Editing for Others vs. Editing for Ourselves

My assistant editor is learning a valuable lesson in her young career. She’s learning that when she’s video editing for others, it isn’t necessarily about her sense of creative expression. It’s more about what the producer, client, or director wants. This can be extremely difficult for new, passionate video editors.

Video editing, like any other kind of commissioned artwork I’m assuming, has this weird blurred line. Is the end result what the creator (in our case the video editor) wants or is the end result what the commissioner (producer/director/boss/client/etc.) of the piece wants?

Being a Passionate, New Video Editor

When we’re new editors we have this untarnished vision of editing. We want to craft the perfect video. We’ll work all night without whining and we’re proud of what we created. We’re somewhat fragile though. We’re hurt when we go for the murder session and are told change this and that and all these other things. Not hurt too badly, just enough to bring up some emotions under the surface. We thought we listened to the exact instructions we were given and thought we created this video for them exactly how they wanted it with a touch of our creative flare mixed in. And we probably did. Then they changed their mind.

keyboard and mouse with hand on it to symbolize video editing
Editing for others so one day we can edit for ourselves.
Picture by Rayi Christian W on Unsplash

Making Revisions When Editing for Others

So we revise the video. We trim here and there, change the circle to a square (even though the script says circle!) and “fix” whatever other shortcomings there were in their eyes. It feels good now. We watch the video and it’s better. We don’t admit it but yeah, it’s a little better. We’re still ticked that we had to remove that cool effect we spent an hour on but we let it go.

Review time again. What happens? They now want X, Y and Z! These are all new things that have never ever ever ever been mentioned. The deadline is looming and we can’t believe they asked for this.

Late afternoons turn into late nights turn into early mornings and missed lunches. We add in X, Y and Z as quickly as we can and we aren’t proud of it anymore. The video has regressed into a collage of our original video, squares that should be circles and X, Y and Z which were dumb ideas anyway. The deadline hits and the client is moderately happen. They *like* the video. They’ll settle for what we gave them.

And what are we left with? Bad pieces on our demo reels, sleep deprivation/coffee addiction and awkward/tolerable relationships with clients.

That’s what editing for others is. But we edit for others so one day we can edit for ourselves. We edit for others so that we can learn software and have access to the software, hardware and relationships we’ll need to edit for ourselves.

What’s the Alternative to Video Editing for Others?

Editing for ourselves we can make whatever we damn well want. That’s why I work for free sometimes. I can pretty much edit anything I want. It does not pay the bills but it pays the emotional toll that video editing for others took out of me.

I can put some pieces I’m proud of on my demo reel if I had one (that’s for another post). I secretly enjoy the sleep deprivation and coffee addiction. And I can build rock-solid relationships with those that I create my artwork for. That’s why we edit for ourselves.

Video editing for others will slowly make us jaded, curmudgeon editors I’m sure (hey, I’m only 27). I’m pretty jaded and curmudgeon-y now. But I brush off the emotional hits to my ego after rounds of revisions because I know in the end editing for others gets me to edit for myself.

One day editing for myself will pay the bills, I’m sure of that. Today isn’t that day and I don’t mind it. Until then though I’ll keep figuring out what documentary I’m going to make. I’ll make those circles into squares and add in X, Y and Z even if they are pointless. Because deep down, I’m editing for myself.

Did you enjoy this article? If so, I’d love to keep in touch. All you have to do is go here to stay in the loop on new blog posts, tutorials, and announcements.

– Josh

6 thoughts on “Editing for Others vs. Editing for Ourselves”

  1. What are the chances that an editor will someday edit for himself? You are looking to make your own documentaries but what of editors who can only be just that and nothing more. Think: Lee Smith. He will always edit for others and I think he and Christopher Nolan do great work together. Quentin Tarantino and Sally Menke were awesome together too. I feel that you can do amazing work even while editing for others. This might mean finding a director you understand (who also understand you) and voila! And then again one might just need to live with the fact that you will always enjoy some projects more than others. I am an aspiring editor but I have experienced what you are saying in my web devopment work. There’re plenty of projects I am not proud of simply because of the many changes requested by the clients. But I can’t make websites for myself alone. What is the point of developing websites if I can’t do it for anyone besides myself? So again, some projects you will love and some you will hate (or not like so much).

    • Very good points. I don’t work in the TV/Film Industry. The majority of my work are corporate, marketing or training videos. Some work is better, more fun and creative than others. If it was bad 100% of the time I wouldn’t do it. But from my experience a lot of the “editor’s privilege” in these fields is striped out and replaced with political correctness and uninvolved parties having a say at the last minute. I think us non-Hollywood editors have a difference experience when it comes to our creative freedom.


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