I've been meaning to make this post for a long time. It was originally going to be a guide on how to go from being an amv editor to a working professional editor, but there are many things that have changed and that will continue to change in the industry, making it a different experience for everyone.Introduction
So you've been editing amvs for a while and now you're thinking of doing this for a living. You've seen many posts from members like Beowulf, Lord Rae, Doughboy, Kionon, myself, etc that inspired you that you can
make it out there. But is it really everything that it's cracked up to be? Is it really the "dream job"? Well, I'm here to let you know the truth. You may or may not like it, but I want you guys to know what to expect before you decide to make the jump. While the majority of this post applies to film editing, it can also apply to any other type of editing like TV, news, sitcoms, commercials, etc.Definition of "Professional Editor"
The definition of Professional Editor simply means that you were paid to do video editing work. Whether it be a film for a production company, shooting your dog in the backyard, shooting your friends acting like jackasses in the backyard, etc. Just as long as you were paid
for your work, you are considered a professional. You can shoot and edit a film you made yourself, but unless you were paid for it, you can't consider yourself professional. Of course, doing a film for a company will have a lot more merit than shooting in your backyard, but getting paid for your work really goes a long way when you're constructing your resume. By this definition, I was considered a Professional Editor when I did a dvd for my dad's company back in 2004, 4 years before I did my first film in 2008.Demo Reel and Resume
Now how do you get yourself out there? You have a lot of amvs and how would you splice them into a demo reel? One of the best examples is Beowulf's Demo Reel
which mashes up both his amvs and professional work. I also have a demo reel and resume examples on my personal portfolio
(which I haven't updated for almost 2 years) but it's gotten me several jobs.
People in the industry love amvs because they rely on sync editing to tell a story or just to sync visuals/audio. While sync editing has existed way before amvs, amvs or "mash ups" in general, they make the best use of sync editing since sync editing isn't really the standard way of editing (more on this later) in the industry. Not every film director will be impressed with your amvs, but at least they will help you stand out a bit in the flood of landscape/skateboarding footage demo reels.
I'm sorry to say this, but amvs with effects and that have won awards will be taken far more seriously in the professional market than those that don't. If you're more of a non effects/straight cut editor, then use your storytelling capabilities to sell yourself as an editor. But I would recommend doing a few sync-heavy action videos, effects videos, or win a few awards first. In 9 out of 10 interviews I've had for editing, I've always been told my awards on my resume were what made it stand out. Sorry to all the anti-effects and anti-award people. :/
If you've won awards, LIST THEM on your resume. If you've spoken on panels, LIST THEM. If you've coordinated an MEP. LIST IT. All of this goes a really long way in making yourself look good on your resume. My personal portfolio has a good example on how to do this.
Eventually as you start getting more professional work, you'll be getting rid of the amv content and replacing it with your films/commercials/etc. However, this post is to help those who only have amvs to use, so I'll be focusing on those.
Now that you're prepared with your Demo Reel and Resume, it's time to get ready on how to start finding the work and putting your name out there.However...
This is where I'm going to tell you the truth. The whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The dirty
truth. A lot of this stuff may make you want to run the other way and reconsider. But I have to do this for your own good. Before you possibly throw your life away only to end up with migraines and a bad back while you're struggling to pay your rent.
If you change your mind and reconsider doing professional editing, then there's no shame in leaving. Especially in this economy, even the best Hollywood editors are struggling
to find work.
If you're still willing to press on because this is your dream, then read on..
Avid and Final Cut Pro are the 2 dominant editors in the industry. Avid was the dominant editor up till the early 2000's until Final Cut came and nearly blindsided it's market share. However, Avid still remains the dominant editor within most of the Hollywood post production facilities. Back when I did a brief job for Sony, they had Avid editing bays instead of Vegas. Final Cut editing stations are starting to pop up more and more, especially among indie production studios, and you're most likely going to be starting off with smaller, independent studios that use Final Cut.
