- Friday, Nov. 3, 2000
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Nothing is certain but change, as the adage goes, and this aptly describes the editorial and postproduction industries as theyve evolved over time. Indeed, many might echo the sentiments of Dan Rosen, president of New York-based Manhattan Transfer, when he suggests that the word mutate is a better characterization than evolve when talking about the rapid-fire changes to the industry.
AEvolve is far too gentle and gradual a word to applyacertainly to the last several years, says Rosen. And change seems to be getting ever more rapid.
For one thing, editorial houses are now freestanding entities, whereas three decades ago editors typically worked at production companies such as now defunct Wakeford/Orloff and FilmFair. Rye Dahlman, editor/owner of Santa Monica-based Rye Films, ran the postproduction arm of the former DeSort & Sam for a number of years during the 1970s.
For the most part, recalls Dahlman, very few independent editors out there opened up a shop that was not in some way associated with a production house. Either they were in-house, or the production company put them in business down the street somewhere. There wasnt a lot of equipment, so we were put in small quarters. It probably costs a similar amount for me to park my car in Santa Monica now as it would have cost for the limited space that I was given to do my craft. The overhead difference between then and now, he adds, is the difference between a closet versus a palace.
(It should be noted, however, that several production companies are getting re-involved in post ventures. For example, Santa Monica-based editing shop Trail Head is owned by Stoney Road, parent company to a number of commercial production houses; and New York-based editorial/design/post house 89 Greene remains part of the Crossroads family of companies.)
When SHOOT asked industry executives to reflect upon their years in the business, the consensus of opinion was that technologyain particular, the advent of digital editingahas revolutionized their profession. Steve McCoy, president of FilmCore, Santa Monica, summarizes technologys major impact as allowing greater speed, greater access to material and, consequently, greater convenience for clientsabecause editorial houses can present far more sophisticated work in a far shorter amount of time.
We have access to a lot of pictures, a lot of sounds, a lot of artworkavery, very quickly, notes McCoy. We can take control of it, manipulate it, present it in a pretty polished form for approval. We can even take the commercials in rough cut stage and post them on the Internet, able to be downloaded anywhere in the world.
One of the most significant developments cited by Mark PolyocanaCEO of New York-based Tape House Editorial and president of its parent firm, New York-headquartered Editing Concepts Inc.awas the conversion from cutting on film to cutting on video that occurred over the years 75-80. That was probably the most influential change, and that created all kinds of things, says Polyocan. People always envisioned simpler ways of working. Transferring to video eliminated searching for material, for trims and bits and pieces you had to put back into the film. It expedited the whole process of airing spots.
Chris Franklin, owner/editor of New York-based Blue Sky Editorial, opines that the biggest change technology has engendered is putting more creativity in the hands of the editor. Its obviously come down to Avid nonlinear editing, more than anything, states Franklin. Youre able to work with more sound effects, so youre also a sound designer and youre also an effects guy. Basically, youve become an editor/postproduction supervisor. You truly carry it through from dailies all the way to the final product.
But technology has, in some regards, proved to be a double-edged sword. Certain advances meant to make an editors job faster and more streamlined (e.g., Avid editing) gave rise to agency demands for ever more options and versions to choose from.
Its allowed us to explore more creative ways of doing something, says John Palestrini, CEO of New York-based Blue Rock Editing Company. On the other hand, its allowed the clients to have more control and be much more a part of the process. Im not saying thats a good thing or a bad thing; its what technology has brought upon us. We do many, many more versions than we used to. And clients get a chance to see the commercial long before its finished. Years ago, clients didnt see it until it was almost completely done.
Bob Carr, president/editor of Chicago-based NuWorld Editorial, says there has been a significant change over the years in the level of technological expertise of agency clients. Theyre asked to know a great deal about the technology and the advances we have in front of us, and how to use them on their clients behalf, Carr observes. Theyre being drawn into the world of technology advancement, whereas, at one time, they would rely [exclusively] on their postproduction suppliers to give advice and counsel. Now, theyre being asked to know as much as, if not more than, everybody else out there.
