Juice’s resident video editor, Dan Jewell, shares his experiences working in the creative industry, along with some advice for future wannabe filmmakers and editors.
An old but accurate cliche.
The ‘creative industry’ is highly competitive. It is viewed as one of the most fun, creative and artistic jobs you can actually make a decent living from. The realities are not always what you imagined but if it pays your rent, count yourself one of the lucky ones. Very few people I went to university with ended up using their degree.
If you want to ‘make it’ in this business, be prepared to work harder than everyone else in the room, regardless of natural ability.
It is highly likely that you will freelance for most of your career. Whilst this offers you an element of freedom it does unfortunately make you somewhat of a commodity. You are entirely replaceable without the luxury to coast through jobs.
Since my early years of freelancing, I have been lucky enough earn full-time employment positions. However, I am now hard-wired to believe you are only as good as your last VT. Every piece of work you put out must be, at least in your mind, your best work yet.
And this habit of working hard goes beyond your own role in a production. Put in some extra time to make the producer, director, and even the tea boy’s life easier.
Offer to help at the expense of your own downtime. Go out of your way to train people, discuss their work and offer feedback.
It could be tomorrow or in ten years time, but that person you helped could recommend you for the biggest job of your life.
Be a technical expert
Be studious about the technicalities of your craft.
A lot of researchers, producers and directors can edit but most of them don’t have the time or interest to learn the latest technologies.
Knowing your software inside out helps you work more efficiently (something every client/producer appreciates). With the technical part happening effortlessly, you release more time for the creative (fun) bit of editing.
It pays to keep an eye on future software releases. New kit is released all the time and quickly adopted as industry standard. Knowing it better than anyone else, and what else is around the corner, increases your value.
Try on all hats of film making
Don’t just edit, make your own projects.
Shoot, direct, produce, write.
If you play an instrument, learn about audio engineering. Compose. Mix. It all helps.
Look to gain perspective on other people’s job roles and how a project comes together. This gives you empathy with your team, which is hugely important in problem solving and selling the final product.
Throughout my career I have dipped my toe in every pond. I have learned how to light shoots, operate camera, colour grade, create motion graphics…
Try to wear as many hats as possible, at least at the start of your professional journey. Whilst you may want to progress as an editor, having a good foundational knowledge of all filmmaking departments will benefit you. Everything I have learned in film making informs my editing decisions.
Be selective (eventually)
Even though the goal is to move from ‘video generalist’ to editor, you will eventually need to specialise even further.
Starting out, try your hand at many different styles of film. Cut short films, long films, 30 second clips, 1 minute clips etc.
But when you learn what you enjoy most, make that your niche and have your showreel reflect it.
If you currently make lots of corporate videos, but you want to edit feature films, only show off work that is relevant. This may mean going out and shooting your own feature pieces first.
It can be tempting to show off your ‘range’ but big producers don’t like to take chances on generalists – they like safe bets. And who can blame them when it’s their reputation on the line!
I have heard of Directors of Photography who shoot food being turned down for ice cream ads because they haven’t shot the relevant flavour before. “So, you have strawberry on your reel but no chocolate?”
Talent aside, most work recommendations throughout your career will come from being a nice, amenable person to work with.
The industry is small and people will remember you – especially if you act like a dick. Treat others how you like to be treated. It sounds obvious but so many people forget it.
In general, editors are ‘below the line’ and not important enough to be able to get away with being a ‘screamer’ or ‘difficult to work with’. Be respectful to even the lowest person in a production, you never know someone’s career trajectory – they may become your producer one day!
It is also worth remembering that editing is one of the more time-intensive jobs in video production. People have to sit in a room with you for long periods of time. I know many employers who will hire someone they get on with over a more experienced person they can’t stand to be around.
Develop a thick skin
You can’t afford to be too sensitive in this business.
It is a stressful industry where a lot of important players are time poor. They don’t always have the bandwidth to consider other people’s feelings.
Don’t take rants and raves too personally. You will inevitably face criticism of your art, and thus your worth, at some point. Some of it will be valid, some perhaps not, but you should take feedback on the chin and remember who the boss is. Every producer or client has personal preferences.
At first, new clients or less experienced executives might not know what they want from a video edit. Take time to build a rapport with them. Get to know their quirks. Developing an understanding early on can save a lot of time and heartache in the long run.
Adapt, collaborate and listen
Ultimately, your job is to deliver for the client.
At any time be prepared for them to change the brief, the duration, the concept, pause or even scrap the project entirely. Things can change fast.
If there is indecision from the senior creatives, don’t be afraid to put your own ideas forward. Film making is a collaborative process of different perspectives. In my experience, the best producers and directors will listen to all view points and then use the best idea in the room.
Your paymasters will push you (sometimes to near breaking point) to get the best out of the material. Be prepared to re-cut stuff that is already working. Present multiple options for people. Even when you think you are done, try a new music track, swap out some cutaways, give it a different grade, go back to the rushes etc.
Work the material until you can’t make it any better.
It’s all part of being a productive and valuable editor.