This is a subject I’ve received a lot of questions about in the past few months so instead of a bunch of fragmented responses in the future, it’s probably better to have one here. How did I “get to where I’m at” today working with Funhaus/Rooster Teeth or how did I transition out of school into full time editing/work? The simple answer is the same one I heard from everyone else that spoke on this: “I got lucky.” I never expected or foresaw any of the “career” I’ve had. I simply aimed to support myself and searched for a job the best I knew how. That is, applying for anything in post production through various film/video/entertainment based websites and doing what I could to investigate any opportunities through people I knew or had met personally. In a word; networking. I was and still am terrible at networking. There is a certain finesse to maintaining good rapport with people you really don’t know and, in truth, people you want to do something for you. I’m bad enough at keeping in touch with my own friends much less someone who is trying to get something from me while I’m trying to get something from them and it rarely ends up meeting in the middle but hey, some folks are really good at figuring out and maintaining that balance. I’m too lazy.
Eventually some guy under the name of some production company got back to me about editing a short film. We talked on the phone and I went to an “interview” at his “studio.” It was his apartment in Hollywood. I did my darndest but I just couldn’t give him what we wanted. He had lots of poorly lit greenscreen footage and wanted “King Kong” levels of compositing. We tried, but after a few weeks of commuting from Ventura to Hollywood, sleeping on my buddy Gary’s couch, and spending all day in this dude’s apartment, we weren’t getting anywhere. He was a cool guy, but I had/have my technical and creative limitations. Keep in mind, during this time I was sending out dozens of resumes/cover letters. Get used to not getting responses, it happens to a lot of people.
Next, I got a random call about a visual effects internship using After Effects and Photoshop. I arrived at a windowless animation studio/stage space that I guessed was once some kind of auto shop or industrial business of some kind. It had character; lots of quirky people packed in there doing all sorts of tasks in various stages of production. I met the post production guys who, at the time, were tucked away in a second story office. The visual effects supervisor sat me down at a computer and asked if I knew how to rotoscope. That was my first task and, I suspect, the real interview. On my screen I saw two well made puppets on a well made stage, or set, with a firehose. “What is this?” I thought. At the time I knew nothing about Moral Orel and had heard of Robot Chicken once. He walked me through the shot and what needed to happen. The firehose was flailing around in front of and behind the puppets. There was no water coming out of it and there was no greenscreen behind the puppets. To have an added water effect appear behind puppets without a way to remove the background (via keying out a green or blue screen), rotoscoping the parts of the puppets the nozzle travels behind was needed. I spent most of the day doing that and was surprised. It worked! I hadn’t done masking or rotoscoping to that extent before.
I liked this place; they were making something that was funded, they provided me with a work station (countless listings for jobs required I have all my own equipment), they seemed like nice people and I felt I would learn a lot doing post-production tasks. So, no paycheck, but it was something to do while I continued to search for paid employment. The sweet spot would have been to find this during the last bit of school. If you can intern somewhere while in school for credit, make sure you do that! Another note; you will likely have to start at the bottom and work your way up. It’s just how life works to some extent. Keep searching for an opportunity until you get one and then be diligent. Don’t ever think you’re special or that you’re owed anything. It’s not true. I knew a few guys in college who refused to do that. They wanted directing and producing jobs, for their own projects, right out of school. To my knowledge, they ended up back at home living with their parents. There isn’t anything wrong with back at home living with your parents if that’s part of your plan. Starting somewhere other than what you were hoping for is okay because any job, or experience at said job, will teach you something useful in life and can lead to something else. That said, don’t jump a situation that has a bunch of red flags. Shady people, dangerous work conditions, etc. This is something each person must judge for themselves.
So there I was, not much of a plan. I had around $2500 in savings and fortunately had found a pretty cool and relatively cheap (for LA area ($500/month)) place to live. It was with complete strangers who had posted an ad on craigslist. I got lucky there too because they ended up being good, respectful people. I think my parents would have helped me out for awhile had I ran out of funds but, as I have said, I got lucky. After a 2 - 3 months of being an intern, they offered me a job doing visual effects cleanup. So, a puppet jumps in the air - it can’t do that on it’s own - often there is a wire or support of some kind that needs to be removed afterward. That’s the general idea of what I was doing except now I had a $500/week (before taxes) check. It was the best thing I could have hoped for at the time. I worked there for about 3 years during which I got a few raises, transitioned into an assistant editor position and learned a lot about life. Sadly, having landed such a neat job, I got into the mindset of, “I made it. I’m on top.” That’s bad news. Don’t ever think that way. It’s great to feel good about where you’re at but it was all too easy for me to get complacent. It was simply a lesson I hadn’t yet learned and I think I learned it the hard way. Some of the folks I worked with probably don’t have the fondest memories of me and eventually, the management did not bring me back for the following season of whatever was next. There was no singular, dramatic event I’m referring to. Things just slowly eroded over time. It was a great job and I can only hope I didn’t ruffle anyone’s feathers too much. On the whole, all the people I worked with were wonderful and I learned a lot from them.
