The Future is in Specialisation

I’m a huge fan of technology, as you might expect of an editor. As technology improves and becomes more widely available, it enables a lot of exciting possibilities, and can make a huge difference in people’s lives. To me, technology is a means to an end – communication…

In the world of filmmaking technology, the last few years have been tumultuous to say the least. We’ve seen the DSLR revolution on the camera side, fulfilling the promise of the DV revolution and giving cinematic images to the masses.* And in post, the shockwaves of the infamous release of FCP X are still being felt, and I suspect we’re yet to see the full impact of it, as a new generation of filmmakers come through having had access to it where Avid and Adobe are prohibitively expensive.

One of the things that happens when technology becomes cheap enough, is that cost is no longer a barrier to entry into the marketplace. For less than £10,000 (even less than that if you’re willing to make compromises on tech specs/lens quality) you can get a 5Dmkii, a couple of lenses and a MacBook Pro with FCP X. So you have people who sell themselves as a complete end-to-end shooter, director and editor. Their costs are low and there’s nobody else to pay, so they don’t have to charge very much to make themselves money.

My problem with this isn’t that by being cheap they’re driving down the day rate of camera operators, editors and directors. They are, but that’s just the way it is, and it’s not ever going to change.** The problem I see is that they tend not to be very good at most of those jobs. It’s quality that suffers.

It’s obvious right? Someone dedicated to the art of cinematography will spend their time studying and practicing cinematography, and I’m sure will have a basic grasp of editing and how to use a NLE, just as I have a basic grasp of how to shoot. They probably won’t be great editors, just as I am far from a great shooter. And yes, there will be the odd person who is genuinely skilled at many aspects of filmmaking (the often cited example is Robert Rodriguez), but they will be the vast, vast minority.

When we receive job applications or enquiries on spec, they often list multiple skills on their CV. It’s not a bad thing, having a working knowledge of every aspect of production, but what it also says to us is that you’re not passionate about one thing over all the others. There’s not one thing that you’re dedicated to doing better than anyone else we hear from.

In the PreNAB Editors’ Lounge 2012 discussion (Part 1 here – all four parts are well worth a watch), one of the panel suggests that the future could be that editing jobs get outsourced to India. That may be. The world is getting smaller all the time and if we had fast enough connections (and that’s a bigger problem in India by the way than here in the UK or in the US) there’s really no reason why it couldn’t, on a technical level.

So how can you differentiate yourself in a global marketplace? By being the best editor in the world. Making great edits is part of that, but I really mean by also being a genuine creative collaborator through the whole process, not coming in after the shoot where there’s no opportunity to suggest things like match-cuts or interesting transitions, that have to be shot for you to have the ability to cut them in! By networking your butt off and making connections with other talented people, so you can suggest the best compositors, graphics designers, animators and audio-post experts which further elevate the piece you’re working on, which benefits all involved. They may be in India, America, Europe or Japan, it won’t matter in the future.

The future is in specialism.

Thanks for reading, let me know what you think in the comments or on Twitter @editorrich


* Obviously there are drawbacks to DSLRs on a technical level, but from an average viewer’s point of view, the images are very similar to film.
** But if you believe that your value is so closely linked to the kit you use, you may want to think again about how you sell yourself.