We recently discussed the Very Serious Topic of Brown M&Ms and why they matter. Next question: what do you do with Brown M&Ms? What is acceptable procedure for dealing with Brown M&Ms? Weighty questions which deserve sober answers, to be sure.
In the previous Brown M&Ms post, I mentioned the following:
…part of editing professionally is learning the appropriate practices for any given project, and sticking to them so everyone knows that they can hand things off to you and know it’s gonna be done excellently, and done right.
Rick, a friend of Editmentor, commented:
Forgive the noob comment, but where exactly are the specifications of appropriate practices? Is it a customer by customer basis? How would one develop the good habits without specifications or guidelines?
Far from being noobish – those are very legitimate questions that aren’t quickly answered. “Professional practices” vary wildly at times, are rarely codified, and sometimes it’s difficult to find that out until you’re actually on a job and you “screw up” – i.e. go against expectations that may not even have been concretely expressed! At which point you say “how the heck was I supposed to know that?” And people just kind of look at you funny and say “Uh, that’s normal. Everyone knows that.” (It’s not unlike women expecting men to read their minds without actually saying what they actually want, then getting all worked up when men’s ESP isn’t perfect. My wife is not like that, and I am so grateful. But I digress.)
The more I thought about professional practices, the more I realized I had other questions to address first. Editmentor serves lots of different people with varying levels of experience, and we’ve had a number of questions from people asking “How can I become a professional editor?” And, in a world where literally anyone can assemble clips of video and audio on their own computer, what makes a professional editor professional?
The short answer is, one can usually be considered a professional editor by being paid for doing it. However, being a well-rounded, steadily-working, professional editor involves multiple areas beyond simply doing what an editor does. Let’s start, though, with just that – at the risk of sounding like everyone else who starts by giving their own definition of “what is editing,” here’s my take on “what do editors do?” Ahem.
WHAT EDITORS DO
First and foremost, a professional editor uses the tools at his or her disposal to put together picture and or sound in a manner that best satisfies the requirements of the job as communicated by the employer.
Let’s break that down.
“professional editor”: Could be a picture editor in the film world, only editing picture and basic audio. Or also in the film world, a dialogue, sound effects, foley, or music editor, only editing their specific part of the soundscape. Or a visual effects editor, only editing effects shots and previsualization animations. Or in television, most editors these days have to be able to do all or at least some of everything the film guys do. The bigger the television project, the more likely you are to have multiple specialized editors, whereas that’s the way film has always been. Commercial editors usually cut picture, some music, and some sound, maybe some graphics, and send everything out for picture and sound finishing elsewhere. Special projects like music videos involve heavy picture editing, and often graphics work, though very little sound editing.
“the tools”: A professional editor should know how to use whatever tools he or she is given. In the pre-digital days, editors worked with machines (Moviolas, flatbeds, and open-reel audio decks) that shuttled reels of physical film and magnetic stock back and forth. These days digital editing gear provides instant access to digital reels or clips of media – and it could be anything from Windows Moviemaker to an Avid Symphony in picture editing, or Garage Band to a ProTools-driven, million dollar Euphonix console in the sound editing world.
The fancier the tools, the more critical it is that the editors know them like the back of their hand. Editors need to know their tools so well it’s like the tools are invisible. For further discussion on tools of editing, including the long-running Avid vs. Final Cut debate, check out Gimme a Gluepot.
“best satisfies the requirements” – let’s just say that the requirements for any given job vary wildly. Here are three examples:
Picture editing on a multi-million dollar Hollywood film: Be familiar with dozens, even hundreds of hours of the film’s footage and over the span of multiple months work constantly with The Director to shape the film into a work that will satisfy the producers, studio, and distributors… but most importantly The Director. The result should be art. Or at least something that will sell lots and lots of movie tickets and have people talking about it for years to come.
Editing a news package for a daily local newscast: Get 5 to 10 minutes of video, slam it together so it conveys a basic story. If it’s a big news station, you might be a dedicated news editor and that’s all you do, but these days the on-camera reporter is often the producer and editor too. Either way, you’ll probably have between 2 hours and, say, 10 minutes to cut the piece (often with stressed-out producers screaming at you). The biggest requirements are that the piece says only what it absolutely needs to say, is exactly the length required to the second, and has picture and sound all the way through. It is disposable, forgotten as soon as it hits air, and it is definitely NOT art. It’s news, and its main value lies in how quickly it can get on the air.
Editing a home movie for viewing on YouTube: who the heck knows what that might require. It could be one clip, or it could be a jumbled sequence of still images or painstaking distillation of hours of footage. It usually has to be shorter than 10 minutes long (given YouTube’s time limit for uploads), and the editing could take as little or as much time as you want. It could be art, or it could be completely meaningless. It will probably mean little to people other than you or your family, though if it’s funny or outrageous it might become ridiculously popular landing you your own TV or internet series.
I could go on and on, though suffice it to say that the aspiring professional editor needs to have or gain as much experience as possible in the categories of editing you want to get into. Because a news editor very rarely has the organizational and storytelling skillsets to masterfully shape the arc of a feature film, and most feature film editors would wet their pants if you told them to cut that 40-second package in 10 minutes… for a mere fraction of their film pay. And the home video YouTube editor very rarely has the skillsets to be either a news editor OR a film editor.
For more thoughts on the purposes of editing, check out Shakespeare and Grocery Lists.
“the employer” – the employer could be a single person, a group of people, or a multi-billion dollar organization, in which case you’re probably answering to many different layers of people. Most times employers actually hire editors for money, though not always. Maybe the employer is even Your Mom.
The bigger the project, the more people need to be satisfied, be it tv or film. Movies and commercials are especially notorious for having too many cooks in the kitchen, many of whom are more concerned about validating the need for their professional existence rather than working in the best interest of the film.
THERE’S MUCH MORE.
As I said above, being a well-rounded, steadily-working, professional editor involves multiple areas beyond just what an editor does. You have to be part creative, part technical, and part psychotherapist. More on that to come.
In the meantime, that’s it for now – I’m gonna go find me some brown M&Ms. Later.