I recently worked on a freelance project for a friend who lives in Hong Kong. Tony started his own film production company a few years ago and since then has worked with many non-profits around the world. He invited me to assistant with subtitles and color grade his latest documentary and to cut the trailer together.
We just completed the project and I asked him for an interview to discuss the different things he learned and to give some insight on being a freelance filmmaker.
It’s always cool to meet other editors around the world, even more exciting to see them succeed. I met Harold a few years ago when he left a comment on my blog. Since then I watched his instagram feed fill up with awesome jobs. I couldn’t help but notice and wonder how he got to where he was. When I asked him for an interview he said, “Me? I’m just an editor.” And of course I went into a “we change the world” speech. haha I asked him if he could answer 7 questions.
1. How did you become an editor?
It was definitively not something I planned, but now that I think of it, it wasn’t a surprising choice. My Dad has worked all of his adult life in television stations back in my native Dominican Republic, and me and my brothers basically grew up roaming around where ever he worked. First he was a camera man, and for the better part of the last 25 years, he’s in the control room during live broadcasts. Pretty much I had always been attracted to the idea of working in a TV station, but it wasn’t until my third editing class using Final Cut Pro (First one was cutting 16mm, and the second one was using tape to tape) where I saw it as something attainable. I took an Avid class in my senior year of college, and was lucky enough to land a gig cutting 15 second promos at a station called Metro TV in NYC in the early 2000’s. I guess becoming an Editor wasn’t a crazy achievement, but keeping at it has really been the challenge.
2. What kinda projects do you work on?
I do mostly short form programming: Magazine style shows, Field packages, and lately, News. It’s been a really weird few years trying to figure out what kind of programming I like doing, and in between reality tv, scripted dramas and news programming, I have felt in love with doing small feature pieces for a few of my current employers. I’ve been lucky enough to have been able to jump from one genre to another from project to project…but for the better part of the last few years, I have been doing news/short documentary type of projects.
3. How did you land your current editor position?
I don’t have a position, or a 9-5 job if that’s what you are asking. I freelance for a few networks (ABC, CBS, and FUSE right now) and production houses in New York City…and pretty much, for the better part of the last few years, I have been working non-stop. The current nature of the industry, at least in New York, calls for people to freelance as staff positions are really scarce. I’ve managed to get my name in the roster in a few places and have kept busy that way. It’s fun, in the sense that from one week to the next I could be in one place, and then another. I have learned about myself that I don’t really like a fixed structure when it comes to my professional life, and I have somehow managed to keep things interesting at least in the sense of working for several people.
4. Can you share some editing tricks that you’ve mastered along the way?
I really don’t know of any tricks I could share that haven’t been shared yet somewhere in the internet yet. One thing, though, and I guess I might be the only editor I know who’s really crazy about this: I collect presets for effects on Avid. I have bins, and bins of effects that I have either created, or “borrowed” from places I have worked on. It’s very rare that I start an effect from scratch these days, but rather I would start with a preset and go from there. It has really helped in terms of me being a faster editor in certain situations, but it mostly controls my obsessive compulsive disorder to leak into other parts of my life – as I am always organizing such bins, and tweaking effects with ideas that pop in my head.
5. What type of dedication does it take to complete a successful project?
Lots of focus is the answer. I’ve been in situations where I am the guy cutting a 30 second promo and have over 4 hours of footage, and the director is right there next to me trying to work in as many shots as possible, and literally screaming when I tell him I don’t want certain shot, and he makes me work it in because it took over 20 minutes to get that setup just right on the field. I’ve also been the editor putting a piece on a plane that crashed just an hour before the 6pm broadcast, and we have to make that piece go on air, because that’s the news, and people need to know – and 15 minutes before air, there’s no script, let alone all the elements which are still being fed by our nearest affiliate. Then magically, at 6pm, your piece is done and you are playing it to broadcast straight from your Avid, because there was no time to send it to the server, and you can’t recall how you did it. So, I guess lots of focus is the answer, whatever the occasion…a little bit of sense of humor also helps too.
