Whose Edit Is It Anyway

A real conversation from my office;
My colleague Jess, on seeing a rough cut of an episode of our latest series; “That’s really good”

Me: “Sarah (my assistant) cut that one”.

Sarah: “Yeah, but you told me what to do”.

Me: “That doesn’t matter, you still edited it”.
This got me thinking about ownership of an edit. How closely should we tie an edit to the editor?

It seems to me that there are always at least three parties involved in an edit that I work on, often many more. Fundamentally for me it breaks down to three;

Me – I get the footage, a script and some guidance from the director, and then I’m left alone to create something. The first cut therefore is pretty definitively mine, because there aren’t many other people involved. I might show it to Sarah before sending it on to Jim (my director) for a second opinion and fresh pair of eyes, but it’s mine.

The Director – Jim and Rob (as my directors) for some reason think they can tell me how they think it should be different from what I’ve done. What nerve, right? I kid, obviously, and over time I’ve come to learn how they like things to such an extent that my first cuts tend to be pretty close to the intention. But they always have notes and they’re usually right. So I make those changes or we argue over it and I make my case for why we shouldn’t. And so is the second cut is still mine? Less so than the first cut? 

The Client – this is where things get tricky. We’ve all had clients who trust us and appreciate us and give great notes, and I’m sure we’ve all had clients who perhaps don’t trust us quite as much. That’s charitable enough, I think… And sometimes you make changes you really don’t want to make. You use a different piece of music that you aren’t as keen on. You compromise. And you start feeling that the cut isn’t yours at all anymore. There might be layers of approval even within a client company, so you’re the servant of many masters.

So there are a lot of voices that go into a cut. But in the end, they all go through you as the editor. If you disagree with a change, you have to make your case for not changing it. The skill of negotiation is a huge part of the process. If you aren’t convincing enough to keep your version in-tact, was it ever yours to begin with?

My point is that you own it as long as you want to take the responsibility for it. If you’re blindly following direction, and client notes, maybe you don’t own it because someone else cares about it more. You can still own it when taking notes, you can still own it if you co-edit with someone else. 

You may not physically click the button on every in and out point, but that doesn’t mean it’s not yours. Own it!