If you're used to Premiere Pro, then it'll be easy to make the transition to Final Cut after a few days. Avid is far more difficult to use if you're used to the drag and drop nature of Premiere, and it doesn't accept most amv editable codecs like huffy and lagarith and also doesn't accept avs scripts. However, if you give yourself a week with the tutorials on the Avid site, you'll be able to pick it up quite fast, although for every step you do in Premiere and Final Cut, Avid takes 2 steps to do. Once you get the hang of the keyboard shortcuts in Avid, you'll be able to edit quite quickly as you would with any other editing program.
Many professional editors say "know Avid period", which is true to an extent, but in reality, know both Avid and Final Cut. The industry is rapidly changing and you need to be able to know both since you'll constantly be working for different productions from time to time. The Avid vs. Final Cut war is also pretty ridiculous as a Hollywood editor made this movie a while back: http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/6861167/
The BBC and Saturday Night Live are edited in Adobe Premiere and Vegas is starting to catch on, but those in the minority. Just remember that editing is done by people
and not the machines, so any editor can make use of any platform to edit. But if you're really serious about being an editor, then you have to conform to what the industry uses. So know both Avid and Final Cut. Invest in a mac like I did and you'll see a big difference in how many jobs you can actually apply for.The differences between AMV and Film/Commercial/etc editing
The process of editing amvs and Films/Commercials/etc are completely different. It's like comparing apples to oranges. Editing amvs gets you used to working with your programs, but the techniques you use in amvs can't really be applied to films/commercials/etc since amvs rely on sync editing where films/commercials/etc don't because most of the time, the music is placed AFTER you make the cuts. Imagine putting in footage on a timeline without any music to sync to. The music has to be more of background noise to match the mood of the scene rather than what tells the story.
When you edit an amv, you have all of the best footage the actual show/movie editor already cut for you condensed into a 20 minute episode/90 min movie, etc. In fact, you actually have less footage to work with than what the studios had, but at least you only have a 2-5 minute song to edit to. Imagine having 20-100 hours of footage, most of it being multiple takes of an actor saying the same line from different angles and giving a different performance each time. After that, you have to choose the next best scene that flows into it whether it be a reaction shot, background shot, or the next line of dialogue also from multiple angles without any music to sync to. Hence why they say, the way you edit one scene will affect another scene down the line. With amvs, your footage already has the story down, but with film, you have to build it by yourself.
Unlike amvs where the editing and cuts are noticeable, films, commercials, etc are where cuts are un-noticeable to show the narrative of the story. Try noticing the cuts in any movie you watch and you'll realize you can't notice them at all. That means the editor did a good job in making you engaged in the story/performances rather than the editing.
I would actually consider film editing to be more like editing creative writing since you're actually doing editing to the script by re-arranging scenes and dialogue to help the story flow better. The transition from script to screen is always going to be different than how you see the scene in your head from reading the script. I remember on my first film gig, I thought it would be easy to just edit based on the script, but my director told me that we'll be deviating from the script due to how different the footage was actually shot and how the performances played out. However, some films are edited closely to their script like The Dark Knight, but you still have to deal with choosing the best looking scenes/performances to use.
"Real" music videos are also edited in a similar fashion where music is there just to match the mood rather than sync editing. "Real" music videos are made for selling products with visuals rather than telling stories.
I assume I lost a lot of people there. I was pretty lost too when I first started, but if you stick with it, you'll pick up narrative editing in no time.
Regardless, any type of editing is an art within itself. I don't consider Film/Commercial/etc editing to be superior to amv editing or vice versa. In fact, I have a newfound respect for amv editing after doing film editing because of the freedom and simplicity of it.Important techniques/terms
If you're going to become a professional editor, here are a few techniques/terms you need to know:
- Color Correction
Hands down, the most important thing you need to know as an editor. Many of the scenes you edit will most likely be shot at different times of the day where the lighting is different, but they still have to be in the same scene. Using color correction will help the lighting/look of a scene look consistent. Most studios usually have a dedicated colorist to fix scenes after "picture lock", but when you start out for smaller independent companies, you'll most likely have to do it on your own. Don't expect to turn a day scene into a night scene, and consistency in the lighting is a major important thing when going from scene to scene. Usually, you can mess around with the color correction dials until everything looks right, but I would highly recommend looking for a good tutorial on how to learn proper color correction. If used correctly, you can even greatly enhance the look of a scene better than how it looked before.
