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How do I go from PrEditor to Video Department?

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Matthew Laurence
How do I go from PrEditor to Video Department?
on Jul 14, 2011 at 1:51:50 pm

I am the sole Video Guy at my small-but-growing company, and as we put more and more emphasis on video that we produce in-house I am finding that I need to start thinking more like a department and less like a loose-cannon-interactive-multimedia-designer-turned-video-geek.

I need to implement processes and documentation, try to secure a budget in each project scope (rather than scraping bits from other budgets), round out our equipment and software to maximize what we have and can justify, start to identify myself as a department and make that acceptable to the rest of the company, and generally prepare for the day when I go from Video Guy to Video Department, and possibly need to bring in additional people to make it all happen.

Does anyone have any advice or resources on how to do this? Even anecdotes about how you or your company did the same kind of thing, what I should and shouldn't consider doing, tips, strategies, pitfalls, things I might not have even considered?

Thanks very much for your advice!

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walter biscardi
Re: How do I go from PrEditor to Video Department?
on Jul 14, 2011 at 2:02:30 pm

I've got a three part series on Starting and Running your own business which might have some tips in there that could help as much of what I talk about can also apply to an internal video department. It's really about getting organized so someone else can step right in and complete a project using your workflow requirements.

I also did a follow-up article on "Small Steps to Success"

The biggest thing is to know your limits and when do you need to ask for / bring in help. Getting overwhelmed as the Video Department is one of the biggest things that I see. Projects don't get done, animosity builds and it's not good for everybody involved.

Walter Biscardi, Jr.
Editor, Colorist, Director, Writer, Consultant, Author, Chef.
HD Post and Production
Biscardi Creative Media

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Marv Marvin
Re: How do I go from PrEditor to Video Department?
on Jul 14, 2011 at 2:49:17 pm

I would just take the advice from the all-knowing Tom Sefton and instead of trying to figure it out yourself with the help from fellow Cow members, just pay someone who knows what they are doing.

I apologize for the sarcasm, but that was quite possibly the most arrogant post I’ve seen lately and had to take a final shot at Mr. Sefton for his arrogance.

Best of luck Matthew in figuring this situation of yours out. I’m interested in what advice people come up with, as I’m in a similar position within my company.

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Mark Suszko
Re: How do I go from PrEditor to Video Department?
on Jul 14, 2011 at 5:08:07 pm

This is a little different situation fromt he more usual question about creating a company. While Walter's advice is always good and worth reading, there will be a few differences since this is about carving out a formal department within an existing organization, rather than entrepreneurial stuff.

My opinion FWIW is that step one has to be getting your management to "buy-in" to the idea of formalizing you as a department, and formally announcing it to the establishd food chain. Without that first step to establish your legitimacy, you are not going to get very far before you step on somebody's toes, since you are not a recognized box on the org chart. Right now you are probably gettting away with operating under the wing of each "client" in the company based on where that client sits in the org chart, on a case-by-case basis. This will not do for long-term operation, the money and the authority relationahips get easily tangled.

So before you get much further, I would opine that you need to strategize about the meeting you're going to have to pitch the boss on formalizing this relationship.

Within that pitch, you'll have to cover :

Status in the food chain, who you report to, you you DON'T have to report to, and who (if anyone) reports to you.

How work is assigned or taken on, what the priorities will be, and what the process is when a conflict develops.

How much work will be done by you, with existing resources, and what things make sense to pick up the phone and rent or book.

What standards will be used to monitor the work to show that what you do profits the company and is successful.

What kind of budget will be allocated and how. What purchasing and expense authority you have, and who approves those expenses.

For the first year, I would suggest a revolving fund setup, essentially you're working with poker ships or "play money" in an account, and the client departments using your services are allocated or budgeted a specific amount of this "monopoly money" as a way to control access and expenses. This prevents one department from monopolizing all your time to the detriment of others. When they run out of hours or credits or whatever the score-keeping measure is, they go to the end of the que and let others have a chance. If someone wants more, they don't bother you - they have to go to their superiors to get more of the credits or hours or play money authorized.

What you want is to define clearly the areas of authority and responsibility. If you only have one of the two, by itself, you will not be a happy guy.

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Tom Sefton
Re: How do I go from PrEditor to Video Department?
on Jul 14, 2011 at 5:39:31 pm

Hi again Andrea/Marv. How is the weather in Seattle?

