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An important question I often get is “how do I join the union?” This question comes from many people I meet, from established editors to the young people just starting out in the Hollywood. The catch is that the answer isn’t at all that simple. The question should be: “should I join the union?” Putting it simply, if you’re asking that question, the answer is not quite yet. But that’s just the beginning of the story.

The people who should “join the union” are people who have been offered a position on a union show and are either rostered or have some other loophole to exploit.  Since the latter is a longshot, your best bet to joining the union is to roster. But let’s slow down a minute and talk about why you would want to join the union. The Motion Picture Editors Guild is a valuable organization of many of the most talented post-production artists in Hollywood. It provides great benefits: health insurance, a pension plan, protection from overwork/underpay, free screenings and seminars, and finally great discounts for things like software and cellphone plans. (For a complete list, check out this link.) But with every benefit, there is a downside. But that’s another rant.

So what do you need to join the union?  Well, the answer is you need to work non-union.  You need to work, be paid, and be credited as an editor (or whatever editing title you join the union as, i.e. Assistant Editor, etc.)  You can make below union scale.  You can work inconsistently.  All you need to have is the ability to demonstrate that you have 175 days of non-union work experience in the three years prior to applying.  If you’re joining as an Assistant or something else, the day requirement will be even less! Now, let’s say you’ve met these requirements.  What should you do?  Well, you should roster.  What is rostering?  Rostering is a list of membership-eligible people who the union says are qualified for work, but haven’t gotten their first union job yet.  It’s a sneaky way to keep you on their radar and to keep you from lying when you say “yes” if someone asks about your union status.  Of course, you don’t get anything tangable for rostering besides the piece of mind, but the advantage this provides is it allows a potential union employer to judge your resume without worrying about whether you’re in the union or not.  For information about what to do once you’re at this stage, click over to this link at the union’s website.

Now, if you’ve made it this far, you must be asking yourself “how do I get a union job?”  Honestly, that’s the hard part.  Meeting people who could potentially hire you on union productions is entirely based on who you know.  Not being able to help anyone with that, I’ll address the circumstances under which you should jump from rostering to actually becoming a full member: don’t do it unless you are offered a job for more than a few months. The initiation fees are hundreds of dollars, and in order to get any of the health benefits, you need to work an initial 600 hours to qualify, so don’t do it if you won’t be working enough to justify it.  You should be very confident that you’ll be working for months, not weeks, and if you’re not making enough, keep your money and wait.  I personally waited two years between rostering and joining.

And what is it like on the inside?  Well, it’s kind of a double-edged sword.  I’ll save you the rant for Part 2 (forthcoming) but it certainly can be awesome.  The hardest part is to keep working union shows enough to maintain your benefits.  But if you can do that, it’s a great thing to have.  My only question is whether its sustainable in its current model.  But again, I’ll save that for Part 2.

For more information, leave a comment here or head on over to the Guild’s website.  Check back for my next entry in the saga of the Editor’s Guild…

So this week at NAB Avid released details about their upgrade to the Media Composer editing system.  Talk about gamechanger.  Avid now allows for dragging and dropping in the timeline, native Quicktime AND RED support (and I’m not talking about Quicktime Proxies here), solo and mute buttons in the timeline, a much stronger user interface, I could go on…  Hey Apple and the uninspired team at Final Cut Pro: now that Avid has co-opted all your awesome features, what about you maybe making some of your own innovations?

It’s been a long time coming for Avid.  Granted, none of these improvements would have ever come had Apple not entered the market.  The Cupertino computer giant does deserve that credit.  But when it comes to making decisions about what software I’d use on my next job, any argument against Avid has officially been nullified for me.  I used to have an expression: Final Cut Pro is a great editor on top of a crappy media manager, and Avid is a so-so editor on top of an awesome media manager.  Today I officially put that to rest because Avid has proven that they are willing to change.

As for Final Cut Pro, I can’t say the same.  It’s been months since I purchased my upgrade to Final Cut Pro 7, and I have to say, I’m not about to open the box and install that POS on my computer.  Sure, there are quality cosmetic changes to the editing system, like the introduction of ProRes Proxy and 4444 and the colored locators that trim with your edits, but that masks the fact that Final Cut Studio 3 actually runs SLOWER than Final Cut Studio 2 [link 1] [link 2].  And Avid already has the best project-sharing functionality, so tell me what I should choose Apple next time around?

Apple entered the market strongly and has done great things to bring professional editing to the people.  But the truth is Avid has responded by doing laps around Apple while Apple is distracted by their innovations at the consumer level.  It’s high time that Apple either sh*t or get off the pot when it comes to Final Cut Studio.  Sell it or fix it.  I’m tired of dealing with this.

UPDATE: Ask and ye shall receive.  No sooner than I write this post do I see and article from MacSoda that quotes the almighty himself Steve Jobs as saying “The next release will be awesome.”  Scanning through the comments, there’s a mixture of excitment and true disbelief as to whether that is indeed true or simply spin.  Color me undecided, but at the moment, I’m still waiting for something more than Steve’s curt emails.

If you disagree with me, please comment.  Check out the first comment left already by Zach Fine, who presents an excellent rebuttal about the FCS3 upgrade and makes some great points about workflows and benefits.  I still disagree about the state of Final Cut Pro, but hey, he’s a smart guy and he makes some great points.

Interesting post from the ever-excellent Silicon Alley Insider: Sorry, There’s No Way To Save The TV Business

As with print-based media, Internet-based distribution generates only a tiny fraction of the revenue and profit that today’s incumbent cable, broadcast, and satellite distribution models do.  As Internet-based distribution gains steam, therefore, most TV industry incumbents will no longer be able to support their existing cost structures.

Here’s the gist: we’re all going to be out of work in five years.  Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the truth is that I don’t see much of a future for the industry.  THAT IS NOT TO SAY THAT I DON’T LOVE THE BUSINESS AND WANT TO DO THIS FOREVER, but the fact of the matter is, especially with post-production, job levels are taking a nose-dive and revenue streams are not far behind it.  I mean, we already have internet-equipped televisions, internet video on the rise, and more people then ever on the internet, so the technology is there.  How long before the industry has the rug pulled out from under us, just like the newspaper and record industry?

And things are already dead in this town.  What from the Writer’s Strike, the SAG “strike”, and the down economy, I can’t image jobs ever getting back to the levels they were at when I first moved out here.  I don’t want to say that we’ll never find a way to work, but if you’ve got any ideas, I suggest you pick up the phone and call some industry executives, because they want to know.

Quick link to a recent episode of KCRW’s The Business: Below The Line and Under The Gun.  It’s probably the best description of the job market facing us below-the-line’rs in this town.  Only problem is that it doesn’t even address the job market for post-production, because with the addition of technology to all these problems, editorial staffs have gone from double-digit crews to maybe two or three people for multi-million dollar projects! You want to talk about too much supply vs. demand, here is your example #1!

I’d love to hear what anyone has to say about this.  Hell, talk me down if you think I’m crazy.  I would love for someone to make me feel better about this.  Please comment!

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