- EDL (Edit Decision List) and Timecode
Most editing programs, even Vegas and Premiere let you export an EDL, which contains timecodes of all the scenes you use and the exact times in your timeline where you put them. Very important when transferring projects to different computers and when certain files go offline. Imagine opening your Final Cut project and realizing that several clips are "offline". Since the timecodes are being tracked, you can easily recapture the scene from your capture deck and get the same exact scene in the timeline with no additional edits needed. EDL's only work with straight cuts and depending on the program, opacity/fades as well. EDL's are important for transferring projects from computer to computer, but other programs too. If you have an EDL, then you can actually transfer projects between Avid and Final Cut with the same exact edits as specified by the EDL. This is also useful for simple and straight cut amvs in case you lose your project file.
- Picture Lock
This is the final part of the editing phase where both the director and editor decide that no more cuts need to made to the Film/Commercial/etc, and now you can start placing the music/sfx/etc. I listed this because it's like editing the footage part of an amv first and putting in the music after.
There are a million more terms to know, but I consider the first 2 the most important to list on your resume. Picture Lock is also important to know since that’s NOT the end of the editing phase since you’ll also be doing color correction, sound mixing, etc when the film is fully cut.Relationship between the director/editor
There is no more intimate relationship on a film than the director and editor. While the director spends a lot of time with the actors during production, post production is where the entire film is built from the ground up and takes the longest. A director and editor are like the husband and wife when it comes it a film. Both really need to be intimate with each other to understand what each other needs.
The majority of amv editors work alone and probably the thought of having a director hovering over your shoulder while you edit will probably drive you to madness. It's very important to know what the director wants, but it always doesn't work that way. You also need to have your own input on what works too and when both the director and editor are in perfect union, then that's when the film can be the best it can be.
You'll be working with these types of directors:
- The director that hovers over your shoulder the entire day and tells you where to cut and when: As Beowulf said, you're nothing more than a button pusher. Even if the scene looks crappy by your standards, you have to do what the director says. While it would be easier to have the director edit (Robert Rodriguez, Kevin Smith, etc), most directors don't bother to learn the programs and would rather avoid doing all the technical stuff which is pretty much your job.
- The director that gives you all the footage and says "get back to me in a month": Most amv editors would be thrilled to work alone on a film and some can, but if you don't have a true understanding of the story and script, then you won't know how to cut the film effectively. The script is NEVER the final version of the story since it's inevitably going to differ from the final footage than how you envision it in your head when you read it. It's not too bad working alone if you're doing a short film or commercial. What also sucks about this is when you spend an entire month cutting a film to the best to your ability and the director tells you to change this and that. I guarantee you'll be popping blood vessels in your head pretty fast.
- The director who has a good idea of what they want cut and is open to suggestions: This is the type of director you want to work with the most because you'll constantly be working off each other's suggestions, especially when you feel lost on how to cut a scene. Also be prepared to challenge your director and defend your editing decisions if you feel that they will be beneficial to the film/commercial/etc. Not all directors truly understand editing and editors are absolutely the directors in the post production phase of film. You both need to work together on choosing the best scenes based on looks/performance/flow to move the story forward and if you both have a mutual understanding of not only the material, but of each other, then the magic truly happens.
AMV editors have to set aside their pride in order to work with a director. Where you have complete authorship of an amv, you can't truly have complete authorship of a film since it's the director's vision. If you're unwilling to set aside your own pride for the good of the film, then you probably shouldn't be a professional editor.
You guys may not realize this, but amv editors are actually more of producer/writer/editor/directors than just editors. We decide when and if we do an idea (producing), we come up with the concept (writing), we choose the best looking scenes/performances (directing) and put it all together (editing).Availability of work
Well, this is it. This may be the first thing that may drive you away, but nothing in comparison to what's coming up next...
