Finding and Using Contract Video Editors

ron editing
If I could just clone myself, life would be so much easier. (Note: this is an old photo, I now edit in FCPX.)

I learned a long time ago in this business that if I wanted to grow, I need to be able to scale my operation (i.e. put systems in place for it to take on more business without me having to do all the work). My company is a small, family-run operation, so just about all the additional help I utilize are contractors. I’ve put systems in place where I don’t personally have to shoot every project. I’m currently based in Seattle, but have clients in Atlanta, GA as well as Silicon Valley and San Francisco, CA. For larger projects, clients will budget to fly me out to their respective locations. But for my smaller jobs in these cities, I use local contractors I have come to trust. They then send me the footage on a thumb drive or small hard drive where I work my editing magic.

I have found in my experience that finding strong competent shooters is much easier than finding editors. It’s not that there aren’t a lot of talented editors, it’s finding editors that can edit in a style commiserate with the brand you’ve created. So here are steps and recommendations in finding and using contract editors.

Protect Your Brand

There are many aspects of a video production company that makes up their brand. As the barriers to entry become smaller and smaller (i.e. cameras getting cheaper, technology getting more powerful, etc.) video is becoming more commoditized and it therefore becomes diametrically more complicated to set oneself apart. As a video production professional, there are only two key things that really can set you apart: your ideas and YOU. (If you’re a larger agency, the “YOU” is the collective experience clients have when dealing with all of your employees).

Your ideas include not only the concepts you come up with to propose to your clients (regardless of whether your shoot weddings or corporate work), but it also includes how you edit that work. The ideas you come up with combining visuals with audio; how you color grade; the music you select; etc. In essence, it’s your signature style. If you’ve created one, then clients are most likely hiring you because they want that style.

So an imperative step in finding contracted video editors is determining they have the skills to edit in your style. They don’t already have to be editing in your style, but you need to see something in your work that suggests they can edit in your style.

Find the Talent

FCPX Facebook Group
NLE-related Facebook groups is a great resource for finding talent.

So where do you find this talent? That’s a good question, and no doubt the hardest part of the process. I’ve been blessed to generate a decent sized following of visual artists via this blog, my book, podcasts, writing for the industry as well as various speaking and teaching engagements at national expos and seminars. That has significantly made it easier for me to find great talent just shooting out a Tweet, a Facebook post, or blog post. But, I didn’t always have that network, and I suspect many of you don’t. But fear not, because there are many other ways to find great talent:

  • Get involved with a local association
  • Join any number of Facebook groups, be active in those groups, and give back as much (or more) than you take
  • Get connected with other editors via LinkedIn
  • Hire local film students and train them
  • Reach out to filmmakers you find on sites like Vimeo.com. Don’t be shy. You may idolize a particular artist on Vimeo and think (why would he/she ever bother with me), but you’d be surprised. Most of them are just like you, trying to make a dollar doing what they love. Many of them would welcome additional work you may bring them.
  • If you do happen to have grown a significant following, use it.

Cover Your A$$

I hope by now you understand the importance of a contract. I CAN NOT express to you how important it is to put everything in writing. I typically use a blanket contractor agreement that lasts for a year and covers both shooting and editing. I make it clear in my agreements that all work produced is owned by my company, Dare Dreamer Media, and/or my clients. That includes all project files created. My contracts stipulate that contracted editors cannot use videos they’ve edited for me in their own reels unless written permission is given. For the record, I know this can be a provocative subject. On one hand, I want to support fellow creatives in their endeavors to thrive, and if you make your living as an editor, you obviously need to be able to show the work you’ve done. On the other hand, the whole reason I’m paying someone is to do work for my company and my clients, and said projects are going to be on my portfolio. (I remember early in my career in this business having to explain to a potential client why a video on my portfolio has the exact same footage as video on an other videographer’s website. I had hired that videographer to shoot a gig for me, and they re-edited the footage for their own portfolio).

There are a number of ways you can approach this:

  • Pay a slightly higher rate for exclusivity (i.e. they can never use that footage or edited work)
  • Allow them to include the work on their portfolio so long as they use YOUR video embed code (e.g. the code from your Vimeo account, not from the video they upload to theirs) and they stipulate it was done on behalf of your studio.
  • Work with editors who specifically only do contract editing work, as opposed to running their own studio. In essence, their clients will always be other studios, as opposed to other companies or brides that could also be your clients.

Bottomline: it’s your client, your work and you’re paying an editor to do a job.

Create a Workflow and Editing Guide

Last but not least, create a workflow and editing guide for your contractors to follow. You want to ensure that when they give you any project files that those files are set up in a way that will make it easy for you to navigate and make changes should you need to. When I did weddings, I had a multi-page PDF that explained everything from the concepts behind “why” we editing things they way we did, to how to name media, folders, and even how to set up the Final Cut Pro bins. If the editor you choose uses a different NLE than you do, make sure that in addition to the project files, they also export an XML file to make it easy to import into your NLE.

Remember, if you’re in this business to make  living, treat it like a business. Be smart. Protect your brand. Use people you trust.