June 18, 2016

7 Tips on Becoming a Better Editor & Mastering Your Craft

Author Malcolm Gladwell once said mastery of a craft requires 10,000 hours of practice—so for editors, that's about—what—a week's worth of work?

Okay, it's probably a little longer than that, but it's still true—practice eventually, probably, hopefully, makes perfect. But there are a lot of other things editors have to do to become masters of their craft. Sven Pape of This Guy Edits offers up 7 tips on how to be a more effective editor, namely one that people want to hire.

Here are the tips Pape lists in the video:

Edit a lot

Again, practice, practice, practice. Yes, you can take classes, learn from videos, and read a ton of books, but getting to work is the only way you're ever going to make significant headway in getting better at your craft. So, get busy editing. If you don't have any projects to work on, try editing random/stock footage to try out new techniques. Not only will your skills improve, but your creativity will really start flowing.

Edit small

You don't have to edit a feature to practice your skills. It might be smart to start small and edit some shorts, commercials, or music videos. (I highly suggest doing several music videos.) The task isn't necessarily any easier because it's smaller, but it is a little more digestible.

Edit with purpose

It's one thing to edit something on your own time. It's a whole other thing to edit when you've got a deadline snapping at your heels. I'd even venture to say that working with deadlines and expectations, knowing that there's an eventual audience on the other side makes one edit a little differently.

Pape suggests editing with a purpose, in other words, working for an end product, something that will eventually be seen by others. So, upload your stuff online, get feedback. It's a good way to get into the mindset of someone who produces something for someone else—you know, like a client.

Be different

Editing is a technical and creative craft. So, part of being a good editor means knowing your shit, but another part, probably the biggest part, is being creatively unique. Any adept individual can cut up shots and make a decent sequence, but only you can do it your way.

Be ready for crisis

Remember, editing is part technical. You should know your tools—your NLE, video platform, data transfer, etc—well enough to solve any issues that may arise, because even though it's annoying to have your work halted by some stupid technical problem, it may turn out to be a reason for clients not to hire you next time.

Respect your niche

Do you keep getting hired for the same type of projects? Well, that's kind of typical. (I worked on three consecutive horror flicks before I ever was approached for anything else.) Pape advises you to respect your niche, because even if you don't necessarily love it, it's giving you editing experience (and hopefully a paycheck). Besides, you can plan your crossover into other genres on your personal time.

Be a storyteller

Editing isn't just cutting together a bunch of shots. It's telling a story. Learn all you can about the language of editing. Study Eisenstein, Pudovkin, and the other forefathers of Soviet Montage. Glean wisdom from world-class editors, like Anne V. Coates, Thelma Schoonmaker, and Walter Murch. Oh! And keep practicing!      

Your Comment

16 Comments

Thanks for sharing.

June 19, 2016 at 4:18AM

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Sameir Ali
Director of Photography
592

The 10,000 hour thing is interesting but must not be treated as an absolute rule. The Josh Kaufman talk at TED blew that concept wide open and should hopefully enrich anyone here who has not seen it:-
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MgBikgcWnY

June 19, 2016 at 3:58PM

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Saied M.
983

I'd say there is truth to both. 10,000 hours refers to Tiger-Woods-like mastery, Kaufman's 20 hours is for getting pretty good at something in an efficient way. To be at the top of your craft you're probably leaning towards the higher end :)

June 19, 2016 at 4:34PM

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Stephen
88

Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to truly master a skill. Josh Kaufman says you can learn it in 20 hours. There is a world of difference between me learning to play a guitar in 20 hours and Jimmy Page.

June 20, 2016 at 6:42PM

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During his appearing on a 'Freakonomics' podcast, Gladwell clarified his point about the 10,000 rule. He believes it has been widely misinterpreted.

The larger point that Gladwell was attempting to make was the success comes from a community, not an individual, and for an individual to be able to dedicate 10,000 hours to deliberate practice, a lot of other people must be there in the background, supporting all the other aspects of life that would be neglected to allow for that kind of practice.

Secondly, deliberate practice is significantly different from doing. Playing the same riff endlessly isn't going to make me better; timing myself and going faster and faster each time, or adding more notes will. There has to be a concentrated effort to improve.