I thought it wouldn’t be too hard to find another job after this big addition of experience on my resume. Two places interviewed me but I never heard back from them. I spent a year looking for work, sending out many resumes over many moons. Nothing ever came of it. Fortunately, three or so years of employment is a lot of paychecks. I saved and didn’t spend too much on frivolous things and because of that I lived comfortably, and frugally, during that year of being unemployed. It was a glorious time. Granted, by the time my ol’ pal Adam Kovic wanted to have dinner and catch up, the savings were getting noticeably thinner. But, again, I was lucky. Adam was looking to expand his efforts at Machinima and that required more staff. I had met and befriended Adam during college and we remained in touch. As you can see, getting a job “cold” without knowing anyone is unlikely. It’s possible, but unlikely. Most job openings, I believe, are filled by people who are personally recommended. It was because I knew Adam and because he recommended me that I was able to get hired at Machinima. I worked with Adam, Lawrence, and eventually Bruce, James, Spoole, Joel and many others at Machinima for 3 and ½ years as I continued to, again, be somewhat of a head case as I learned life lessons. Fortunately they put up with it and still sort of do. From there you likely know the rest!
In terms of advice for those of you that desire to get into editing: You can see how it happened to me above and I hope it’s clear that there is no definitive way. Like I said, I never had a grand plan and I’m not owed a thing, I’ve just been fortunate enough to come across good jobs and good people. Luck and unforeseen good timing certainly played their part for me. One thing I was doing from highschool onward was editing in some way. Get your hands on software and use it. If you can take a class somewhere at a community college or something like that, I think that would be invaluable to you especially if you’re starting out. When I was at Machinima, we used Final Cut Pro 7. John Yniguez and I, the editors at the time, were already using Final Cut Pro; getting paid to edit videos with it “professionally.” We took a night class anyway and we both learned many useful tips and tools that were right under our noses. Had we known that information earlier it would have only made us better from an earlier point in time. So, I think taking a class is something you ought to do if you can.
Aside from that I would say, “Use what you have.” Your computer comes with iMovie or some other software? Ok, use it. Your phone shoots video? Great! Record video/audio with that and start tinkering around with the editing process. Downloader extensions also exist for Firefox and Chrome browsers. Install one of those and download whatever random video exists on YouTube and edit with that. Don’t go re-posting that stuff because it’s not yours but there is nothing wrong with using it as footage to practice editing. All sorts of sound effects can also be found in this way. If you can’t get extensions to work go to keepvid.com. If you can afford it, Adobe Creative Cloud is a pretty solid service. We use it here at Rooster Teeth. It’s a monthly subscription that allows you to download Adobe software to any computer you are logged on at. You can even download and install previous versions of software if your current machine cannot run the newest version(s). They have some good tutorials as well. Lastly, for now, lots of books exist that are written by editors. “In the Blink of an Eye” by Walter Murch was one I read in school and thought was pretty neat.
Worry about any expensive equipment until after you’ve proven to yourself that you really are interested in editing because you might actually hate it. Perhaps it seems glamorous when you watch Funhaus, but it’s work and we’re only able to do it relatively well for several reasons. The first is because some of us have been doing it for a decade or more. The second is we have each other to learn from day in and day out. The third reason is because we have a company behind us that provides our technological needs and wants. That isn’t to discourage you. I just know in my life there are many activities that interest me but, when it comes time to put in the required work to learn said activities and build experience to do them well, it’s often not very fun and I lose steam. Be aware of this human tendency as you move forward. Remember with any endeavor, “consistency is the mother of productivity.” You really do have to get 4 dimensional and be consistent. That last sentence is me talking to myself as much as you. Good luck!
Addendum #1 - Just because many of us have edited for "decades or more" does not mean it will take you years to learn to edit your own projects. Also, for those who are trying to figure out what you might do in an upcoming chapter of your life in terms of work, watch the video I've linked at the end. I think it has a lot of good things to say and it's a great reminder that there are many many paths to success. Don't pigeonhole yourself into a goal of 1 specific job at 1 specific company. It's unrealistic and limiting. That doesn't mean it can't happen, but it's better to embrace the idea that there are a myriad of ways to prosper. I tried editing because it seemed like a balance of something I might be good at and something I enjoyed.