Let's get this out of the way: You need to live in a big city where shows are being produced in order to get editing jobs. Those cities are Los Angeles, CA, Austin, TX, and New York, NY if you're in America.
Of course there are a lot more than that, but those are the major 3. In fact, you're best just moving to Los Angeles out of the 3. There are also several production houses all over the world, especially in Asia and the Philippines.
The majority of editors are freelancers. Unless you're working for a news station or reality TV. That means when your job is done, so are you, and you need to move on to find more work. It's pretty common for an editing gig to only last a month or two and you need to move on to the next one. You'll be constantly repeating this several times a year.
Your first stop would probably to check out craigslist, monster, mandy, etc for editing gigs. Although 90% of these are indie productions run out of some guy's basement. None of the major editing jobs for the industry are ever advertised anywhere and are only through word of mouth, especially to weed out overzealous editors. If you live in one of the major cities that I mentioned above, than you should be able to find several gigs listed.
Also accept that fact that you can lose your chance to get work at anytime. A year ago, I had an offer to work on a high paying documentary, but the production company ran into legal trouble and had to shut down it's entire production.
If you live in one of the big cities, then you should expect a lot of competition. With the wide availability of technology, everyone and their mother has access to Final Cut Pro and a Panasonic DVX100 to make anything they want. With the economy going down the drain, the more experienced editors are willing to accept less pay, so you, the amv editor with no real world experience will be going up against the more experienced editors who are willing to work for less. This is why I completely stress on listing your amv awards, panel participation, etc in order to stand out against the editors who have the same landscape/skateboarding demo reels. Also accept the fact like with any job, your resume/demo reel may never get read in the flood of constant resumes submitted to every production. Hell, even the top Hollywood editors are competing with each other to get whatever job they can.
- Types of work
Unlike amvs, you CAN'T choose the type of work you do unless you get several offers (which is pretty rare, even for Hollywood editors). You need to be versatile in all genres like drama/action/comedy. As a professional working editor, you're going to be editing a lot, and I mean ALOT of CRAP. Your first job working for a big studio like Warner Bros. will probably be editing "Mary Kate and Ashley vs. The Evil Gorilla" and you're going to have to put in 110% effort into editing it. Wouldn't it be great to tell people that you're the editor of Mary Kate and Ashley movies? You can't be picky. You need to build up your resume with any type of work you can. I got a job offer once to edit a film that looked like it was shot on a 1980's camcorder, but it didn't really pull through due to the producer vanishing off the face of the planet. I was so desperate for work that I applied for a film about a guy and his bugle, yes, a friggin bugle. I didn't get the job.
This is where things get pretty wonky. You'll hear everything from the horror and success stories about how the bucks work in the industry.
Since you'll be starting out with independent productions and not the big studios, you can get anywhere from $0-$5000+ (yes, zero) for editing. Most ”good” paying productions will pretty much just give you a flat rate (maybe $2000 for a month of work) so they don't have to worry about an hourly rate.
You'll constantly see editing jobs saying that they can't offer you money, but they'll give you credit, food, gas money, etc. I know a lot of beginning editors jump on these just to get their name out there, but avoid these at all costs. It's not worth it. Don't degrade yourself as an editor. But if you really want an editing credit that badly, then it’s your call.
There's also "deferred" payments meaning that you'll only get paid if the film makes money. 96% of editors NEVER pick up deferred payments because the majority of films never get any distribution, thus never making a dime. Even if a film does get picked up, it’s usually purchased for far less than it cost to make unless a major studio picks it up. Usually a deferred payment contract will only pay you money if the film makes a certain amount of money (upwards to $20-30K). Also avoid these at all costs.
The top Hollywood editors earn about $10,000 a week ($2000 a day for 5 days) and while this sounds like the greatest job ever... read some more..... Most Hollywood editors only edit about 1-2 films a year and still struggle to find work. Go to any imdb page of any famous editor like Michael Kahn (Spielberg’s Editor), Zach Staenberg (Wachowski Bros.), Themla Schoonmaker (Scorcese) and they only edit 1-2 movies a year since that's all they really need to do. However, the majority of other editors are paid way less and are given less work. Read more when I get down to "Deadlines".