June 21, 2016 at 11:15PM

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kyleclements
Artist / Photographer
944

as a 'professional editor' i like this. i'd been editing (doc) for 10 years before i really felt as though i was telling the footage what to do, rather than the footage telling me.. the devil is in the details; and in the revisions

June 20, 2016 at 12:24AM

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"i was telling the footage what to do, rather than the footage telling me"

What a brilliant way to look at it!

But thinking about that too much makes me realize how far I have to go before I can consider myself a competent editor...

June 21, 2016 at 11:16PM

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kyleclements
Artist / Photographer
944

If you're editing documentaries, isn't it a good thing when "the footage tells you what to do"?
I'd consider it an ideal situation when the footage is so good that it basically speaks to you.

June 24, 2016 at 10:18PM

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Nice tips ! Thanks

June 20, 2016 at 11:11AM

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Mael Sevestre
Film director
74

The hardest part of editing is the notes. I really love the process of creating a piece, immersing myself with the footage and I usually follow most of these tips instictively.

Then you hand it to the client/producer/director and very quickly, seemingly without care they ask for a complete re-edit. No notes, they want a complete re-edit. So I basically wasted two weeks of my life on your direction, and now after seeing it done you change your mind...and now I have to suck it up and edit another two weeks basically for free.

This is soul crushing to me, I don't know how other people deal with this. I feel so out of control and sometimes I feel played with.

Any tips on handing this sort of thing?

June 22, 2016 at 1:08AM, Edited June 22, 1:08AM

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"I don't know how other people deal with this. I feel so out of control and sometimes I feel played with.
Any tips on handing this sort of thing?"

Have a limited re-edit clause in your contract.

Eg: there will be a maximum of 3 revisions. Any additional revisions will cost $X each.

June 22, 2016 at 12:51PM

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kyleclements
Artist / Photographer
944

Anytime I have ever tried to limit revisions, the client has walked away. Most clients expect you to do endless revisions, and will not pay until it is "right."

I had one client who refused to limit changes on a corporate animated video. I worked two months of 12 hour days, getting constant notes from their staff. After the video was almost complete, the manager looked at it and asked me to start over. I told them it would be an additional fee (Basically doubling the cost, since the time was doubled.)since their staff had approved all stages.

The guy told me he would not pay anything extra and that I would need to re-animate the entire video until I got it right. I refused this and he sued me due to breach of contract.

It seems like things you need to do to get a job, make the job not worth it at the end. I really struggle with this and working endless hours for very little pay after all is said and done. Sure it sounds great in theory to edit a short video for $400. After working 3 months on the video, $400 barely paid for me to eat McDonald's during that time.

I have to be so competitive or the client will just go to someone else. There is a lot of competition and everyone knows it.

June 22, 2016 at 3:02PM

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Wow, that's terrible! Really sorry to hear you had to go through that - doesn't sound pleasant at all.

That said, by not protecting yourself with such clauses, you're basically inviting terrible clients like the one that sued you. Sure, you might not get as many clients, but you'll get better clients because they respect you and pay you for your work - without law suits! People who don't protect themselves get exploited and won't be around for long because getting exploited isn't a sustainable business model.

Check out Mike Monteiro's stuff on getting paid as a 'creative'

June 23, 2016 at 5:58AM

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Guido Gautsch
Education Person
220

I just know if I limited them I would get zero clients. I have tried to propose this and it always loses the clients, there is too much competition nowadays willing to work endless hours for free.

June 23, 2016 at 9:40AM

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I think you should take care of that in your contract. I am not an editor myself, but my friends tell me they include a certain amount of changes (or work hours needed for changes) in the contract. Anything more than that and the client will have to pay extra.

Big companies can be the worst, because there are so many people who all need to "be in charge". So everyone needs to make changes to a movie just because they have to show they matter. Every time the movie has to get approved by someone one step higher, they want to change something.
I am so glad I work as a cameraman, and mainly for one client that basically approves of everything I do without questions.

June 24, 2016 at 10:24PM, Edited June 24, 10:32PM

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I completely understand and agree that editors need this in their contract. Since I have less than 20 years experience and zero major credits I am forced to take that clause out to get jobs. Most clients I deal with demand this and I have lost clients when I asked them to limit changes to 3 rounds. They laughed and said that 3 rounds of changes usually isn't enough.

June 25, 2016 at 2:57AM

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