“Success isn’t fame, Success is just working and being good at what you do.” Jonah Ray, Comedian, The Nerdist Podcast.
How do we define success for ourselves as editors?
If you follow me on Twitter, you might be aware of my ramblings about making a transition into working on more scripted narrative projects for the studios. All the editors that I have ever talked to all have the same end goal: To work on a major scripted episodic television show or feature film. And why not? You get paid well, work with many talented people across the whole production, maybe get to attend a fancy premiere party as a reward for all of your hard work, and if you’re really lucky, the show/film gets nominated for awards and you can say you worked on it. There is no shame in having these dreams, I sometimes wonder what it would be like to go to the Emmy Awards as a nominee or even the A.C.E. Eddie Awards.
There are only so many feature films the studios are producing, and even the Indie film world is extremely competitive and doesn’t necessary pay well. These are all factors I am taking into consideration as I navigate my editing career while trying to take care of my family. Recently I was getting to a point where I wasn’t feeling very successful because I wasn’t working on projects that I was passionate about. I’m not working in the major TV/film world and even to attempt it, I would need to go back to assistant editing.
I decided to start researching what it would take to push my way into the major scripted feature/episodic television world. First, I had to meet people who actually worked in it. I started attending user groups, seminars, and mixers over several months. I friended people I met on Facebook and became an active tweeter. Networking is a tricky art and those who are already “successful” editors working on scripted projects are constantly approached by hungry editors wanting to break in. So to distinguish myself from the crowd, I took a slightly different approach. To quote the phrase, I “put my money where my mouth is.” I have edited all types of content for small independent companies and major cable networks. I just haven’t worked in scripted narrative for the networks/studios (to clarify, I have worked on scripted narrative for small independent companies). I put together a demo of some of my more complex cuts and gave presentations to rooms full of editors, assistants, and producers. I presented myself as an expert first, and then I introduced myself one on one. This gave me more credibility to those I wanted to meet. Not everyone I have met and befriended has seen these demos, but you might be surprised how small the editing community is. Someone who saw my demo in Los Angeles, also knows another editor I met in New York, who also knows some distinguished editors who invited me to their cutting rooms (one of them I met on Twitter and another I met at a seminar).
So in my adventures in networking, I discovered something about myself and my career. Working for major studios pays well, but it also demands a lot of your time. I have small children that I want to see grow up. Working on the next Avengers films would be really cool, but then I would miss seeing my children grow up and I realized that I would sacrifice my family’s well being. I actually passed on someone’s offer to help me get assistant work in features. I know, you must think I’m crazy, but unless a feature has family friendly hours, then it isn’t the right fit for how I want to live my life. Episodic Television has less crazy hours and assistants are more likely to move up to Editor sooner. This is a better option for me, but there are still many long hours involved and I would not see my kids very much. I am still considering it.
Now let’s back up, this blog post is supposed to be about defining success, right? Well, in my journey of discovering how to break into major scripted projects so I can be considered a successful top notch editor, I realized that my perception of success is totally wrong. I work year round as an editor in all other areas of television for major cable networks and haven’t had time off for the last 8 years. My work has aired internationally and been seen by millions, but you will never know I cut it, because I barely get on screen credit. My work doesn’t get submitted for consideration for awards (you have to submit your work, and then the awards organizations decide if your work will be nominated, and by the way, politics plays a big part in nominations). I have been asked to give demos of my work in other cities, been invited to visit the cutting rooms of major features and episodic television shows, and been asked to speak to students at the top film school in the world. It took all of these opportunities for me to realize that I am a successful editor. I actually love working on the different types of projects that I cut, I would just like to add some more scripted narrative into the mix. The content that I work on allows me to work family friendly hours, stretch my editing muscles in interesting ways, and cover my finances without issue.
Meeting and speaking to people across the country has shown me how rich in content and variety the editing world is. There are features, documentary, television, web content, corporate, art installations, commercials, trailers, and even weddings. Now when I look at the next step I want to take in my career, I remember what is actually important to me in my own life and I try not to compare my editing path to others.
I am still considering moving into scripted episodic television, but my reasons are different now from when I started my journey. I am still discovering the kind of editing career I need to have in order to live my life happy and fulfilled.
Until next time.