Editors who don’t know how to assist editors

Scott Simmons has tackled the subject of the lack of post-production knowledge in up-and-coming editors in an article at studiodaily. It is couched in terms of ‘What’s wrong with the young FCP editor’ because ‘the young FCP editor’ is the current definition of the next generation of editors.

He enumerates the many technical failings of editors he has been coming across recently. There has been a lively debate in the comments section on that same page. I think the answer to his point is nothing to do with editing or technology. I think that the more people enter a field of endeavour, the more likely you will come up against the different natures of the way people approach problems.

I know it was some U.S. politician who came up with the following, but it makes sense nonetheless: it is the distinction between ‘known unknowns’ and ‘unknown unknowns.’ Some people find out the minimum required to get the job done. Others understand the wider context and have a framework in which to place new knowledge. The first people to attempt to learn how to edit/shoot/write/fix cars/do DIY are those who put the time in and understand to some extent the magnitude of the job that they are taking on. As tools are developed to make the job easier for more people to have a go, the second group get involved.

All the lack of knowledge that Scott was pointing out was in the technical aspects of editing. I argue that technology isn’t editing. Technology is for assistant editors. These days budget restrictions mean that editors don’t get the opportunity to be assisted as much as they used to, but I think that editors should know when they are assisting the edit and when they are editing.

My current definition of assistant editor is the person who creates the environment in which the editor can edit. Why should today’s editors learn new technologies in the coming years? If they are well assisted, the environment in which they edit may be implemented in a different manner, that isn’t the business of the editor. They need to find people they trust to work with. They can concentrate on evolving the art of the edit, not on the evolution of technology.

So, in this case I think Scott is talking about new editors who can produce programmes on tape, disc or online that may seem well edited to audiences, but those who have a deep understanding of the post-production process know that the technical knowledge was weak. They need to be assistant editors as well as be editors. Hopefully, once their artistry matters more than the technological understanding, they’ll be able to forget about keeping up with technology and trade their storytelling knowledge with the next generation of assistant editors.

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