4 Tips on Editing with the Client in the Room

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AJ Sementilli

Do you enjoy working with someone watching over your shoulder? Sorry, is that a stupid question? Of course you don’t. However, if you’re a professional video editor, you’ve probably gotten used to it. During the post-production process, there will always come a time when feedback and critique needs to be given to the editor. This direction usually happens in the edit suite, where changes are expected to be worked out immediately, if possible. (Please and thank you!)

How an editor handles these moments when a producer or client is watching their every move is probably the best measure of his or her experience level. The confidence and patience required to edit under this kind of pressure is not something you can learn in film school; it only comes with practice.

The true professional surely edits the same way with a client over their shoulder as they would in a room alone. While there is no substitute for experience, there are a few techniques that I’ve learned to help take some of the pressure off the editor in these situations.


4 Tips for Editing with the Client in the Room:


1. Understand the software and the operating system you are working on.

You don’t ever want to have to look up the answer for a computer problem in a review session. Know what can and might go wrong with your system, and know how to solve for it ahead of time.


2. Use keyboard shortcuts.

Not only will shortcuts speed up the process but they can also make a positive impression. Eventually you will be able to move so quickly and precisely with shortcuts that you step beyond mere expertise into full-on wizardry.


3. Take the time to label things appropriately.

When you are working under the gun, it can be tempting to sacrifice project organization in order to move as fast as possible. Sure you can clean everything up later, but chances are you’ll be finished with the project before you find the time for that. Take the extra 30-40 seconds you need to rename assets and put old sequences away as you go along. The time you spend up front on keeping things straight will pay off in the end when the deadline is knocking at your door.


4. Create a comfortable space for your reviewers.

First off, your client or director should have someplace nice to sit. Preferably this seat is several feet from your primary monitor, so they aren’t watching every click and edit you make. This is not to hide anything from your client, but to put a soft barrier between the work and the review of it.


Made-to-Order: A Comparison

Let me draw a comparison here: in an editing suite where the client is sitting close to the monitor, you are the sandwich maker at Subway (or the burrito roller at Chipotle if you prefer). The customer is closely watching you place every piece of food over a small window, wondering how long it's going to take you to finish and telling you what they want and how much of it. The customer watches their meal come together with a critical eye at every step. There’s no room to make even the smallest of choices without first asking your customer. The customer may not even really know what they want, but they have to decide.

Now let’s imagine an edit suite where the client has a nice couch to sit on, a small table in front of them to place their own computer, and maybe even some nice snacks sitting nearby. This is like going to a nice restaurant with an open kitchen. The customer can see and hear the sounds of the chefs at work, which gives them a sense of comfort knowing the restaurant has nothing to hide, and a sense of belonging to the process. There is a nice comfort zone for the customer to make orders and relax while the chefs get busy preparing it. The chefs are under pressure because they know someone is there waiting and that the customer could be watching at any time. But they are more relaxed because they know the customer is comfortable and probably not watching their every move. Of course you, the chef, are making the dish exactly as it was ordered, but you are also able to add the touches to the dish the customer is expecting and didn’t have to explicitly ask for. The meal arrives complete and with the full expectation that it will be made right if anything is off.

I think it's pretty obvious which experience you’d prefer if you were the employee, but if you were the customer, which experience would you prefer? In the first example, you get to have your meal exactly as you wanted, but you also need to tell them exactly what to do to make the job right. In the second example, the environment in welcoming and comforting, and the meal is still what you wanted. You’ve put trust in the kitchen to do the job right. Maybe you even were pleasantly surprised with what they could do.


Trust Is Key

If you are a professional, you deserve to be trusted to do your job the way you know best.  You should want your client to respect that. Give them the space they need, and getting that trust will be much easier. You’ll both breathe a bit easier too!

It may not be easy to work with someone over your shoulder, but as an editor it will be something you will inevitably have to face. Treat it as a challenge and an opportunity to show off your skills in the spotlight. Take my advice and you’ll make it a little easier on yourself -- you’ll be editing like a pro in no time.

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