Advice for Pursuing a Full-Time Video Editing/Post Production Career?
My name is Matt, and I'm a freelance video editor and motion graphics designer. I know this question has been asked numerous times before, but I'm hoping to acquire advice for my specific scenario.
First of all, I'm currently 16 and I'm planning on moving to Los Angeles shortly after I turn 18 in the summer of 2017. My mind has been made up for awhile now, and I've been saving as much money, and building as much experience as I can before the time comes for me to move. I'm also homeschooled, which allows me to have a lot more free time, and opportunities that other kids my age don't.
I started my freelance career in July of this year (2015) and despite starting out slow, business has really picked up! I'm now making over $1000 per month working between 15-30 hours a week. Recently, I've started producing three videos per week for the YouTube channel "Wacky Wednesday" which has over 1.2 Million subscribers!
Now that you know a bit about myself, I would really appreciate any and all advice from people in the industry.
What should I be working to improve?
Is there anything specific I should be learning or focusing my time on?
Once I finish school, how should I go about finding my first job in LA?
No matter what, I will be moving to Los Angeles in 2017. I'm working very hard to build as much experience as I can for when that time comes. And, I'm also saving as much money as I can, since I know I'll need a hefty savings once I move. I already have over $5,000 saved, and I'm continuing to save at least half of everything I make.
Thank you for your time, and I will greatly appreciate all advice given.
I think it's really great you're working on stuff that is building your skill set AND paying you and you're only 16. I came around to post production as my career when I was 15/16 as well. Even though it was only 15 years ago, I didn't have the same access to resources and jobs as you do now. The fact you're taking advantage of it and building it into a actionable plan is a really great start. You're kind of already ahead of a lot of young people that post on this forum asking for advice.
My opening advice for you is to take all the advice you get lightly. I'm fighting the urge to definitively say "I've been where you are so recently, so here's what I know" when the truth is that 15 years in this industry is a huge gap in experiences. And I think I'm on the younger side of working professionals on this site. Keep in mind that everyone's path is different. You'll get a lot of advice and attitude that has no place in your life right now because it's only applicable to a very different time, but the advice and attitude haver won't realize it. There's a lot of universal and eternal platitudes, but consider everything you're told carefully instead of accepting it all as The Truth. That would be overwhelming.
Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, my next bit of advice to you would be "please relax". If your timeline doesn't fit your needs when August 2017 comes around, don't force it. If you feel an inkling toward something else, explore it. Don't feel like you have to follow every single step of a plan you made when you were 16 because things change rapidly. Give yourself some breathing room to enjoy the journey.
Now, more practical advice and direct answers.
What should I be working to improve?
Do you know what your specific goal is? You want to be an editor? Of what kind of stuff? What's your most ideal situation? Once you have that in mind, you work backwards to what you need to improve. Practically speaking, you need to know Avid Media Composer. If you learn as much as you can about media management and workflow in general, you'll be doing yourself a huge favor. By the time you're entering a job here, things could be different -- but probably not all that different. People will be using Avid. TV and film will probably be using offline/online workflows. The resolutions will be bigger, but the concepts are the same. Stay up to date with changing technology.
Here's the much more important thing though: you need to be a good person and you need to know people. So keep reading sites like the COW and learning practical tech skills. But learn how to network, find groups or events where you can meet people, and start cultivating real relationships with people. Have an online presence too. I've met so many people through FB groups, Twitter, and this site.
Is there anything specific I should be learning or focusing my time on?
Again, learning how to meet people. Which sounds ridiculous, I know. But the difference between coming to LA and getting a job or not is who you know. I can't tell you how many people I have interacted with in LA that aren't really top notch but work on really cool stuff. It's because they know how to network and people like them. The "it's not what you know, it's who you know" thing is totally true. You have to have the skills to keep up once you're in the door, but more often you get in the door because a person says "hey, remember that one kid?"