6. What have you learned from working with others on important jobs?
I’ve learned to get along with people mostly 🙂 – I heard somewhere, that editors are sly politicians and I have taken that to the heart. I also heard that we editors are just like bartenders, and also implement that train of thought in the way I handle myself at work. As far as important jobs…I see every job as important; Being freelance in a city where just about everybody is an editor demands that I do the best I can – or at least try! – every single time.
7. What have you learned about life from peoples editing stories?
That there’s so much going on outside the edit room. I’ve worked crazy hours for the past few years, full months at a time without a day off recently, and work has sort of become my window to the world. Sometimes it’s really crazy what I am watching while I am working on it, and sometimes it’s really beautiful. I really love what I do, and I don’t see it as work…hence working 7 days a week doesn’t bother me. I am slowly, but surely, trying to get out there a little more and trying to take a crack at what most people call a normal life…but like everything I’ve done so far in my life, it’s a slow process.
When I meet new people usually I am the first editor they ever met. I often have to clarify I am a video editor and not an editor for writers. I find it fascinating that years later they have become video editors too. Because I am the first they ever met working in the profession, I often receive calls in the middle of the night with emergency editing issues. I’ve even met new editors here on my blog through email with not just technical questions but about becoming an editor.
The conversation usually end up going deeper than editing. We talk about freelancing, self confidences and how to deal with current work situations. My heart goes out to them when I hear about their client who is paying them very little. When working freelance we have to use our best judgement but even more important we have to learn how to talk business with confidence. Over the years dealing with all types of people for all different types of projects, I’ve gotten better at making deals where everyone leaves happy.
Communication upfront is KEY! Making the price clear, how payments will be made, due date, final format and vision. So many problems come up when things aren’t clear.
Know your worth – Before you are caught off guard with someone asking you how much you charge, know their expectations. Ask questions about the person’s budget to see what you can give them for what they want to pay. Work out the amount of hours something takes and add some padding. Usually a project will take longer than you think. Under bidding is the worse, so try to over estimate how long it will take. Ask if you can talk at a later time when you have a better idea on what you might charge.
When Free is okay – There is a time and place to do free work. Its usually when you are still a “student”. You should no longer be free after two years of editing. There is always a ton of free work out there! Its the paid jobs that you want. Once someone has you for free, they will tell their friends and family you are happy to do work for them for nothing. Watch your editing reputation. I often hear people say, “She’s good but expensive”. If you want your project done well and on time, I am your girl and yes it will cost you.
Put it in writing! – I once heard, if its not in writing it didn’t happen. Write contracts to cover your back. Send invoices with details of what the clients are paying for and receiving. Include text about extra cost for revisions, etc. Keep in mind of duplicating, dvd’s, and even hard drive space. It all depends how big your project will be.
Make sure they have money – If you have a feeling a client doesn’t have much money, don’t risk doing business with them. I once did a job where I over heard a conversation that things were tight. I should have asked if the project was something they could afford. I completed the project and never got paid. The client said he wasn’t happy with it and not willing to do revisions to fix things. I didn’t have anything in writing, I was too shy to talk business and I wasted my time and effort.
Beware of the difficult cheap client – There will always be that client that is very picky and cheap. Do business with them at your risk but know this person will try to get the most out of you for very little money in return. If you pick up that the client is going to be difficult, over bid the job to turn them off. If they are willing to pay, well then maybe it will be worth it after all.
Deal with the issues and move on – If you are freelancing your client may want more and more. If you failed on your end to communicate extra cost of additions, take the bullet, make the change and fix the issues and move on. Don’t bother fighting it. If the client isn’t happy at the end, they’re not gonna wanna pay you.
Test your final product – If its a DVD, see if it plays on your player. Watch your final product. Don’t be lazy to fix your audio or jump cuts. Have someone else read your text to check your spelling.
Try to remain a good relationship with your client – You want them to refer you to others and hire you for more work in the future. The customer isn’t always right but let them think they are. Make them happy.
