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Career question for the very experienced among us

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Kate Perkins
Career question for the very experienced among us
on Mar 4, 2011 at 5:13:15 pm

Hi all,
I've got a few job offers on the table and I would like some career guidance advice from the very experienced among us.

I'm a Final Cut editor and I do some motion graphics in After Effects. I own my own production company, for which I produce an edit, and it's going okay. However I've recently also been looking at full time employment, just to see what the options were.

I had two interviews yesterday. One was with an editors recruiting agency who places editors in network jobs. They told me that my experience land me in the 15/hour digitizing range, and that I'd have to work my way up to assistant editor. I disagree - At my previous job for a large company, I was an editor for online content and I made 30/hour. This was also a 1099 situation, so we're really talking about only 10 an hour with no benefits.

Second interview was with a feature where the production company contacted me and has offered me an assistant editing gig. Catch is it's an "internship", so no pay. The editor is only 2 years older than me and went to the same school so I'm not feeling like I will learn very much, but the director and producer are big name folks and I'd be working directly with them.

Both places told me "this is how you get your foot in the door, this is a great opportunity for you."

So which is it, CC? Obviously both of these options are low balling me, but which one is actually a better opportunity. The first one I'd be losing money each month but would end up with network contacts, the second one I'd make no money but only work a few days a week so I could *hopefully* make cash on the side, though honestly I doubt that will happen. My other concern is that I don't want to be undercutting people. (My own rates for my company are 35 an hour) I prefer to work for free rather that lo pay, because the expectations are different, so that makes me lean toward the feature. But is 15/hour standard for a lower-than-assistant editor job? Are either one of these actually good for my career? OR should I take neither and focus on the production company?

My goal here is two both establish my company, and to also continue my personal career. Your thoughts are appreciated.

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Mark Suszko
Re: Career question for the very experienced among us
on Mar 4, 2011 at 6:05:45 pm

Those rates sound terrible to me either way. Your private company sounds like a better deal, sight-unseen.

I would be tempted to go for the film job as a side endeavor, even with the freebie. The power of working for free is you are free to walk away if it gets crazy, remember.

What I personally would take into consideration is since this is only for a screen credit, the film would have to be important to me in some tangible way. IS it something I really feel strong about as subject matter? Will having some connection to it bring me good things later? Will it allow me to make contacts and network?

"Assistant Editor" sounds like the Cinderella that gets to stay home all night logging bins, formatting and backing-up memory cards and monitoring renders, while the rest of the crew goes out to the Royal Ball and other parties. What opportunities for contacts does THAT really give you? Not much, probably. Janitors get to work in the same building with Peter Guber, after all, but they are not likely to get called in to pitch meetings or screenings. If you want to consider the film project a fun lark, an adventure you can tell stories about later, it may be worth it to try out. But don't let them bamboozle you with tempting stories of potential glamor. If you don't pick a resonable rate and stick to it, you're not going to do any better than jobs where you have to wear a hair net and a plastic name tag. At least most of those jobs get you free lunches.

The lowball network work sounds like stuff you are over-qualified for. There is NETWORK work, and there is *network* work. Two tracks that don't often intersect. Didn't say "never". But it sounds like they are shopping for simple techician cannon-fodder at that level, disposable folks meant to do the simplest of jobs only. Maybe I'm being cynical.

(inspirational MUSIC slowly fades up starting with this line)
You say you want to establish your own company, well, then, DO something using the company. Go make a short, a PSA, a VNR, a doc, something. OWN it. Market it. Do it all. Do not wait for someone to give you a title or give you permission to be what you want to be. Claim your title for yourself. Seize the crown. Film-makers Make Films. Film enthusiasts just dream about doing it. The day you put down some money on the project is the day you can start calling yourself a film maker.

(MUSIC swells)

Go, I give you permission and orders to BE GREAT. You can do anything you want, with enough work and commitment. Did Robert Rodriguez wait around to be made a film maker? Did Tarantino? Did "Big Daddy" Roger Corman? Those guys all have in common that they didn't let budget get in the way of a creative vision. Limitations only served to spark their creativity that much more.
You have stories to tell, go, tell them. This will lead to eventual happiness, and possibly, even success.

