Ahh the joys of being a freelance editor. You get to make your own schedule, take time off whenever you want, sleep in on weekdays, pick and choose only the best, most highest-paying jobs, live the jet-set lifestyle hopping from post-house to post-house all across the country…
ZZZZZZCHHHHSSSSSWOOOOSSSSHHH (sound of vinyl record scratching)!
Wait, that’s not what it’s like at all. Probably back when you were in film school some eccentric tweed-jacket-with-the-patches-on-the-elbows professor filled your head with romantic notions like that. Then what happened, you got into the real world and found that most of the time you had to scrounge for any job you could get, from cutting your uncle’s boss’s LARPER themed wedding to that gastric surgery post-operative care demonstration video.
But that’s not the point, the point is that either you’re doing what you love or you’re considering cutting the cable and going out on your own or just graduating and still have that un-blemished innocent vision of the wealth of opportunity that awaits you out there. In any case, as a freelance editor, you need to focus on three main objectives: being a good editor, being mobile, and getting hired again. To do this you need to have a slick and portable system in place that enables you to jump from place to place, dive right in a get to work without wasting a lot of time getting situated. After all, your client is paying you to edit, not set preferences and adjust your chair.
Here are a few things you can do to make your setup time at a new place quick and easy and add value to your service.
Save your keyboard, button bars, window layouts and other preferences
The first thing you’ll want to do when you get to a new place, other than a quick height adjustment of the chair, is to load up your preferences. Save your preferred window layouts, keyboard layouts, button bars, column layouts and any other user preferences that are important to you on a USB stick or other portable device (one of my current favorites is a 8 gig USB stick that fits on a keychain, for under $30). All you need to do is then simply load up all of your preferences and go. There is no need to even copy your preferences to their respective places on the host’s computer. Once you load your window layout, for example, directly from your USB stick you eject it and keep working. FCP doesn’t need the preference file to remain mounted while you edit, just set it and forget it. The same goes for you button bars and keyboard.
If you do load your preferences to the host computer or change any of its preferences it’s always good practice to return the computer to the state it was in when you got there. Especially if you’re filling in for someone on vacation you don’t want them to come back to a totally re-arranged system.
Effects and Plug-Ins
Transporting window layouts and button bars is easy and a no-brainer. But what if you have a dozen or more effects saved in your effects favorites bin at home? If you do you probably use them all the time and it could be a big frustration if you didn’t have those effects readily available as favorites during gigs. But you can’t just save your effects favorites bin like you can keyboard layouts, or can you? The simple workaround is to create a new Final Cut Pro project, select all of your effects favorites from the favorites bin, copy them, and paste them into the new FCP project. Just save this project as “Effects Favorites” and bring it with you on your USB stick. While editing just have the project open or copy those effects to FCP’s favorites bin.
This is also a good practice to keep in general for when the need to reinstall or upgrade FCP arises. Having this Effects Favorites project handy will allow you to re-load all your favorites right along with windows and keyboards after an upgrade or reinstall.
Third party plug-ins are definitely a separate issue than stock FCP effects. Before transporting third party plug-ins you’ll need to sort out licensing issues and your client’s preferences on you adding plug-ins to their systems.
Hard drive of tricks
One of the best things you can do as a freelancer is to not only be an outstanding editor but to bring something more to the table. Get a few hundred gig portable firewire drive and load it up with any kind of stock, music, image, graphic, bell and whistle you can think of. From HD clips of kids eating ice cream to heavy metal stock music to animated lower thirds, it can be a job saver to be able to pull out elements like this when in a pinch for some creative. It’s up to you whether you charge extra for things like this and it’s completely your responsibility to have proper licensing of all the material. Either way it will greatly impress your client when someone suggests opening the sequence with a etherial fly-through of puffy clouds and you just grab a clip of it off your hard drive and drop it in in a matter of 2 seconds.
Everything but the kitchen sink
I’ve seen a lot of freelancers who carry their own keyboards and mouse/trackballs with them. If you prefer to edit with a specific colored keyboard or fancy-schmancy trackball then by all means bring it along and plug ‘er in. Believe me, your client doesn’t care whether you’re using a trackball, mighty mouse, or pencil and paper as long as you’re getting the job done.
If the venue or job calls for critical audio mixing and monitoring consider investing in a pair of high-quality headphones that you can travel with. Find a set that not only provides top-notch audio but fits your head comfortably. Who knows, you may walk into an office that only has cheepy computer speakers plugged into the built-in audio out. You could shrug and later blame the poor audio mix on the cheepy speakers or whip out your headphones and give them a real mix.
Some people, for extended jobs, even choose to bring their own chairs with them. If you tend to do long-term gigs then dropping a grand on a really good chair may be definitely worth it. Say you get a gig editing for 10 days where your edit station will be set up in the basement of the hotel that the conference is going on. You walk in and see a couple of folding chairs set up for you. It wouldn’t be long before you get to wishing you had a nice comfy desk chair to park yourself in for 14 hours at a time.
It’s the little things
Being a good freelancer not only depends on the quality of work you do but also the kind of person you are to work with. Being easy and fun to work with largely depends on your own attitude and having some simple creature comforts at your desk can go a long way in that department.
You may want to read your clients a little bit before breaking things like this out but small trinkets or pictures of your family are not inappropriate. Especially if it’s a travel job, having a small photo of your kids next to your monitor can be nice, or planting a few wacky Pez-dispensers (full of Pez, of course) next to your coffee cup displays your personality in a subtle and fun way. The idea is that with a few small items like this you can make any place that you’re in that much more like home.
I keep a Rubik’s cube on my desk (a leftover prop from a shoot) and can’t tell you how often a client picks it up to fiddle with it while we’re working or discussing something.
Clients pay you to edit, not click around for an hour in the morning setting up preferences. Get there early, whip out your USB stick, hard drive of tricks, headphones, chair, magic 8-ball or whatever and set up fast. Having all your preferences available to you will allow you to just be able to sit down and edit, not reset keyboards or try to remember what the defaults are.
Bringing additional materials like stock footage and animations can provide real value to your services and set you miles ahead of the other schmucks on their list.
Lastly don’t be afraid to pack a few personal items and other simple comforts, especially on extended travel gigs. You’re human after all and few comforts from home can make you feel a lot better during the long hours and express your personality in a subtle and fun way.
While writing this post I asked around to some of the producers in the office about things freelancers had brought that impressed them. All of them were able to remember editors from years ago who brought something personal and unique to the gigs, whether it was a tool or trinket. Do you want to make a lasting impression like that or be forgotten among all the rest?
In the end all of these practices add up to one thing: getting hired again.