Once I finish school, how should I go about finding my first job in LA?
Are you doing college in LA, or do you mean after high school? Either way, you should be making connections and looking for gigs long before you're done with school. Being a young person, you can easily make a connection with someone at a company and ask for a job shadow or informational interview to learn more about what they do, then once you see how things work for them, you can pass along your resume. That's a win-win for you. People are really busy in post production, but they're also really giving whenever they have the time. (If you do college here, you should be working while you're in school. Internships and stuff.)
Where are you moving from? Have you visited LA before? Do you know what it's like? Do you know anyone here? Are you able to visit a week or so here before you move, to meet people and having coffee and make face to face connections? Even if you aren't moving for a year or two, starting now is the key.
Also, you need to keep in mind that even though you've been doing actual work and you probably know a lot, if you don't have any professional experience and you're 18 years old, you're probably going to have to work from the bottom. If you're good, you will move up fast. But don't be above production assistant work. You'll get people coffee. You'll clean. It'll suck. But you meet people and they take you with them. Take a step back and learn from people. If you have an opportunity to take an unpaid or low paid internship somewhere amazing and you have the resources, go for it.
You should figure out what exactly you want to do as of right now and find people who are doing that, and talk to them. Your path will be really different, but by talking to them you'll see that that's normal. It's also normal to change the goal all the time. When I was younger, I was frustrated all the time because I felt like I wasn't fitting in the right boxes. But now I'm in LA and working in TV post and it's awesome, so it all worked out. I did everything right, and if I had had more patience with myself then I would have been a less stressed out person for my 20s. Don't beat yourself up. Work hard and chill.
Good luck, and feel free to email me if you'd ever like to connect further.
Thank you! I really appreciate the advice.
I can definitely see how important networking is, especially for this industry! I currently live in Michigan, and for a while thought I couldn't do any legitimate networking until after I move to LA, but boy was I wrong! I'll definitely start using platforms such as the COW and Stage32 regularly, as well as Twitter, Facebook groups, etc.
I've been planning to move after high school, but I have thought about saving enough money to visit for a week or two beforehand.
Once I'm a bit closer to actually moving, what types of jobs would you suggest I first start looking for? I'm definitely willing to do whatever I can, but for pursuing a career in video editing do you think I should start looking at PA jobs right off the bat?
If you've never ever visited LA, you should definitely try to visit if only to see the city. I wanted to move to LA long before I had ever visited because I knew it was where I needed to be, but the first visit was when my brain was like alright, we're doing this. A lot of people are cynical or bitter about LA, but I think it's really amazingly diverse and beautiful as a place. And I enjoy there is post production stuffed into every nook and cranny.
I'm originally from Indiana, and I found that my pre-visits were vital in calming my nerves when moving. LA is a big place, and having a sense of geography was helpful to me since I was raised in cornfields and flatlands.
The kinds of jobs you should look for will vary based on where you want to go in your career. Assuming you want to work in something like television or feature films, you're probably going to want to look for production assistant jobs. Specifically a post PA. You can also look for assistant editor or apprentice editor roles. When you look at stuff produced by studios, there's a hierarchy that's difficult to break out of...which is good and bad. I think any young/new editor benefits from holding a PA job and learning the ropes. A post PA job and a healthy amount of networking is a great entry point into working your way up in post production. Almost everyone I know did a PA job first.
Outside of traditional paths in film and TV, there are so many jobs out there you can think about, or move between. There are indie films, tons of web series work, independent post houses. So many other things where you can do other roles, all still in LA.
When I first landed here, I was told I wouldn't be working anything above an assistant role for a long time. Within a few months, I was supervising the workflow on two major network TV shows. I'm 29 and I came to LA with like 8 years of professional experience, so I don't mean to set your expectations wrong -- I did my time as a PA and a low paid editor in other places and took the long way around. I'm saying this only to remind you not to let anyone tell that this ONE way is the ONLY way to get where you want to go.
