Thursday, July 23, 2009
It's easy to lose the ladder as you climb your way up to becoming an editor.
The traditional master / servant role of Editor / Assistant has narrowed, not expanded due to technology facilitating more tasks for the assistant. HD work flows dominate the rooms, man.
What does that mean for an aspiring, up and coming assistant? doom.
It used to be that we relied on the code book and trimming dailies to work the room, now the path to becoming an editor with the big leagues is plagued with getting sucked into assistant mode, permanently or even years can take until you become a picture editor.
And becoming a picture editor is far out of reach if you go the assistant route. You may learn valuable lessons on how to structure an edit and all the technological issues one must master, but it won't teach you how to cut. Learning how to cut requires actually doing, not observing, cutting.
In Cut To The Chase, the greatest book on editing I've ever read, legendary film editor Sam O Steen (Chinatown, The Graduate, ect) recalls that he spent 11 years paying his dues as an assistant, but by the time he got to edit a feature he'd doctored so many that his peers at Warner Bros had to vouche for him to get in the union. He was under contract to Jack Warner, who notoriously kept editors on a leash on the studio system.
Yes the path is long, but the road is longer. Assistant editor duties have evolved throughout the years to a point of a less creative and more managerial position, more demanding and more technical then before. Most will contest that they will want to cut picture at some part of their lives, and if their mentors will get them in that could happen. Tv in particular has a good system to enter the gates, but like most things in life things happen random, and by force of will do your goals ever get met.
I do not believe in unions, and I do not believe anyone will give you a break. That break must happen by your own doing, pushing and shoving until it happens. Why would anyone spend 6-12 years of their life assisting other people when there is a path to cutting that only experience will teach? sorry but that gap will get wider between editor / assistant.
Jeff Buchanan, editor of Gondry's Be Kind Rewind, became a feature editor after cutting documentaries and bypassed the assistant route. Now the edit in that movie is debateable, but point is some people by association get their lucky break. And that's all that's needed.
As for me, I've done the assistant thing. But later in life, as I learned how to cut alone and by doing. The ratio of getting paid by it vs working for free is uneven thus far, but fortunes are about to change. Once you arrive at a place were you feel your skills are good, that you have developed a methodology, then you gotta have work that shows it. I do not know what people look at when they hire editors, because most people who hire them ARE NOT editors. That's why you see so many idiots running the asylum.
Lesson learned? don't forget your goals, and continue cutting. Anything that moves.