
And that means editing jobs will move to any place that strikes the right balance between quality and price in the eyes of the powers in charge.
Yes. Editing will be outsourced. Not completely, but it will happen, and it will affect the balance of jobs and opportunity for everyone.
And that outsourcing won’t necessarily be Mumbai or Bangkok. How about Orlando, Florida?
As of this writing, a group of LA-based editors on a Bravo show called The Shaws of Sunset decided to go on strike. They’re demanding a union contract that guarantees health benefits, pension contributions, and compensation for overtime (for which Bravo shows are notorious).
Bravo, owned by Comcast/NBCUniversal, has taken over production of the show from Ryan Seacrest Productions. Airdates have been postponed, and sources say that Shahs will be finished by non-union editors. In the meantime, the striking editors have been fired.
This, by the way, is baldly illegal. And a clear statement that NBCUniversal and Bravo have no interest in paying the extra money that unionized shows require.
The bean counters are speaking loud and clear: spend less money on production and post, period.
Independent editors, stay with me here. This all applies to you too.
A publicly posted comment on the Shahs situation came from Jason Small, an Orlando-based editor who wrote: “#BRAVO we have great editors in Florida and we’re hungry for work! We wont strike and we work for far less. #Labor”
Small’s comment began making the rounds on editor groups on Facebook, much to the disgust of the general editing community.
But here’s the kicker… Small’s comment is not at all far-fetched. Budgets continue to tighten. Producers look to cut corners by giving a GoPro to a PA instead of hiring an experienced shooter. They decide to rent smaller offices and have editors cut from home on their own gear. Which might be a 3 bed 2 bath house in the Valley, or a ranch in Utah. Or, in my daydreams, a nice RV on a 6-month roadtrip… with my family and I living on Midwest prices and collecting LA paychecks (which will probably shrink).
Or… an upstart post-production company in Orlando or Minneapolis underbids everybody else for the chance to edit its junior brains out for a fraction of LA rates… under the supervision of a couple senior editors in LA with the much-vaunted “Bravo experience” on their resume. (Bravo shows regularly require this. Not kidding.)
Independent editors, this is potentially amazing news for you.
Career editors in major editorial talent concentrations, this should make you check your pants for stains.
Editing will get outsourced. Technology is making it feasible, and economic forces demand it. When outsourcing goes down and rates drop industry-wide, will you be able to hack it?
Here’s the point of my ramblings:
We all, every single person who drops source clips into a timeline, must consider and pay rapt attention to a uniquely dangerous number:
One is the single most dangerous number in editing.
Only ONE company who hires you. Only ONE copy of the sequence you’ve polished for the last month.
ONLY ONE INCOME STREAM BASED ON GEOGRAPHIC CONCENTRATION OF EDITING JOBS.
And independent editors outside major media hubs, you better respect the number ONE too.
Fluency in only ONE area of content production. Only ONE copy of media. Only ONE client who supplies the bulk of your income.
So what’s to be done?
Career editors: we need a Plan B, more than one income stream. And a solid Plan B doesn’t just happen overnight either – I’ve been working on Plans B.1, Plan B.2, and Plan C since 2007, and it takes learning, reinvention, and hard work.
Timing this right is important too, because a Plan B to supplement or replace income is like an insurance policy – you can never get covered after the need is already there.
Seriously, take a chunk of a paycheck to buy or lease one of those machine thingies that embroiders hats at a kiosk while the customer waits. Hire a teenager to run the machine and sell hats on the weekend at the local farmers market. If you’re especially adventurous, look up “business opportunities” in your area, take out a small business loan, and buy an automated carwash for $50,000. Hire a high schooler to refill the chemicals and keep the place picked up. Once the kinks get worked out – and there WILL be kinks – you’ll have an extra stream of income to provide extra piece of mind for you and the people you love. Meanwhile, keep editing full time. Plan A AND Plan B.
My friends and colleagues: what’s your Plan B? If you’d like to discuss that idea, I’d love to chat. Just drop an email to info[at]thepoweredit.com.
Independent editors editing anything for pay: two things.
- You need to continue sharpening your creative editing skills. It’s one of the major things that sets you apart from all the other shmucks out there these days who think that running an editing program makes them an editor. (Newsflash: it doesn’t.) Full disclosure, my own Plan B revolves around helping fellow storytellers like you tell their stories more powerfully through high-powered editing, and here’s my number one recommendation to do it. But whether it’s from my team and I or anyone else, you absolutely must actively build your storytelling skills.
- You need to know that you are in business, and act like a business. If your business skills aren’t working, you won’t be doing any editing. At least not for pay, and not for long. The single best book I could recommend on this subject has positively affected the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of business owners like us world-wide. Check it out here.
Why do I say all this? Because change is coming, and fortune favors those who are prepared.
And to Jason Small in Orlando: I happen to believe your comments will play out exactly as you say. But in the future, you may want to reconsider the way you say it. Publicly volunteering to take bread out of people’s mouths tends to freak them out.