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You can refuse to do a freebie edit and not be a dick

Or how we can all learn a thing or two from the article I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script

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There’s a great article on the Village Voice blogs by A History of Violence screenwriter Josh Olson titled I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script. It’s a must read for any editor who has spent a good portion of their career editing professionally and has an extended group of family and friends who know what he or she does for a living. I say this because if you fall into that aforementioned category then you’ve been asked, possibly many times, to edit the occasional wedding video, baby video, memorial tribute, work video etc. etc. etc. for a friend and family member or (perhaps worse) some friend of a friend who heard you were an editor.

The idea of Olson’s article is that as a professional screenwriter he has so many screenplays (and screenplay related) material to read that the last thing he wants is to read another screenplay for someone he may or may not even know. I love his standard response (from the Village Voice article):

I have two piles next to my bed. One is scripts from good friends, and the other is manuscripts and books and scripts my agents have sent to me that I have to read for work. Every time I pick up a friend’s script, I feel guilty that I’m ignoring work. Every time I pick something up from the other pile, I feel guilty that I’m ignoring my friends. If I read yours before any of that, I’d be an awful person.

The same thing can probably be said for most editors. If you’re like me there’s enough paying professional work to easily fill a normal 40 hour work week +. Then when I get home there’s my personal videos of the kid, camera tests I have been working on, short narrative films of my own, other director’s films that I have agreed to work on for free because I liked the script and tons of tutorials for any number of software products and creative skills that I want to learn more about. The last thing, last thing, that I want to do in the evening or on the weekend is to sit in front of the computer and edit a video that doesn’t fall into those categories, much less for a person that I hardly know or don’t care about.

I learned a valuable lesson about this many years ago. I was asked to edit a memorial video for a friend of a friend’s parent and since they had lost a family member I felt sorry for them and agreed. To my shock I got boxes of photos, scrapbooks and video tapes with which to make this video. I put it off and put it off until the last minute but finally slapped something together. The family thanked me for the video but have to believe that the sloppiness and lack of effort showed through. With that I learned to never accept such a job if I wasn’t dedicated to it 100%. After that I developed a standard response when asked to edit these kinds of videos, which I have used for years:

Thanks for the offer to edit your ______________ (insert video I don’t want to work on) video but you have to understand that I can’t do it for free. I edit as my profession, sitting in a dark edit suite all day every day so it’s hard to take time away from my family, friends, other interests and career pursuits, not to mention recreational activities that there is precious little time for anyway, in the evening and on the weekends to work on personal projects for other people. I will be happy to edit your piece but for that reason I can’t do it for free but I would be willing to do it for $____________ (insert extremely large flat fee that you really would be willing to do the edit for). That includes you giving me not too much material to use in a somewhat organized fashion, with notes on what I am seeing. I will offer you one round of changes and provide 2 DVDs of the end product. Any You Tube or Internet uploads will be extra.

I have only had one person accept these terms over the years and I made a cool $5,000 for a tiny 2 – 3 minute edit. That one was worth it. I’m certainly not saying that an editor shouldn’t do favor edits for friends and family, just know (as Olsen said in the article) that it’s okay to say ‘no’ when asked to do a freebie edit and not be a dick. Yes Olsen is an Academy Award nominated writer and the closest most of us have ever come to such an award is working with a person named Oscar but that doesn’t mean that your time is not valuable. If you feel you must take on a freebie job that you don’t want to do then why not set up a barter-type system as payment where you will do the edit but can ask for something in exchange from the “client.” If you’re lucky maybe they will own a business you can benefit from or provide a service where you can bank some credits and use that service in the future. If nothing else ask for an evening of babysitting or a gift certificate to a favorite restaurant. Most people won’t have any problem providing a little payment like this in return, especially when you explain how long it takes to actually do a proper edit. If they balk then say no, walk away and do not feel bad about it at all. The real dick in that equation is the one who ask for a freebie but won’t provide ANY kind of payment in return, no matter how small.


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Scott Simmons was born in rural West Tennessee and didn't really realize that movies and tv had to be made by actual people until he went to college. After getting degrees in both Television Production…

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