How To Succeed When There’s So Much Competition

Posted on by Larry

This blog was sparked by a question Hasan A. asked on last week’s webinar: “Ask Larry Anything.” He wrote:

With all the tech companies providing free editing software and free tutorials all over the place, how can editors retain their important role and convince the client that they are still important and worth their normal rate?

I keep feeling that we are heading toward the “everyone with Photoshop is a graphic designer…” phase.

I think this is absolutely true. We ARE heading toward a “‘Everyone with Photoshop is a graphic designer…’ phase.” In fact, everyone now has Photoshop and, as we know, there is no need for professional graphic designers because there’s no professional graphic design being done today.

Which is, of course, not true.

The exact same thing is happening with professional video editing. DaVinci Resolve is free, Adobe Premiere is available on a subscription basis, and Final Cut Pro X is affordable for just about anyone interested in editing. Therefore, everyone now has the tools necessary for professional video editing. Does that make them an editor?

No.

There will always be a need for a simple edit of a self-shot movie to cut out the garbage and post the results to Facebook. That market continues to grow, but that market doesn’t hire editors.

In my workshop, I have a hammer, a saw and a level –
but I can’t build a house. I have the tools, but I don’t have the skills.

In my workshop, I have a hammer, a saw and a level – but I can’t build a house. I have the tools, but I don’t have the skills.

This illustrates a problem we’ve had for a long time. All too often, video editors define themselves by the tools they use, not the skills they have. If you define yourself solely by the tools you use, you’re going to be competing with the next college graduate that has Photoshop, or Final Cut, or Premiere installed on their laptop. And you are going to lose.

I can buy a hammer, in fact I can buy every tool necessary to build a house. But I do not want to live in whatever it is that I build with those tools.

It isn’t our tools – it’s the stories that we tell, our dependability, and the client relationships that we build that sets us apart.

There’s another core skill that can’t be overlooked: any editor who’s working professionally knows how to work efficiently. In fact, even more important than story-telling is the ability to get a project done on time and on budget.

Most of us take this for granted; meeting deadlines is deeply embedded in our psyche. But, I can assure you from years of teaching college students, that efficiency and organization are not traits any of us are born with.

For any client, given a choice between someone who is wildly creative but never meets a deadline versus someone who is a solid story-teller and dependably meets budgets and deadlines… well, there’s no contest. In today’s perilous business climate, dependability wins. Clients need to count on their partners.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog about the upcoming competition we will face from artificial intelligence (“I’m Worried About The Future of Editing“). This week, we are talking about competition from new people entering the market. The creative arts have ALWAYS been competitive.

It isn’t our tools – it’s the stories that we tell, our dependability,
and the client relationships that we build that sets us apart.

Which means that, as editors, right now, more than ever before – we need to concentrate on building our creativity and story-telling skills.

When working with our clients, don’t simply ask: “Can I edit a video?” Instead ask: “How can I help you find more customers?” “How can I help you explain why your products are essential for people to purchase?” “How can I help you further your business goals?”

It isn’t the tools we use that make us valuable, its the benefits we provide.

The more that we are seen as a benefit to our client’s business and not simply an unwanted expense, the more valuable we become. Yes, it’s true that a client can say: “My cousin will edit our videos.” But, that assumes all we do is push buttons. The more we’re seen as a strategic benefit to our clients, the more valuable we become.

The more that we focus on creative story-telling – in all of its different phases – the more people will demand our services.

The more that we define ourselves as simple tool operators, the more quickly we are going to be replaced.

This, I think, is the essential thing: Anyone that WANTS to own Photoshop can own Photoshop. But that doesn’t mean that they are a graphics designer; that they know how to create compelling images, or understand the emotions of fonts, or design with colors or improve composition… All the things that a professional Photoshop artist does on a daily basis to create art that is irresistibly compelling.

Creativity, dependability and efficiency are the cornerstones we build upon to create videos that are irresistibly compelling, on time, on budget, and further our client’s business interests. That’s how we’re going to survive moving forward in the future.

As always, I’m interested in your comments.


6 Responses to How To Succeed When There’s So Much Competition

  1. Larry, I think you are whistling in the dark. Many business or non-profit clients who used to count on print and still media, moved into video production for the web by having still photographers produce video at slightly above still photographer rates. The results were fairly awful video, but better than stills and copy on the website and way cheaper. It is generally middle managers who make these kinds of hiring decisions and they often can’t tell the difference between marginally functional video and good video. So why spend the money?

