Every day, we use complex machinery without thinking about its design. We turn a tap, and water comes out of the faucet. We pick up a phone and dial a number, and we’re connected. So simple that you don’t even remember learning how to do it.
So why does editing software have to be complicated? There’s a need for more and more control, over effects, titles, transitions, but fundamentally it should be easy to say “this shot, then this shot, then this shot, then this shot”. This is the philosophy behind FCP X. You have total control if you want it, but if all you’re trying to do is put a few shots together, maybe add some music, and put it on YouTube, you never have to go that deep into it. You can pretty much drag and drop everything you need. It’s the closest thing to a WISIWYG editor.The simplification, the hiding of the deeper controls, the magnetic timeline that upset so many people, it’s all designed to allow people to make videos, even if they “don’t know what they’re doing”.*
This is a scary prospect, right? Why are directors going to need us if they can edit themselves? Won’t producers decide they can save money if some kid in India can do it for a tenth of the cost of your day rate? Isn’t this the beginning of the end?
Well, no. It’s not. I can understand the fear of course – editors the world over have uttered the immortal phrase “they just don’t appreciate what we do” which naturally leads to fear that they are not valued, and therefore might be replaced. That’s a legitimate fear, by the way, but not what I’m talking about today. The influx of cheaper alternatives (which is all this comes down to) is not the problem. The problem is that you aren’t making a substantial and valued contribution as a storyteller.
In the past, editing systems were so complicated to use that you needed some technical training to be able to do it. That made your job slightly more secure because it was impossible to get just anyone to use it. The equipment was also incredibly expensive relative to today, so you couldn’t just show up with a laptop and get a job done. Both of those things have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with editing.
Now the situation is that you can’t hide anymore. Equipment it cheap and software is easy to use. You now have to be valuable as an editor. You have to know story, structure, timing, evaluate performances, all “soft” skills. You have to contribute something new to a scene that has been months in the planning, be reliable and not make silly technical mistakes.
When you do all those things, you become valuable, a member of the core creative team. It doesn’t matter how easy to use the software is – you won’t get outsourced.
*Actually, as William Goldman famously said, nobody does.