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Mark Suszko
Re: How do I go from PrEditor to Video Department?
on Jul 14, 2011 at 5:51:06 pm

Tom, please just let it go now. I think you've made your point.

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Tom Sefton
Re: How do I go from PrEditor to Video Department?
on Jul 14, 2011 at 6:28:01 pm

Mark, I've been openly bad mouthed for being arrogant on here and i can't make a point about someone starting up a new account to do it?

Fine, point made, issue dropped.

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Matthew Laurence
Re: How do I go from PrEditor to Video Department?
on Jul 15, 2011 at 2:22:58 pm


Wow, looks like I got caught in the crossfire of a forum battle that has hopped across topic lines...

FIRST of all, let me thank everyone who has contributed thoughts and ideas to this thread, it's been very instructive so far, both to figure out what I need to do, and to realize what I am already doing right (and sometimes wrong).

Now... Marv/Andrea, I will agree that Tom/Tom's post in that other thread came off kind of arrogant and dismissive. However, I agree with Tom overall point that it's a pretty typically client-thoughtless for someone to come to a pro video forum and ask people who make a living at it to give them a quick tutorial so they can cut the real pros out of the loop. I understand that companies are all about cost cutting and multi-purposing right now, and I think Tom could probably have worded his reply in a more constructive way. But when people want a professional job done, they should use the pros, not directly ask the pros how to do an end run around them.

However, that person DID get constructive ideas from other members of the group, and I actually think having some curmudgeonly voices in the chain can be useful at times. While Tom's reply was a little flippant, I thought it was pretty restrained compared to some of the flames I've seen about similar issues, and it did make his point pretty succinctly.

Now, since this is NOT that same thread, let me just clear up that - while I am probably not at the level of video-related skills as many of the people on this forum - I AM a professional in the field, by dint of the fact that this is what I have been tasked with doing for my company. I actually did have training in it, albeit 20 years ago in college and then several years of volunteer work at a local cable access company (could never turn a buck at it, though, so I fell back on my geeky computer hobby, and that worked out pretty well). I am also trying pretty hard to get myself back up to speed and educate myself: I've been to NAB Post Production World for the last two years, I tutorialize myself and read articles and observe other people's videos whenever I have some down time at work, and I am improving simply because I am using After Effects and Premiere and my little Canon HFS10 and Lowel lighting kit pretty much every day in some combination. You should see the stuff I did a couple of years ago compared to now.

I know that to a certain extent, someone in my position (multimedia/web designer-developer turned video guy) is only a few steps ahead of that client who wants to do it him- or herself. It's part of that same cost-cutting and expense consolidation. But one of the reasons I was hired into this job was that they knew they wanted to move more in this direction, and I did have existing experience that could be grown as the needs grew. No one else on the team did; when they first got their camera and lights, they blew out the fuses in half the office due to bad power planning, and even then their videos were badly lit with harsh shadows (and not for effect).

But by the same token, for much of the work my company does, they don't need - and increasingly can't afford - to pay $100k to a 10-person crew to do a shoot that will only end up as a 640x360 web video in a lesson.

Don't get me wrong - you often get what you pay for, and we still DO hire those teams when the timeline, complexity or workload call for it. We work with an amazing crew out of NY called JetPak Productions who do a reliably excellent job and give us superb final products that would look great on the big screen. Every single member of that team is presumably far better at what they do than I am.

Part of my learning process has been to go on shoots with them (my post productions skills far outstrip my actual field production knowledge), to see how they audition and interview people; to watch how their gaffers set up lights; how their director gets the most out of his actors; how they simulate multi-camera shots with a single camera and keep consistency; to watch the sound guy and see how he's got his mics balanced in the mixer, how he holds his boom, how he runs everything to best capture dual-system audio at a high quality.

This is all stuff that any apprentice or intern would be doing and watching as they built their skills to go out into the world and do it themselves, eventually probably taking work from the very crew they worked for; that's just part of the free-market system. Which has its distinct problems, to be sure, but that type of relationship has been in place since at least feudal times. I just happen to be getting a paycheck as an interactive designer AND video guy as I get this training, for which I count myself amazingly fortunate.