    The effect of all this is to depress the lower and middle market of our business. The high end will always be there, but prices are dropping in the middle. And to be honest, a moderately able still photographer with good training tools (like yours) will be able to turn out a product that an unenlightened manager will think is good. And as younger video producers come along who have never known anything else, these low budget opportunities are all they know and it becomes the new normal. Lightweight and cheap equipment allows for a reasonable facsimile of high end production (shallow depth of field, sliders instead of dollies, drones instead of real helicopters and so on). I think it will be harder and harder for the middle and low end of the market to supply a decent living.

    • Larry says:

      Robert:

      I agree, in general, with your comments.

      I’m not saying that the future is rosy, but what I AM saying is that there are things we can do that will help us for the future, and there are things we can do which will hurt.

      Larry

      • Carlos Ziadeh says:

        AI will never replace our creativity and storytelling skills, it will never replace us, in fact, it will stand by our side, help us achieve our stories faster and deliver better on time… take it this way… machines will never replace human beings the same as human beings will never replace God …

        • Larry says:

          Carlos:

          In the purest sense, you are correct. We are far more “creative” than a machine. But… much of video is not creative or story-oriented. It is sports highlights, and family video and assemblies from previously edited work. The craft of story-telling is less important, while a knowledge of the technology of video is much more important.

          Many people pay their rent from these jobs. And these are the jobs that can “easily” be accomplished by a system of machine learning.

          We’ve seen already with traditional high-paying manufacturing jobs being converted to robotics, or industries drying up, where people who used to have meaningful jobs are struggling to make ends meet. My goal is to have those of us working in technology realize that much of what we do has the potential to be automated. Which means that we need to start thinking about Plan B.

          Larry

  2. Peter Lee says:

    Larry, I love your wisdom. As a “seasoned” editor, I can tell you that even at the “high end” story-telling things are not as rosy. Sure, it seems like Netflix and Amazon and their ilk, are new “suppliers” but overall, the problems I see are few:

    1) Television is scripted and reality. Few shows are “high end” and producers know that they can pay a lower rate on the unionized pay scale, because…of many people wanting to get it. Reality TV is the same, except there, people get “discarded” much faster. as the shows are nothing more than fast food television – you eat it, to fill full for the next 10 min. It’s not a meal.

    2) Movies have become fragmented as well. More than ever, we live in the “celebrity” culture, and nothing gets “greenlit without some actor name in it. At the lower end, the indies are dead (Sundance may try to tell you otherwise, but they are dead – it’s just prestige at this point, few, very few make money)

    3) Corporate is the future since youtube has changed the game. Every 10 min and below video needs to become “viral” (a non-sensical term if you ask me). Corporations know that having video is an must, but, like the previous comment suggest, middle managers wouldn’t know good video from Shinola. The salaries are low and they want you to work photoshop, work the camera, etc. It’s not about story telling.

    4) There’s too much content and too many people wanting to be famous. What has happened for the past 10 years is that corporations have lowered the prices of “tools” and sold them in a slick way (look at the Apple “shot on Iphone crap campaign). That and the desire of people to be famous (which is why reality TV exists and can be made) is what crapped the middle professional market.

    They keep saying that “we’re waiting for the hammer to fall”. Actually, the hammer has fallen, and now we’re dealing with the repercussions. In this game, films are no longer films, they are CONTENT. “Passion” is being sold as a thing to have, but mostly associate with a tool “as in buy Apple or whatever, because that will unleash your inner talent”. ( BS by the way )

    You are right. There is a need for a plan B. But that plan B is another job in another field.

  3. One word…”professionalism”. With the advent of dslr hd video from cameras that you can purchase at box stores, there has been a flood of filmmakers and production specialists on the scene in recent years. Experience matters.

    Not just behind the camera, but out front as well with the client. To communicate, have meetings and present yourself (and the company) in front of clients is 40% of the job. Clients don’t care about how fantastic professional video production companies are if there’s an attitude.

    There will be no repeat business in that scenario. Video production is fun for us and the client. We love our work. Nothing brings down a shoot faster than a crew member or company that takes itself too seriously or is a bit too cool for the room.

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