Editor: The Amateur vs. The Professional

Do you want something done? Or do you want something done right?

How is it that the professional editor in a $20,000+ non-linear editing suite has to compete with the 18-year-old neighbor with a MacBook Pro and FCPX who lives in his mother’s basement?

The educated and accredited professional editor of today, who started out slapping news packages together at their local PBS station on reel-to-reel, is getting underbid by a self-taught teenager who rearranged a few After Effects templates.

There is a battle in the post production industry – the amateur vs. the professional editor. Can the professional editor continue to exist while being undercut by the amateur?

The answer is most definitely yes, and here are some tips on how to position yourself to win.

Who is the Amateur Editor?

By definition an amateur is someone who does something for no money. In this usage of the word, the amateur editor is performing work for almost no money compared to what a professional editor would charge.

He or she cannot be blamed for underbidding. In fact, their entrepreneurial spirit should be praised in a time when finding a steady 9-5 is more difficult than normal.

What some of them can be blamed for is creating false expectations among clients about what can be delivered and for how much. This can happen if they overpromise about what they are going to deliver. Original professionally produced videos are rarely made for a few hundred dollars.

Amateurs tend to charge unsustainably low prices as they don’t factor in the costs of really running a business. Many exit the industry quickly after finding they can’t earn a living at the rates they are charging.

There are many reasons professional editors charge what they charge and they make it worth ever dollar. Professionals incur costs that amateurs do not. They pay taxes, insurance, reinvest in their business, etc. which all factor into their rate. Amateurs tend to forget about these these costs.

What Happens to Companies Who Use Amateurs?

In a tight economy, many small and medium-sized businesses are on the lookout for ways to cut costs. Skimping on production or post production can seem tempting. The over-saturation of amateur editors with access to professional-grade software like FCPX and Premiere Pro with super demo reels cut from templates and Wordpress websites gives these businesses hope that professional videos can be made for hundreds of dollars in no time at all.

Many give in to the false promise and end up disappointed with the results. Unfortunately this wastes their time (something that’s in precious supply) and leads some of them to the conclusion that using video for marketing doesn’t work. This ends up hurting their business, as well as, the video production market as a whole.


A small business of 20 employees wants a promo illustrating what they do for prospective clients on the front page of their new website. They collect bids from local freelance professionals and post production houses. They like what they see from XYZ Post and are thinking about signing the $4,000 contract until the marketing director remembers that her cousin made this awesome slideshow at a recent family event and contacts him. He sends over a link to his website and says he can do it for $450 without even hearing what the company wants. With the support of the marketing director, what do you think the small business will choose?

What usually happens is the business spends the $450 and gets an amateur video complete with star wipes, copyrighted music and no nat sound. Then they hold onto it dearly for a couple years. They got a bargain, right? Then the marketing director leaves and the new employee wants a new video but the CEO who knows nothing about video has a great attachment to it for one reason or another. The company now decides to spend the $4,000 to make a professional video but wants to use part of the old video but all that’s left is a 480p .mp4 file that was uploaded to their site years ago. There’s no NLE project, raw media or elements because that cousin of the marketing director lost the drive or no one knows how to get ahold of him. The newly hired professional editor at XYZ Post walks in, sighs, and works his or her magic.

What You Can Do to Win

Understand Your Clients

One way to show clients the value of working with a professional is to spend time upfront with them learning about their business and their objectives in producing a video. If you can help them understand how your work will help them achieve their business goals, then you will have a leg up on the amateur who has no time for understanding the job. Putting their needs and desired results front and center will help build trust.

Educate Clients

Educating the client is crucial. Tell them what they are paying for and why it matters. Are they paying for custom transitions and lower thirds? Will they not see their opening animation on another company’s website because it’s not from a template? Make sure to educate them about copyright laws and how only legally obtained music and elements will be used in their video. Tell them about your archive system and the security they have with working with an incorporated professional.

Also, make sure to explain how the process works – remember this is probably new territory for them. You can help show them why investing in a high-quality production will provide benefits for years to come.

Don’t Work for Little-to-no Money

A professional editor needs to price their service in a way that’s going to provide a sustainable standard of living. One approach to figuring out your rate is to model your cost of doing business and price accordingly. Vincent Laforet has a great article on this, that is specific to video production. Another resource to look at is FreelanceSwitch.

If you are experienced, an alternative to charging based on this cost plus model is to charge based on the value that you provide as detailed in our post on how to raise your rates.

The important thing is to stick with your rates once you decide on them. There is no sense working for a seriously discounted rate if you are providing professional quality. Doing that only hurts the industry as a whole and devalues the services you provide.

Typically the companies that grind you down on price and want the cheapest work done end up being the biggest pains anyway so it is probably better to pass on them and let the amateur learn their lesson.

Create Awesome Videos

Creating awesome videos is the best way to keep companies coming back and to get new business. Post production is still a very word-of-mouth industry and no amount of marketing can pay for a first-hand testimonial. Similarly, always over-deliver on everything. Make sure if the first draft is due on the 22nd, it’s posted to ScreenLight and in the company’s inbox to review by the 18th.

Specialize and Sell What Makes You Unique

It’s much easier to compete with newcomers if you focus on a particular niche. Focusing on one area makes it easier to explain why you are uniquely qualified to help potential clients realize their vision.

It also makes it easier to market your services, as you tend to learn where potential customers are, what they need, and how to reach them. References from clients in your niche will carry more weight with people in the same area, than a bunch of disparate testimonials. It will be easier for clients in the same niche to visualize what you will be able to deliver for them.

When you try to be all things to all people it becomes difficult to explain how you are different, and consequently, potential clients pay more attention to price. This is a battle that's hard to win in the long-term.

Find a Way to Work With Amateurs

The market does not have to be split into an us vs. them mentality. Another reason for the rise of the amateur is that there are fewer entry-level jobs as a whole in the industry. Many people who can’t find work doing what they love, strike out on their own at bargain basement rates. Perhaps there are opportunities to bring some of them into the fold through things like internships where you are training and supporting a new generation of talent.


It is easy to criticize the amateur editor but they are here to stay and it’s something we as professional editors have to deal with. Post houses will eventually employ the amateurs that truly love the art and strive to become better editors. Showing the client the benefits of using a professional, knowing when to say no to jobs, and constantly creating awesome videos is the best way to win the battle of the amateur vs. the professional.