Palestrini believes that modern editing tools may have diffused the focus of editorsawho now spend far less time apprenticing and learning their craft than when he got in the business in the late 60s. I think one of the shortcomings of technology is that, because we have so many options and its so easily done, theres a certain loss of focus and purity of idea, says Palestrini. Before, when you had one or two shots at [editing] something, you had to really think it through and make it count. It forced us to be more resourceful and inventive. Now its kind of like a machine-gun approach: Lets fire away and see if we hit something.
Amplifying on that thought is retired editor Arthur Williams, chairman of the aforementioned Editing Concepts companies (which comprise Editing Concepts, Tape House Editorial, Black Logic, The ANX, Toons and Photomag). Williams, who founded Editing Concepts in 70 and retired as a cutter in 92, cited editing style as the biggest industry change hes observed.
Specifically, Williams explains, todays cutters seem to be driven by images rather than storytelling. I really have a hard time accepting some of the spots that I see now, he says. The concepts have changed drastically. At least, when I was cutting, there was a great sense of storytelling. Theres no storytelling now. Its just about images; its really about corporate image. There was a time when we had to make sure in a spot that [for instance] you got somebody from one side of the room to another with a series of match cuts. Now you dont need that, and thats [the change in] style. Its a totally different approach to commercialmaking.
Many attribute this trend of style over substance to MTV. Since its advent in the early 80s, the music video networkawhich has spawned quick-cut, flashy visuals and a generation of kids with short attention spansahas proved a major influence. According to NuWorlds Carr, It has ushered in a whole new way of looking at commercials and commercial messages. A lot of the things that are being explored in experimental ways on MTV find their way into feature films and commercials. It gives a lot of opportunity for new ideas to be expressed.
Clayton Hemmert, editor/ owner of New York-based Crew Cuts, also cites MTV as a tremendous influence. In terms of pace of cutting, he comments, its definitely had an effect on the ad world. I think the advertising world followed where MTV was going. And style can sometimes carry a weak concept. Its the old [saying], ASometimes you can make chicken salad out of chicken shit; sometimes you cant. But Ive always taken the approachawhether its with film, videotape or desktopathat you have to know what a good performance is. You have to know when not to cut something.
Manhattan Transfers Rosen says that technology has also precipitated the end of the traditional video company. I think those days are over, says Rosen. I think it relates not only to companies like ours, but to all companies in our businessaad agencies, commercial editing companies, production companies.
Whats happening now, Rosen continues, is that theres a tremendous amount of blur and overlap. Technology is allowing people who were once heavily categorized in one area to go into other areas. A lot of companies, like commercial editing companies and production companies, are doing a lot of the stuff that used to be the sole province of video companies.
On the flip side, the 18-year-old Manhattan Transferawhich began as a traditional video post houseais now just as much a design and effects studio, notes Rosen, adding, We have really had to diversify, and others are doing the same. I think we [in the commercial industry] realize how profoundly the Internet is already impacting on us, and that it will continue to do so. The world we operate in ... has to include a lot more things than we traditionally used to do.
This is echoed by Nitza From, president/owner of New York-based Salamandra Images, who observes that, nowadays, very few editorial houses dont also have graphics workstations. Additions happening now to every editorial business are very, very costly, states From, who is also president of the East Coast chapter of the Association of Independent Creative Editors (AICE). Before, we were going to videotape houses and telling people, ADo it like this, and being at the conform, trying to do an optical effect like a flip, wipe or dissolve. Right now, were doing it ourselves, which I find much more expedientatheres no middleman. Were constantly reshooting in the editing room with much more ease. Its a given. Clients come and they expect everything.
However, as From says, this makes an editors job much more time-consuming and demanding than ever. I hope people understand theres a lot of effort put into it, stresses From. You cant just be a good editor; you have to be an incredible technician. In addition to the constant learning process demanded by frequently upgraded technology, the financial investment is daunting, adds From, who has owned Salamandra for 23 years. Over the period of the last 10 years, she relates, she has spent 10 times more on upgrading equipment than she did during the companys first 13 years.
Tim McGuire is president of Chicago-based Cutters Inc.awhich is parent to Chicago-based audio company Another Country and Chicago- and Santa Monica-based SOL designefx. He observes that the decision-making process is much quicker now than it was 15 years ago. This is true for both editors working on a job and company owners trying to stay abreast of the latest gear. Says McGuire, You have to make decisions, react, change, anticipate much more quickly than you ever haveaand that time continues to compress. If youre running a business, you have to be continually changing.