A more relevant example, maybe: my friend got out of college and got work here right away as an assistant. He worked for a post house that got really busy with music videos, and he was good and reliable and knew more than anyone so suddenly he was pushed into an online editor role. Now he's like barely 25 and he's the system admin and online editor for a busy post house in Hollywood. Most people have no idea he's so young because he's knowledgable, curious and confident.
So yeah, that's my advice:
-- Look for post PA jobs.
-- Keep your mind open to other opportunities.
-- Meet everyone you possibly can meet, especially if they're doing something that looks interesting to you.
I know I already I said it, but I really appreciate your advice!
One more thing: not to be gratuitious, but I wish I had taken this advice I wrote to heart when I was 16.
That's exactly the kind of advice I was hoping to acquire. :)
At the moment, I don't know very many people doing the things that I'm passionate about. (Evidence that I need to spend a lot of time networking) So when I get advice from people like you, I really take it to heart!
Hi Matt -
this is my smart ass answer to you.
You are the dream employee of a production or post production company in Hollywood. You are 22 - 22 - 22
22 years old (or you will be when you get there)
willing to work 22 hours a day
willing to take $22,000 a year (which sounds like a lot to you now, but wait trying to support yourself in LA on 22 grand a year).
You are obviously driven. I think you will have no trouble getting a job if your skills are up (Adobe, etc.). Now, making a decent living, while you compete against everyone else. Ya know what - you will probably make it as you put out of work the 45 year old with 2 kids making $90,000 a year, doing what you can do.
Rescue 1, Inc.
Matt, you may want to leave room on a resume to mention Bob Zelin thinks you're pretty cool. That's more rare than an Emmy. And arguably, more useful:-)
I think it's great that you feel you've found your career destiny at this age. Some of the top folks in the business started out about the same. Unlike them, you have unprecedented access to tools and technologies they couldn't dream of or afford in their day, so in some ways, you need to work harder then they did, because expectations today are greater at every level.
Now, a cautionary tale, from one of those dinosaurs Kylee warned you about.
Though you feel like you've locked-in your entire future already, (and that's a very exciting and secure feeling, to have a Plan), I'd caution you that many people start out their college years with that idea, but end up changing their plans and goals after a year or two of college and initial work experiences. I was supposed to be an anti-trust lawyer when I started as a freshman. Thank goodness I was saved from a life of adequate financial compensation and high peer status by changing careers in my sophomore year. I'm saying: be prepared to "pivot" from editing into some other area of production or post production, if your skills and heart start to pull you in a new direction. You may indeed decide to jump into a different career track completely... it's not unheard of, and it's something your generation, more than most, will be doing in their career lives.
I tell people of your generation, you can expect to start, advance in, and get out of multiple careers over your lifetime, not just jobs, but entire CAREERS, and each time you jump, you'll have to learn new things to be competitive in that new field. You may end up working in a job we don't even have a name for today.
So, use the discipline of your home schooling to continue learning things in your free time. For a post person, art, art history, film history, photographic composition, cinematography, music theory or music history, graphic design, theatre, stagecraft/lighting, a foreign language, and maybe come software coding classes - a mix of any or all of these will inform your work, give you a vocabulary of terms and concepts, and help you build a personal style. You can also surprise yourself and find your dream media job in your home state... have you done a hard search there? It's always easier to look for job when you already have one.
Do try to find a dirt cheap airfare to LA and take a couple of 2-3 day visits before too long. Kylee's right about the need to get some orientation and a feel for the culture, to lessen the shock of hitting the ground running later. You'll also have a better idea of what the costs of living will be like for transportation, for accommodation, etc. so you'll know what kind of money to ask for in a job.