Where the smaller, independent productions can rip you off, the big studios can't because of the union. You really start earning the "big bucks" as an editor when you join the union. Most specifically the Motion Pictures Editor's Guild
which is the specific union for editors. The MPEG (ha) forces the studios to pay you a minimum rate of $2700 a week plus your health/dental/etc benefits. The reason why the big studios work with the union is because film studios literally get sued every single day (I've seen Sony's legal department, that's a studio within itself) and want less headaches from freelancers suing them for low pay.However, you can't join the union until you are offered union work which are most of the big studios, so don't think of saving the $3000 entry fee for the MPEG and try to join when all you have is amv experience, it doesn't work that way. You earn your way into the union by connections or working a set amount of time on non union projects (I think 6 months). The union does NOT guarantee you work, but only makes you eligible to work on union projects which are the ones for the big studios. The union doesn’t have it’s own “secret craigslist” since all editing work is done through word of mouth which consists of the studios calling agencies that represent film editors (kinda like agents for actors). Getting an agent also requires you to build up a professional reputation. It may take you years before you even get any union work, so it’s going to be a long wait.Deadlines
Ok everyone, this is the most frightening part of working in the industry. The part that will probably make you run for the hills in the other direction. Nothing can absolutely prepare you for this.
Want to know the average deadline to edit a film?
Most of you can’t even edit a simple, straight cut video in that amount of time. How are you even going to edit a movie?
That’s 8 weeks to get picture lock. Not a rough cut. Picture.Lock.
Even worse, you only get 2 weeks to edit a 40 minute sitcom, 1 week for a 20 minute sitcom, and 1 DAY to edit news. You probably don’t even want to know the time frame of commercials or music videos. Imagine trying to make a crossover video in a week.
Because editing a scene is so difficult with the large amount of takes, shots, and performances, you can spend an entire day editing one scene and films have over 100 of them. With the large studios, you at least get an entire post production team with assistant and apprentice editors to help you cut multiple scenes, but since you’ll be starting off for independent studios, you will most likely have to do EVERYTHING yourself.
Indie studios are more lenient on deadlines, but they aren’t much better. My first film gig was supposed to take a month, but was extended to 8 weeks since I was slow and my director was lenient. However, don’t expect all of your clients to give you the same leniency. You’ll most likely be spending 12-16 hour days, possibly crashing at your studio overnight, including weekends trying to reach your deadline on time.
Because of the punishing deadlines, most Hollywood editors struggle to find work because all of the jobs are already taken even before they finish their current gig. Most sitcoms have multiple editors to edit multiple episodes, so even at the $2700 a week union rate, TV editors may only get 2 weeks of work max which really can’t pay the bills. TV editors would be lucky enough to even be the main editor for every episode on a show. But since multiple episodes need to be edited at the same time, they’re lucky to even last 2 weeks. Because of the hectic nature of the industry, all of the editing gigs are being eaten up even before working editors can jump to the next gig. The top Hollywood editors earning $10,000 a week can easily survive with only 8 weeks of work since that’s all they need to do to survive.
When doughboy was cutting for his local news station, he had to get up at 2 in the morning and would have to stay the entire day. Needless to say, he got sick of it really fast. Lord Rae also cut news and left for the same reason.
Lord Rae was pretty much told “Make air time, not art”.
If you plan to edit amvs after editing for 12-16 hours a day, guess what’s the last thing you want to do when you get home?
Even more editing.
After one week of editing my first film, I couldn’t stare at premiere whenever I opened it.
In order to survive as an editor in the industry, you need to cut good and FAST. Even Fluxmeister and Iliea would have their brains melted working in the industry.Recognition
The sad truth is that 95% of the indie films you edit will never see distribution. When I finished my first film, everyone kept asking me when it would be shown in theaters, but it never went anywhere other than a few private screenings, so I never saw it on the big screen.
