While sharing drinks with a friend, he started inquiring as to how I’m able to supplement my income with video editing projects. The more we talked, the more I realized that a lot of people have the ability and skill to do it, but they don’t understand the small things that can make or break being successful at it. In this post, I’ll share what I’ve learned about being a freelance editor.
You don’t need that much gear.
Working from home, the local coffee shop, or while traveling around the country means going light. A powerful laptop that’s loaded with editing software, hard drive of footage, and a decent pair of headphones is really all you need. Having a desk with extra monitors, full keyboard+mouse, giant speakers, USB hubs and all that are great, but nonessential.
For what gear you do need, consider yourself lucky you live in 2014.
10 years ago, decent quality video formats were still being captured onto tape and other propietary systems, requiring control decks and capture cards that were more expensive than my truck. These days I’m able to edit for agencies who appreciate the all-digital workflow as much as I do. Sure, they sometimes shoot on DSLRs, but I regularly get footage shot on BMCCs, mid to high-end Sony systems, Canon C-Series, and more. All media ends up on a hard drive which is easier for them, and keeps it easy (and cheap!) for me.
Feel like splurging? Ok, here’s a list of items that I use daily in my home office. It does make the experience nicer and bit more efficient, so I’ve built this up over time.
Apple Macbook Pro with maxed out RAM and an OWC SSD Startup Disk
Sony MDR 7506 Headphones
DisplayPort to VGA Adapter (for external monitor 1)
Diamond USB to VGA Adapter (for external monitor 2)
OWC Mercury Elite Pro Mini External Hard Drives
Logitech MediaPlay Wireless Mouse
Altec Lansing Speakers
Look to your peers and collaborators for projects to get started on.
If you don’t have a workflow or clients nailed down, start by editing a few simple projects for people you have worked with in the past. Do a behind-the-scenes edit, or volunteer to do a promo of some kind for them. (Bonus tip: Do it for someone who has a large social media following so it gets a lot of extra traffic, and potential referrals!) Editing a few spec projects will make you go through all the paces involved, and you’ll start to refine your workflow while building your editing portfolio. Which leads me to the obvious…
Have a solid editing reel or examples of work, online and ready to show.
When soliciting for work, you’ll need to provide proof of skill. Either a couple of good, short edits you’ve worked on, or a compilation reel of sections of different editing projects. It helps to have a few different finished video edits to show off, but the trick is to send the edit that will be most like what your potential client is wanting you to do for them.
Get your storage in check.
After my first few jobs I realized that I wanted local storage for not only my media and my backups, but I wanted to backup client drives as well. I mean, what if when I shipped the drive back the Fedex package was lost or damaged? I decided to buy into a storage system that met my needs, and I've been using these drives for years. The OWC Elite Pro (minis) hard drives are small, can be bus powered, aesthetically match my Apple products, and out of about 20-30 drives I've purchased for myself, clients, and friends, I've never had a single one go bad. I cannot recommend them enough.
Ready to work? Contact your peers (again) and take to the internets!
Much of my work has come from other video producers or repeat clients, where I edited a project once for them, possibly at their location, and was able to continue to work with them even after moving across the country. It was as easy as letting them know that I had the capabilities to work from home and that I could upload edits for them. All they need to do is Fedex me a drive and I’ll do the rest (more or less!)
Producers I’ve worked for have referred me to others, so I’ve added a couple clients from word-of-mouth alone. Besides the aforementioned, resources like Mandy.com, the Creative Cow Job Search, ProductionHub, and even sometimes Craigslist have yeilded projects. Facebook has become another way I’ve found work as well, by adding myself to groups related to video or photography, and joining conversations when I saw an opportunity to network and offer my services.
Have a file sharing service ready to use.
Working remotely, I’ll often get sent a hard drive with footage. In the following week that I’m editing, inevitably there will be some still photos, graphics, or other files I need to get from the producer. Good producers will usually have a file transfer service set up, but you might need to offer a solution as well if they don’t. Google Drive or Box.com have worked well for me in the past. They are free and get the job done. If you have your own FTP server for your website you can use that, and there are also services like Nimia.com that offer file transfers and chat capabilities, in addition to other features.
Work fast. I repeat, work fast.
Producers have plenty of options for video editors, and for them to work with someone remotely you have to make it as easy as possible for them, and provide a quick turnaround. This can mean working through the night to get a rough cut to them the next morning. I’m 2 hours behind the east coast, so I’m either up late the first night or up early the next morning to bang out a rough cut before the following work day is done for my clients. I’d wager that this is one of the reasons I get repeat business.
Track your time.
If billing by the hour and not the project, I use a timer on my phone as a sort of digital punchclock. There are several apps for both your desktop and smartphone that can do this, so there’s no reason you can’t track your time. You will bill accurately, but also get a great idea of how long it takes you to do edits, which will help you to quote jobs better in the future.
Utilize exports or renders to take breaks.
I do this all the time. I’ll work until I hit a natural pause, either from rendering, exporting, or transferring files. While these run, I’ll eat, take the dog out, or in the case of exporting a long edit, I’ll set it up to run overnight. This way I’m not wasting time during business hours, when I could be doing more work.
Label, organize, and make it dummy-proof.
If you’re a good editor, chances are you do this already. On the hard drive your client sends you, create a folder labeled with your name and the project name. Inside it, subfolders separating music, graphics, project files, and everything else, will help keep things clean and organized for the guy who opens this up on the client end. I’ve been on conference calls with clients in the past because I didn’t label folders properly and it made me look bad when they couldn’t find a particular file. Lesson learned!
Utilize Vimeo for rough cuts and even final cuts.
With a Vimeo Plus account, I’m able to upload videos and password protect them. I’ll do this for rough cuts on the projects I’m editing. Vimeo is a very accessible place to watch videos from, and my clients can even download the file if they need to. Updating the video on vimeo with a new edit version takes just a click.
I like to maintain a collection of projects I’ve edited on my Vimeo page, so once the final has been approved and posted by my client, I’ll share it myself. It’s already on my account, so I just change it from private to public and I’m done.
Bonus: Working from home is not all peaches and cream.
The Oatmeal created a comic that displays the pros and cons quite well.
If you'd prefer to pass along the responsibility of editing to someone else, you might want to consider outsourcing your video editing.