The closer you want to live to the work, generally the more expensive it is. You may find that you'll need to find room mates to split the rent with, or that you'll live in more... um, "eclectic" neighborhoods on your budget. LA is a car culture; care and feeding the beast will take up a lot of your income, unless you can locate close to workable public transportation. Do some reading up on the history of the city and watch some travel videos to familiarize yourself. Google Earth self-directed tours of key locations from the comfort of your own home are often quite useful.
While doing one of these advance scouting visits, try to get to a public user group meeting or any of the various open houses put on by various associations and post houses. Have a copy of LA411/Variety411 and other LA Production Guides, and make a list of targeted places to visit and ask for a tour while you're on these scouting trips. Keep a resume and demo reel on you, but don't push them unless asked.
Bob makes a great point that "kids" your age are often considered a kind of industry cannon fodder: a lot of people will want to take advantage of you, over-work you, under-pay you, etc. and always with the implied or actual threat that you are immediately replaceable with any of the hundreds of new people that arrive each day. This is part of "dues-paying", to a degree, but always have in your mind, a line you've drawn, about how far you're willing to be used, versus what you gain from each deal. Work experiences are not always only about the money - if you make good contacts or get access to gear for a personal project, that can offset a low wage to some extent. Networking skills are crucial, but so are negotiation skills. Read up on negotiation tactics and even role-play a bit with some friends or family, so you don't feel completely out of your element when you get to a job interview.
Be ready to handle some reverse age discrimination; some older people who've been in the game a long time can hate you just on general principle. In LA this is probably amped up to a higher level than other places. Others will see themselves in you and give you a break. One way to offset the situation is to always project a calm competence and attitude of unflappable professionalism. Don't act like the spoiled, over-entitled types who walk in on day one and want to direct, when their first job is shelving tapes in a tape library. But always be ready to volunteer and jump into a situation where a sudden opportunity presents itself. And when your low-level tasks are done, politely pester the people around you to show you some of what they do, teach you something, let you try something. Don't act entitled, but be open to opportunity, is what I'm saying.
Post production is a meritocracy, where demonstrated skills command respect. You're only as good as your reel, so start building one. Be ruthless in deciding what's good enough for your online portfolio. If you don't have enough material, get busy creating some spec pieces, perhaps with some of your YouTube friends. Make your own channel, apart from the Wacky Wednesdays thing, showing only your best personal work examples. Create examples of the kind of stuff you want to get paid to work on, and also a few samples that show you know how to cut dialog, how to cut multi-camera, how to grade and finish and make composites. How to treat sound. How to repair a bad shot. It would be smart to keep a few demos on some thumb drives or give-away DVD's when you make those LA trips and take facility tours. You never know... have copies of your resume as well as business cards with links to your portfolio on them, maybe even a QR code on the back that links to your YouTube portfolio. Have the sample reel on your phone as well, ready to play. A common entry level job in LA might be helping to manage camera cards and drives or importing and logging footage for the senior editor, so read up on how to do that without losing any footage and you'll be at an advantage.
Last bit, I promise:
Video and film covers a LOT of career territory besides major motion pictures and network programming. There's advertising, so-called "industrials", corporate work, government work, PR, many niches where the same skills can pay the bills. These might help finance the thing you want to pursue, or become unexpected careers in and of themselves. There are more doors to bang on than the few that immediately come to mind. And not all the opportunities exist only within the 323 or 213 area codes. California's a big state.
Thank you for all the information!
I'm definitely open to the idea of "pivoting" careers at some point if I come across something.
I'm also trying to learn as much as I can in other semi-related categories. I'm doing a lot of freelance motion graphics work and studying film history, cinematography, 3D-animation, programming, etc.
I really like your idea of setting up a personal YouTube channel for showcasing my best work, and demonstrating various skills. That is definitely something I'll begin looking into. As I've done a lot of networking "in person" there have been various situations where it would've come in handy having a business card with links to a reel, ways to get in touch with me, etc.
Thanks again, your message was very insightful, and I think I may have to read it a few more times, to be sure I've digested everything!