Another difference between the industry of yesteryear and now relates to ad agencies increased cautiousness and conservatismaa reaction to clients cautiousness and conservatism. This has spurred several changes, among them, the use of cost consultants. Their functionato curb agency expensesahas cut into post houses profits, notes David Binstock, CEO of New York-based Rhinoceros Editorial & Post and its parent company, the Multi-Video Group.
In the end, I dont think [consultants] save anything, because discounts are being offered to agencies everywhere you go, says Binstock. Giving a percentage of that discount to a cost consultant company is taking away from the efficiency, or economics, of the entire job. We can offer that direct, and we do.
Cost consultants have, in some cases, made deals with certain editorial and post houses on the behalf of their agency clients, relates Binstock, adding that if youre not on that list, you cant edit for that agency. Everybody in the city is charging approximately the same costs; prices are very competitive, Binstock points out. If we all agree to give the same discounts to a client, there should be no reason why this ones on a list and the other one isnt. I think that hurts. And if this practice also locks [an agency] into only four or five different editors, maybe youre not getting the best price or the best creativity.
Binstock recalls that, during the 70s, agencies looked at two things when selecting post suppliers: creativity and markup. Today, they look at the bottom lineawhich, as he points out, doesnt always reflect the best deal. If one guys charging $40,000 and the other one is charging $35,000, asks Binstock, do you know enough to look and see what youre getting? What happens if someone internally left something out thats strategic to the job? A lot of people dont know how to look at an estimate.
Another outgrowth of the atmosphere of conservatism is that editors are now commonly pigeonholed into categories, whereas the prevailing notion used to be that a good editor can cut everything. In turn, this pigeonholing has fueled a much greater emphasis today on editors reelsaan unfortunate situation, Palestrini says, because few people besides editors can accurately judge editing talent from a reel.
People are easily fooled by other elements on an editors reel, asserts Palestrini. Ive worked on stuff Id never put on my reel, but it was the best stuff Ive ever cut. [Its a matter of] taking a spot that was a disaster and making it OK, or making an OK spot really great, just by pure editing and inventiveness. Its completely different from taking beautifully shot material and putting it together.
I think a lot of really talented people are kept from demonstrating and sharing their talents. Agency people used to be much more willing, or able, to stand up for an editor even though he didnt have a reel. And they would more or less take somewhat of a gamble on fresher talent.
Dahlman concurs, adding that the business is extremely editor-driven now, whereas, in the past, the editorial houses name and the agencies relationship with the house counted for more than they do today. It used to be more company-driven, says Dahlman. Agencies trusted the company and had a comfort level with it. If I was busy on a project, oftentimes it wasnt all that difficult for me to have one of my other editors do it without a lot of whining from the agency.
Now Santa Monica alone boasts hundreds of editors, Dahlman points out. With so many choicesatoo many choices, he contendsaif agencies cant get their first-choice editor, they can easily go down the street to use the next guy on the list. The company is important, but the determining factor is the editor, states Dahlman. Thats a pretty huge difference.
Another big difference involves the emergence of publicly traded Liberty Livewire, which recently entered into an agreement in principle to acquire Northvale, N.J.-headquartered Video Services Corporation (VSC), the parent to such facilities as the aforementioned Manhattan Transfer. The Liberty Livewire family also includes: Four Media Company (4MC), Burbank; 4MC Asia, Singapore; Santa Monica-based R!OT, Company 3, Method and 525 Studios; Anderson Video, Universal City, Calif.; Encore Hollywood; the Todd-AO shops which include operations in Hollywood and Atlanta; London-based Rushes, West One Television, Soho 601, film lab Soho Images and SVC Television; and Mexico Citys Virgin Television de Mexico.
While each Liberty Livewire holding operates autonomously, collectively they represent tremendous buying power and have the leverage to establish close-knit relationships with equipment manufacturers. Our companies can maintain boutique operations but still benefit from being in a larger organization than themselves, relates Robert Walston, president and COO of Liberty Livewire. It allows us to provide facilities with extensive technological resources, to have the financial backing to prepare for interactive television, digital television, HDTV, broadband and emerging media. With AT&T [Liberty Livewire is a unit of AT&T], we have a leg up on most of the streaming media companies who want to occupy the broadband space. We have direct access to AT&Ts fiber infrastructure.