No matter what you’ll always have some freelance issue. If you learn how to do the business part well then you can focus on the creative part of the project.
Freelancing is differently a skill. What have you learned over the years?
As someone who gets paid to be creative, I take inspiration seriously. If I am not inspired, it will show in my work.
To me inspiration isn’t a moment but its a mood. I have to be in the inspiration mood in order to keep on creating.
Here is a list of inspiration killers; things to stay away from if working on a project. Though some of these items can sometimes inspire, most of the time it affects the creative groove.
-Social Media- There are time when I feel that burst of inspiration and get on my computer, ready to write a blog or do some editing but first, I decide to check my Facebook. I suddenly start thinking about what my friend in third grade did that weekend, or what my aunt up north is thinking. Reading everyone’s thoughts causes me to lose my own. I then sit at my blank canvas and realize.. my inspiration has been lost.
-Stress- Maybe this is a given, but having a peaceful mind keeps the inspiration flowing. I can’t think about bills, things on my to-do-list, politics, and especially personal life drama. I use to think that heart break was the queen of inspiration but all it does is cause depressing work… I have to be at peace with the world to focus on creativity. What is in the heart will show up in your work.
-Empathetic- You gotta care what you are working on. If you don’t neither will anyone elses.
-Procrastination- When I have a project that is due in two hours, I’m not feeling inspiration I’m feeling the deadline. My desire to make the best video ever has now just turned in to getting it down NOW. When I wait for the last minute to work on a project, the project starts to feel like a huge weight on my shoulders- killing inspiration. I no longer have time to try new ideas or fine tune my writing. I wasted that time procrastinating. Don’t wait for last-minute, give your self time to be creative.
-Messy Space- Those who works with me know that I am all about having the office clean. If I am looking at a blank time line and a dirty office, I will most likely clean before I start editing. A clean space allows you to focus on your work and not the mess on the floor.
-Lack of Sleep- You don’t want to create you want to sleep! Your brain needs time to recharge.
-Interruptions- Random interruptions are like stop lights. Get in a place where people won’t bother you. I don’t know how people go to coffee shops to work, I get distracted by the blender, the woman on the phone, the couple in the corner giggling or the door opening and closing. When its time to work, I gotta get in a quiet place. Closing the door can be the best thing for you.
-Lighting- Restaurants have figured this out, lighting sets the mood. For years my office use to have those ugly fluorescent lights. It use to make me feel like a work rat. I brought a desk lamp, turned off my office lights and set the mood. When the creative office was remodeled our boss put in track lighting for us.
-Looking too much at others work- Growing up a great piece of advice I learned as a girl was, “don’t look at beauty magazine, they will only make you feel ugly.” Looking too much at others work may cause you to lose your own ideas or worse, you may start to feel inadequate to create. Your greatest ideas will come from within.
-The burn out- If you are doing too much, then your cup will run dry. As someone who freelance, sometimes saying no can be the best thing for me. Be a good steward of your creativity.
-Junk Food- The days where I eat healthy I am attentive to my work. Because I feel good, I want to create something that will “change the world.” But when I eat junk food, I return to work wanting to sleep. I also feel guilty for eating bad which makes me feel fat and ugly. I once interviewed an 80-year-old woman and asked her to give some advice, she told me the brain stays sharp when you eat right.
Working for Free- This one is the monster of inspiration killer. In the beginning days, expect to do work for free, you are getting paid in experience but there comes a point when your creativity/work becomes valuable.
When its for your growth, its call investing in your creativity but when someone ask you to do something they know you can do and expect it for free – its called being used. When you agree to do work for no pay and you know you aren’t getting a dime for it – not even 20 bucks- the job becomes a burden. Suddenly you don’t feel like going the extra mile to make the project great and rightly so, you aren’t getting paid, why should you?
When I know I am getting paid WELL for work, I feel valued and my work reflects that.
We’ve all been in that place where it seems like we are all out of ideas. Look at the elements of your life and see if there is anything currently killing your inspiration. Maybe its as simple as your lighting.