I will never - in this job at least - get to the level of ability of someone in the industry who is dedicated to their one area of skill, who hones that ability to the level of true artistry rather than just a proficiency. I need, by necessity, to try and learn all of it at once. But as my skills build and I try to fill in all the gaps, I also need to be thinking forward to the time when I will, with luck and work, be managing this department, and when I can think bigger picture and bring in people who ARE artists in their craft: a real DP, someone who actually knows lighting design, someone who can prep and hold a boom properly to avoid dialogue dropouts and handling noise (unlike the poor sops I have to deputize on the fly). I'll probably try to keep the post-production work for myself, since that's what I enjoy most and do best so far. But the business end of running a video department is still new to me, and that's why I came to the professionals.

Which brings us to the original point of this thread, and this email. I appreciate all the feedback and information so far, and I hope to see even more as the days go by.

Thank you all!


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grinner hester
Re: How do I go from PrEditor to Video Department?
on Jul 15, 2011 at 12:01:50 am

Sounds like you already are the video dept., man. Step up and make it rock.

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Sam Cornelis
Re: How do I go from PrEditor to Video Department?
on Jul 15, 2011 at 10:09:59 am

If have worked a longtime in a department that was a little like a small company within a larger organization. We were employees, but we acted like we were entrepreneurs. This is my experience:

  • Organize everything that can be organized: create as much templates as possible. Templates for title sequences, animations and even have an empty folder structure ready. When you or some else starts a new project, you can copy this empty folder structure, fill in new names and just start. This way it will also be easy to find your way in older projects.

  • Measure everything: keep a detailed track of your working hours. We do this with an automated Excel document. This way it is easy to spot how much time it takes to create titles, to make the rough cut etc ... . You don't need many projects to see a repeating pattern, which is a great help when defining budgets for a new project.

  • These two things: organizing projects and analyze them afterwards will speed up your production time and it will give your department a professional look. If you can say to the other departments "Creating a video for this project will cost you X, and it will be finished by date Y", they will take you seriously as a department. Numbers are the only argument that really convince managers.

    I remember that we were working for more than half a year on too many projects at the same time, which we could never finish. Every meeting we reported to our management team that there was too much work, that we couldn't get it done etc etc. Nothing changed. Until someone gave me a tip: put it in numbers. I started counting every open project, how many hours it would take to accomplish everything on our agenda. Subtracted the available hours for the next year. I ended with 400 (!) working days too short. In other words, there was more than enough work to hire 1 full-time person. Decision was made in 15 mins after seeing this number. Lesson: numbers convince managers, complaining doesn't.

    Having an organized workflow, means that you can investigate where you need extra help, and another person can step in to work with you. Working together when you are used to work alone is not an easy switch to make - believe me. Most important: accept that someone else may have a different view or approach. Just as long as it fits in the structured workflow, this different view is a good thing - swallow your pride for the purpose of a good project.

    A last thing: I don't know how big your company is - but if you are a department in a larger organization, you have to take care of your internal marketing as well. Have clear communications about the progress of the projects - treat the other departments as customers. Stick to your deadlines, so that others don't get into troubles because you are late. If something did happen so you can't make it in time - let them know as soon as you know. Clear communications, you know.
    Internal marketing also means that other departments have to know that you are organized and have to follow a schedule. This means that they can't jump in and ask something to do right now. (of course, you have to do it when something is really really really really really urgent).

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    Matthew Laurence
    Re: How do I go from PrEditor to Video Department?
    on Jul 18, 2011 at 4:04:07 pm

    After all of this discussion, here's another related question for y'all:

    What should this position be CALLED? It will likely entail oversight of all things video, but also possibly Flash and other multimedia productions. It will also still be a solo role at first, so "manager" might not be exactly the right title. Oh, and here it needs to have the word "Principal" in it. So - here are some thoughts I'd had so far:

    Principal Audio/Video Supervisor (or Producer, or Specialist)
    Principal Multimedia Designer (or Supervisor, or Specialist)
    Principal PrEditor (I like this one, but we'll see if it passes corporate muster)
    Principal Video Guy
    Principal A/V Generalist

    Any other ideas? Serious or farcical, doesn't matter to me, but a few real ones would be good. Thanks!


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    Mark Suszko
    Re: How do I go from PrEditor to Video Department?
    on Jul 18, 2011 at 11:07:19 pm

    I can tell you I absolutely loathe the moniker "preditor", and I hope it dies. It was some doofus hipster thing. You may think it sounds precious, I think it sounds both unprofessional and unintelligible to the people who want to use our communications services. "Principal Media Specialist" more than covers everything, and you don't need to fill up the back of your business cards with explanations for what the title is supposed to mean.

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