Also, because of edits in film, commercials, etc being un-noticeable, nobody really cares about the editor either. It’s nice that there are awards and Oscars for editing, but editors are easily brushed aside in favor of actors, directors, and music composers. It’s really hard to impress anyone with film editing because it has to be un-noticeable.
One good thing is that the industry formed the America Cinema Editors
as an honorary society for film editors. If you see a name like “Stuart Bass, A.C.E” that means he’s recognized member of the American Cinema Editors who are regarded as the best editors in the industry. It’s pretty much every editor’s dream to get into the A.C.E (especially Pie Row Maniac and I
). But don’t make A.C.E your goal. Try to make your goal being a well paid editor.
If you want fame and glory through editing, then stick to amvs. I’m sure more people google Koop than any film editor in the industry. Maybe we can start our own honorary society for amvs. I won’t mind being known as “Castor Troy, A.M.V”. The Reality
With the advancement and oversaturation of technology, everyone and their mother can easily become an “editor”, making it competitive and difficult for everyone to find decent editing work.
Unless you have good connections, you’re going to be editing for chump change. You’ll be accepting that chump change because you want to build up your resume and experience. Even when you’ve gotten your foot in the door, you’re still going to be struggling to find work because all of the good gigs are already reserved for the long standing veterans, and friends/relatives of the producers and directors. Hell, even those veterans also have trouble getting work. The director’s nephew who knows nothing about editing has a better chance of getting a job than you, who actually knows about editing.
Motion graphics editors are actually way more in demand, get paid more, and have much more stable work. Brad just got a full time position as a motion graphics editor, but his success is rarely seen and since he obviously won’t be giving up his position any time soon, that’s one less editing job.
If you don’t want to do effects, would editing news and reality TV be the way to go? Only if you want to work insane hours with mind numbing material only to end up with red eyes and a bad back. But hey, at least it pays well and it’s stable. Most likely because the previous editor’s brain melted away.
Editing for a living is low pay, no job security, and many long hours that eventually lead to nothing. Oscar for best editing? A.C.E membership? Nobody on the street really cares about those. But hey, you're doing this in an industry that completely thrives on fame. You're the unspoken hero. Just as long as you get those paychecks and can keep a roof over your head, that's all what matters right?
You're an amv editor. You want to be famous and have people acknowledge you. Don't deny it.Final words
Wow, so you come into this thread expecting some great advice on how to transition from being an amv editor to a professional editor, only to be told not to do it and that the industry sucks, blah blah blah.
But there’s some light at the end of the tunnel.
AMV editors are not only editors, they are producers, writers, directors, and editors.
We decide when and if we’ll do an idea. We have full authorization to “green light” our ideas without anyone else. Thus making us producers.
We come up with our own concepts and story ideas even if it’s not in script form. That makes us writers.
We choose the best looking scenes and performances, even adjusting them to our liking. We make characters do things the way we want them to. That makes us directors.
We put it all together. That makes us editors.
Despite all the negative stuff I mentioned, amv editors don’t do things for the money and do it more the art. Even though success in the industry is mostly driven by money, we come from a different upbringing. We actually care about the art over the profit.
In my honest opinion, I think amv editors are better off becoming producers/writers/directors/editors rather than just “editors”.
Doing film editing actually gave me much more appreciation for amv editing because of the freedom it allows. Editing amvs really makes you appreciate the art of editing, rather than seeing it as "cutting clips".
This is why I believe amv editors can change the industry for the better. It’s going to take a long time, but I believe we can do it.
As for me, I’m not working in the industry right now, but I at least got a much better paying job and will hopefully open my own film production company as a side thing in the future with the money I’ve saved.
I know there’s a million more things I didn’t go over, but if you have any specific questions or rebuttals, feel free to post them.
For more specific advice, check this link out.http://www.ehow.com/how_4891409_job-film-editor.html
Good luck to everyone who wants to do this for a living. Hopefully we can change the industry for the better!