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Stephen Smith
Re: Career question for the very experienced among us
on Mar 4, 2011 at 8:59:33 pm

Kate, Mark is giving you some great advice. I could hear the inspirational MUSIC as I read. I think it is all about deciding what you want to do and getting as close as you can to that. When I was starting out I had local news contacts from working at a local station. I decided that that is not what I want to do. I thought about just taking a news editing job to pay the bills until something better came along. I got the advice to only do the type of work you want to do which is production house type work. If I do news then everyone will always see me as a news editor with a reel full of news stories. I instead focused on the job hunt and landed my ideal job and I have been happily cutting away since. Best of luck with your tough decisions.

Stephen Smith
Utah Video Productions

Check out my Motion Training DVD

Check out my Motion Tutorials

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Scott Sheriff
Re: Career question for the very experienced among us
on Mar 4, 2011 at 9:21:07 pm

Mark and Stephen make some great points.

Folks in this business often have to decide if they want to be entrepreneurs, or artiste's. It isn't always possible to be both.
I know that TV/Film/Media is a lot of folks dream job, but in the end it is just that. A job. There are many employers that take advantage of this dream, and the over-saturation of the market to low-ball. You can't really blame them for taking advantage of the market conditions. After all they are running a business.
It's a free market, and everyone should do what is best for themselves, including you.
Unless your a 'trustafarian', and can afford to take a cut in pay, or work for free, I would go with what pays the bills the best.

Scott Sheriff

I have a system, it has stuff in it, and stuff hooked to it. I have a camera, it can record stuff. I read the manuals, and know how to use this stuff and lots of other stuff too.
You should be suitably impressed...

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Angelo Lorenzo
Re: Career question for the very experienced among us
on Mar 8, 2011 at 10:01:43 am

Kate, the others have touched on some good points. Although I'm primarily a cinematographer, I'm also an editor and co-own a production company.

My advice: have a goal and focus your energy towards it. Any other lowball jobs are sustenance and shouldn't stray you from the path for too long. Think about getting a full time job - there are only so many hours in a day, think of how it affects your ability to concentrate on your own production company.

Mark mentioned networking vs "networking". If you can clearly see that taking a freebie job or a lowball will advance your career from credit or contact, take it. Be smart about it and don't let bad deals sap your energy. I've been quite lucky that doing freebies and building my "favor bank" has paid off in spades. I'm 25 now and sure my name doesn't get top billing but I've co-produced stuff for major car companies and I'm pitching tv shows.

I see two extreme things that hinder success as a production company (assuming you have fairly decent business and people skills). First is the amount of people who don't take the jump to develop anything beyond an idea. That initial push will get you through a project. Second is people who are anti-commercialism. Entertainment is a product... your audience is your buyer. Don't be afraid to shoot stuff purely to make money or to do things like product placement, or alternate means of funding.

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grinner hester
Re: Career question for the very experienced among us
on Mar 8, 2011 at 3:30:58 pm

No, 15 an hour is not the norm for an entry level gig. Minimum wage is.
35 an hour? really? Dude this is what is jacking things up for the whole industry. I can't tell you hopw many times I hear something like this when I quote a bid based on 175 an hour. "Well the kid down the street will do it for 35 an hour." in which I reply "cruise down the street then".

as far as salary, decide before hand what you require, ask for 20 percent more then don't bend when they offer 80 percent of what you ask for. Most editors in th U.S. are salaried between 60 and 80 grand a year plus benefits. Most freelancers bill around 60 an hour unless they are on their gear then they double it.

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Mike Cohen
Re: Career question for the very experienced among us
on Mar 9, 2011 at 5:44:50 pm

The big question no one has asked is, "If you own your own production company, how do your average sales compare with your other options?"

$15/hr is entry level pay depending upon where you live. If you are in LA you can earn more making coffee. If you are in Omaha, it may suffice temporarily.

As Grinner has reminded you, if working freelance, or for your own company, charge enough to make a living, not just to get by. Ramen noodles may be yummy and cheap, but that is the salt talking. Charge what you are worth plus enough to pay your overhead and some profit.

What decision to make? Mark, as usual has the right advice. Decide what you value the most - money, experience or opportunity to meet people who can advance your career? Likely it is a combination of those things and not an easy decision to make.

What is often the moral of the story on threads like this is remember to look at the big picture. Charging $30 an hour if you own a good camera and lighting kit and an editing system is peanuts.

Good luck.

Mike Cohen

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