The Evolution of the Creative Professional

As someone who first edited video in 1986, I have borne witness to a wholesale revolution and evolution of the creative industry. Well actually, just creativity as a whole. Amazing creative work now comes from all corners of the globe, all age groups and all skill levels.  

Creative professionals used to have very defined roles. Producer, Director, Writer, Camera, Lighting, Sound, Editing, Graphics, Animation and so on. When I started at CNN in 1990 I was a video editor. That’s it. I arrived at work each day and when I left 9 hours later, the only task I did all day was to edit video. In Hollywood, New York, Georgia and other locations were major
film and television project are happening, those roles still exist on set, in part mandated and governed by unions. For the rest of us, however, being a creative professional is wholly different.

“One Man Bands” have probably existed as long as film cameras have been around. But in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, with the advent of really affordable, high quality cameras and really affordable editing tools, the one man band concept started to take on a new life. Good cameraman made pretty good editors and good editors made decent cameramen. On occasion
you got hooked up with someone who excelled at both.

Today, it’s fully expected that you will not only know how to operate a camera and edit video, you’re expected to be quite good at both. In fact, you’re expected to know how to do just about everything that’s involved in video production. See the clients see the same ads we do on the cost of the cameras, the editing tools and everything else that goes with it because our
“professional tools” are no longer part of the “professional domain.” The “prosumer” label is gone replaced with “products.” The same Panasonic GH4 and Blackmagic Camera that I shoot with is available just about anywhere for anyone to use. The same Adobe Suite that I use in Post is available for anyone with a subscription.

So as the operator of a media production company, how do we compete with literally everyone in the world? You evolve with the both the times and the technology.

For the past 5 years especially there has been a marked rise in videographers now doing full video editing services. At least that’s what I’m seeing from people whom I’ve worked with. There’s two reasons for that. One, budgets are being cut so they can make up for a lower budget shoot by including and performing the edit. Two, the feasibility of editing, color, graphics and sound tools makes it a no brainer for the photographers to get into the Post side of things.

Well if the videographers are going to evolve into editors, then editors can easily evolve into videographers. That’s another major observation I’ve made over the past 5 years or so. The amount of editors I know who are now very prolific as videographers and cinematographers. This is driven primarily by the feasibility of obtaining very high quality cameras and lenses along with all the support gear. I can tell you that’s the case with my company. Being fully outfitted with two complete 4k camera packages for under $10,000 is something I would have laughed at in 1990. Actually I would have laughed at a frame size of 3840 x 2160. “Who’s gonna ever watch THAT?!?”

A successful Creative Professional today and into the future is going to be an extremely creative and technically diverse “one man band.” To have a sole discipline will not be enough for the mainstream creative professionals.

It’s not just smaller companies and agencies like my own, “Great Big Story” from CNN is a small team of 30 people with Producers “one man banding” most all their stories. The stories are beautifully produced because they have great storytellers with access to high quality tools that fit into the palm of their hand. And they have editing tools that make it super simple to get their stories cut and delivered. In fact, they don’t even have edit bays, just computers for everyone to use as they need to get the stories told.

Some lament the loss of the skilled personnel at each position and seem to think we’re losing control of the craft and the art of being a creative professional. I personally have embraced this idea pretty much since my early days at CNN. I was always a “studio rat” learning as much as I could from all aspects of the network. In the 2000’s Alton Brown would always ask why I was always hanging around the “Good Eats” set since I was in Post. I was there to observe as much as I could because that was easily the finest production crew I’ve ever been around. Lessons learned then still apply to my work today. For me, being an editor is awesome and that’s always my first love, but honestly I’m a storyteller first and foremost. Getting into the field, behind the lens, building props, and most of all, production planning really get me going. I know, that’s weird right? Production planning and storyboarding is exciting? Well for me it is.

In today’s world we have the ability to connect with, learn and share with incredible professionals and hobbyists the world over. I’m blessed to call so many of these amazing folks my friends. So there really isn’t a “one man band” any longer. Your one man (or woman) band is supported by a cast of thousands who are ready to offer advice and tutelage whenever
needed.

So for those of you planning to be a Creative Professional, think of it today as “Liberal Arts.” Get to know a little about a lot of the creative process. Hone in on a few that you really love and get really proficient at. But be ready to change hats often and say “yes” when asked if you can do that. For those of you already in the field but specializing in one or two things, step out
of your comfort zone and get to know more about your the other elements of production. 

This is an awesome world we live in. Let’s create the hell out of it.