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(Business advice) How long it takes to edit a 52 minute doc

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Edward Harby
(Business advice) How long it takes to edit a 52 minute doc
on Apr 14, 2014 at 11:26:23 pm
Last Edited By Edward Harby on Apr 14, 2014 at 11:27:26 pm

Hey guys,

You all have been very helpful in the technical realm but I need some business advice.

I've never edited a 52 minute doc before and have been asked by a producer to one. He's new as a producer and I'm new as a editor in the sense of something that long (I've been editing 3-8minute stuff since 2009). It's obviously dependent on me for how long it takes, but editing short 3-8 minute projects is a whole different realm.

I'm in the process of getting the contract going and he said he'll do 3,000 for a 3 week edit. My first response is... will it take me three weeks to edit? I think it would take more but naturally I'll always want more time. Right now I'm contract to work as a DIT and I'm sort of outline the doc, creating an edit in my head to speed up the process. I'll also be viewing the footage before the editor's contract comes into play.

I'd love to hear your advice. I've already discussed doing the project as $1,000 a week and go from there, but he's pretty set for a 20% upfront, 30% for a rough, and 50% for a finalized product...

Any advice for contracts help. Financially I'm in in a tight position, but I also don't want to shoot myself in the foot.

Thanks


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Shane Ross
Re: (Business advice) How long it takes to edit a 52 minute doc
on Apr 14, 2014 at 11:42:01 pm

I think that 3 weeks for a 54 min doc is EXTREMELY optimistic. Unless you have very little footage, and it's planned out very well before you start cutting...I'd be doubling that time.

Is there a script? Or do you need to look at the footage and help shape the story?

How much b-roll is there?

How complex is the edit going to be? Long takes, or lots of shots, with some quick cutting? Do you need to deal with the music too?

I cut a 24 min doc on my own...handed footage, handed a direction and told to go. That took me 4 weeks, but I had to watch all of the footage, make selects, break it into specific sections...all that. And this was a very straight forward edit...nothing flashy.

On the flip side, I'm cutting a History Channel show that has 44 min episodes. Scripts handed to me, so I basically take care of the b-roll, music, and pacing. Highly paced, lots of quick cutting and effects. I can get 2 min done a day...after I look at all the b-roll. So 44 min takes approx 22 days or three weeks, JUST for the rough cut. Add in a day or two for footage review and that's 3.5 weeks. And then there's first round notes, as you don't cut things perfectly the first time. So you address those notes, and screen again, and more notes. All in all it's 5 weeks from start to online and delivery...for 44 min.

But I'll leave that one out of the mix and stick with the 24 min one I did. It took me as long for the initial pass of that project, the first or rough cut, for a 24 min project. Half the length of the one you are doing. The last week was addressing notes, and online. And I'm an experienced documentary editor with 12 years of experience editing. For someone new to this, it might take longer.

But the devil is in the details. How complex is the project/edit, is there a script, how much footage do you need to wade through? And then you need to add in time for client revisions. Unless this is a VERY simple documentary, I cannot see how three weeks will be enough time. Unless you work 18 hour days...but then the rule of diminished returns kicks in...your creativity lessens the longer you work.

Shane
Little Frog Post
Read my blog, Little Frog in High Def


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Edward Harby
Re: (Business advice) How long it takes to edit a 52 minute doc
on Apr 15, 2014 at 12:24:28 am

I anticipated this. It's pretty cut and dry stuff but 52 minutes is a long time and they have about 9 shooting days (probably less than 8 hours each). Lots of red flags just with story.

Thanks for the response back.


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David Roth Weiss
Re: (Business advice) How long it takes to edit a 52 minute doc
on Apr 15, 2014 at 1:17:53 am

Hi Edward,

Your question is very similar to, "how much does a car cost." :) There are simply way too many variables for anyone to know the answer, and that includes your would be employer. I've personally cut one 60-minute documentary in under week, while another took 1.5 years.

And, whatever you do, DON'T cut it on a flat rate. If you do, you will have everything to lose and absolutely nothing to gain, and you'll most certainly lose in the end.

