Edit Lite

As our tools have become cheaper and more ubiquitous, competition for editing jobs has increased. The result is that some picture editors and assistants are getting squeezed pretty hard. But it seems like music editors have it worse, and I’m starting to wonder whether they aren’t the proverbial canary in the coal mine.

Since they’re often paid directly by the composer, it’s not uncommon to see the them working non-union on otherwise fully union shows, working long hours for a flat rate. They often work out of their houses, using their own equipment, without an assistant. The expectations, time pressure and technical responsiblities can be very high. And if you don’t like the money or the working conditions, there’s often no support from the rest of the crew. The crew is you.

I wonder whether these aren’t the kinds of conditions that picture editors will face in the next few years, at least on lower budget shows. As our equipment gets more portable it’s easier to work at home. As the technology gets simpler and more efficient, crews shrink.

Dovetailing with this situation, Verizon and AT&T just got the right to deliver TV over telephone lines in California. That means we’re soon going to see dramatically faster Internet speeds. It’s going to make all kinds of things possible.

But with this, as in so much of the digital revolution, the law of unintended consequences bites us in the butt. Working at home is a great idea, right? Sure, until you realize that if you work at home you never get to GO home. Cheaper equipment is a great idea, too — until you factor in the idea that you’re going to be buying it yourself, upgrading it, and doing your own tech support. Videochatting with your director over a super-fast Internet connection is wonderful, until you realize that the same connection can be used with anybody in the world, and you’re competing with a whole lot of people you’ll never see.

So what do we do? No doubt, the Editors Guild has a pivotal role to play. We’ll never prevail if we don’t work together and get ahead of these trends. But just saying no won’t work. It’s essential that we think about these issues in the broadest and deepest possible terms. If we don’t want to be forced to be cheaper then we have to be smarter.

And as individuals? It’s much the same. The only thing we can do is to get ready by improving our skills.

That long learning curve that we’ve been climbing for the last decade and a half? It sure doesn’t look like it’s going to flatten out any time soon.

Explore posts in the same categories: Editors Guild, Quality of Life

5 Comments on “Edit Lite”

  1. Harry Miller Says:

    Steve – But what DO we do? I’ve been talked into running for the MPEG Board, mainly by a group of reality editors who don’t feel the union is much help. What is the employer’s incentive to unionize? And I work on at least one production a year that is so small that it is non-union (they also shoot out of the country, generally). I get around it by using a payroll service. Your thoughts? – Harry

  2. Nimrod Erez Says:

    It is true that there will be more and more competition, but i think that the talent and experience will always be desired in an editor by the better productions, and the rest of the productions… well, they will get what they will pay for.

    As for the MPEG, if i would be in the board i would make it my life mission to move the editor from a below the line position to an above the line position. I feel that will better represent the role of the editor in the filmmaking process and will guarantee a better future and longevity to MPEG members.

  3. Steve Says:

    Responding to Harry — I, for one, certainly don’t have a solution to this problem. What I was getting at is that it inevitably takes less energy to keep doing what you’re doing, so there’s always a tendency to be lazy and avoid change. It doesn’t matter how digitally savvy you are. So if we are going to deal with this new era of decentralized, low cost editing environments, we have to find new approaches. This applies to us as individuals as much as it does to the Guild and the IATSE.

    Flexibility is critical. Over the last decade, the Guild has done a lot in this regard. Instead of rigid work rules, we’ve come up with the idea of “primary skill” — a member can do whatever is needed on a production as long as they’re paid appropriately. Similarly, we’ve made it much easier for folks to join the union, though I’m not always sure how many non-union editors know this.

    Your question is about ways to entice smaller non-union companies that shoot out of the country to sign union contracts for post production in LA. No employer wants to unionize, but I have to guess that some of the resistance you’re experiencing is based on old misconceptions — perhaps on both sides. So opening up a dialog would probably do a lot of good.

    I’m very happy you’re planning to get involved. We get the Union we deserve — the one we are willing to work for.

  4. Tod Modisett Says:

    If we want to be union and work from home, we’ll be pushed to become IA Employee Shareholders. That means our loan-out corps will pay our benefits directly to the Plans — around $330 a week for 48 weeks of the year. If the pension plan made sense, I might have gone for it. But the numbers don’t work out for me. I think I’m better off putting the money into a retirement account that I control directly.

    That leaves health-care.

    Speaking more broadly, it’s clear to me that the union is becoming primarily a vehicle for getting affordable health-care, and that people are less and less concerned about collective bargaining and workplace protections.

  5. Mark Says:

    Non-Union guy here,

    Just a thought, the more competition there is, the more talent will be exposed. I for one think more competition for the ald guard is good, you should see some of the stuff ive been seeing on the internets, great skill with music anyway.

    I agree with Todd about the health-care thing.

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