Not to mention, there's only one reason he wants to pay you 50% at the end instead of paying you in equal installments - he knows you'll hang in there until the bitter end to get that second half of the dough, and he'll hold that over you forever, long after your obligation is fulfilled. I've seen that played out a thousand times.

If I were you, I'd offer him a deal at $750 per week, but payable every Friday - period, end of story. If he balks, just take a hike. Indentured servitude will ruin any creative endeavor, and not only will you lose oodles of money, you'll have nothing to show for your time, because if you're not happy in you work the project will invariably suck.

I hope this helps...

David Roth Weiss
ProMax Systems
Burbank
DRW@ProMax.com

Sales | Integration | Support

David is a Creative COW contributing editor and a forum host of the Apple Final Cut Pro forum.


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Mark Raudonis
Re: (Business advice) How long it takes to edit a 52 minute doc
on Apr 15, 2014 at 2:19:58 pm

Edward,

First of all, I agree with everything that Shane said. It's AT LEAST double!!! Let's say six weeks.

Here's something else to consider. WHO determines when it's done or locked? Is this project being done for a specific distribution channel or network? Do they have a say in the content? Will there be "external" notes? This is what will stretch out the process unpredictably. Since those kind of notes (and their timing) is out of your control, I would make sure that you are getting paid by the day and that the clock is ALWAYS ticking. In other words: While you're waiting for notes you still get paid!

Many networks write specific times into their contracts regarding how long they have to respond to notes. 48-72 hours is quite common.

In summary: Six to seven weeks MINIMUM for this. Probably more. You get paid by the day, not the project. Otherwise you will be subsidizing the producer/network. Good luck.



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Mark Suszko
Re: (Business advice) How long it takes to edit a 52 minute doc
on Apr 15, 2014 at 2:24:32 pm
Last Edited By Mark Suszko on Apr 15, 2014 at 2:26:34 pm

David is right. If you know your day rate, charge weekly. A flat rate means you are most likely to under-charge and wind up losing money.

As far as estimating, as you see, it is not a simple answer. And it gets more complicated, the less firm of a direction or script or outline you have in advance. You can expect to spend a week to ten days, just logging and ingesting the footage. We don't know your shooting ratio; did they shoot only the bare minimum to tell the story, or did they do many, many alternate takes and angles? The fastest linear edit job I ever did took exactly two times as long as the running length of the finished work to execute, but that was pretty much cuts, only, based on an hour's worth of footage all shot in chronological sequence, with only one take for most of the shots. Famously, ( or rather, infamously, ) on "Apocalypse Now", they were able to agree on one cut per DAY, on most days.

As far as deadlines, if there is is a fixed deadline of three weeks to air, then what happens is, the program is declared "finished" at that deadline, but *how* "finished" it is, you can't say. You can only say: "it is as good and complete as I could make it in the time you allowed me". You have to sort of triage the edit as you go, not wasting a lot of time experimenting with alternate cuts, and concentrate on getting an overall form to it first, leaving more artful coloring, sound design, and music or graphics decisions for later, if there's time left. If you have a real script, you can count the pages and relate them to a calendar, to say: you must be on page N by day Y, mapped out for each day, to get done on time.

And no, this is not generally the best way to make something extraordinary in a doc. When you don't have time to be artful, you have to cut more brutally, in "news package" style.

Check out the Business and marketing forum, if you have further questions - this topic is right up their alley.


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Edward Harby
Re: (Business advice) How long it takes to edit a 52 minute doc
on Apr 16, 2014 at 6:59:44 am

Thanks for the advice guys. Very good responses, I'm sure it helped other people too.


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David Gallessich
Re: (Business advice) How long it takes to edit a 52 minute doc
on Apr 16, 2014 at 10:22:25 pm

Edward:

Mr. Weiss said it really well
"how much does a car cost."

And Mr Suszko had it dead right on this part:

You can expect to spend a week to ten days, just logging and ingesting the footage.


It can easily take several hours just to log one hour of interview or monologue, especially if you really care about the result.

My all-time favorite quote on this is from Mike Nichols, speaking on NPR:
"You can change things in a movie right down to the last minute, because that's what's so great about film and mixing, and you never stop fussing with a movie. And they finally just have to take it away from you, because you're still fixing."


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