We recently said goodbye to another class of interns here at Boom Box Post and the timing seems right to bring up a theme we get from a lot of the talent that complete our program. They want to know how to avoid getting fired when beginning their careers. While this is in fact a very smart question to ask, I thought I’d spin things in a more positive light and collect some ideas not simply avoiding termination but truly impressing on the job.
Do your homework
As a supervisor, I want you to be creative but the odds are there’s a specific style I’ll need you to work within to make sure you fit into the project. If I'm being honest, what I'm looking for a clone of myself and there’s no better way for you to meet that expectation than to research any previous work.
If you’re jumping on a TV project, odds are there are some episodes you can catch up with to give yourself a baseline before beginning your work. Hearing a description of the general or style of a project is valuable but seeing it for yourself means having the chance to truly absorb it in your own way. Notice any stylistic flourishes like treatment of camera moves or custom built sound effects. Pay attention to what sounds cut through in the mix. Even better, ask if there’s a reference session that can be provided. By opening and analyzing an editorial session, you learn a ton. Start collecting sounds you think will be useful for future episodes. Take notes of any specific builds and export sessions for quick use down the line.
Before you begin, ask smart questions
You can make a fantastic first impression, simply by showing the foresight to ask a few insightful questions. Before you cut a single sound effect, ask:
“Where will the project to be seen? Is it for the web? TV? Theatrical release? Are you mixing in 5.1 or stereo?”
A project that is designed to be watched on headphones shouldn’t contain a lot of super low end material that won’t translate. A surround edit will require more ambient material and longer heads and tails for moments that need surround panning. The final destination and format for the project should affect the way you approach the work.
“Do you have any labeling conventions you’d like me to follow?”
Any well organized project will have some sort of show code or labeling system in place. As you go through your work, labeling any custom effects as well as your final session to match the rest of the work will keep things well organized for your supervisor.
“Is there a template you’d like me to work with?”
This is a big one, and one that is all too often simply not asked. It’s so tempting to just dive in when inspiration hits, but it will truly make the downstream recipients of your work thrilled if you start with their template. No project template to work from? Ask if they’d prefer you utilize food groups or keep the track count to a certain maximum.
Know your place in the chain
I’ve written extensively about showing your professionalism through your work and thinking about those down the line who will be receiving your work. Understanding how your work fits into the greater picture is such an important concept to grasp as a new editor. Above all, remember: someone is paying you to make their life easier. If we all had unlimited time, we’d simply cut and mix every part of every project we work on (or at least I would because I really enjoy this job). But since I am trusting you with a job function, I am expecting you to give me something that saves me time. If your work ultimately causes me more work, I’m not only going to scratch you off my list for future jobs, I’m going to feel like I wasted time and money on you. On the bright side, you can be a star by doing the opposite. Understanding how to stay organized and prepping the work for a smooth transition to the mix stage is paramount. Be sure to study up on these concepts.
Be a problem solver
This too comes back to the basic fact that you’ve been hired you to accomplish work, not cause more work. Once you’ve spotting your project and had a chance to ask your initial questions, the odds are your supervisor is going want to forget all about you until your deadline. I get it - it’s very easy to shoot off a quick email if a creative question comes up. But a truly valuable editor is the one self sufficient enough to problem solve on their own. Ask yourself, is this truly something I can’t figure out on my own? Then ask all your friends for help. Your former teachers. Your mail carrier. Obviously I’m joking here, and there are some questions that need answers from a supervisor but you get the point. Consider the fact that your supervisor is probably managing not only multiple facets of your project but multiple projects before reaching out to ask a question that with a little work, you may be able to answer.
In this job, there’s no greater pleasure then when I am truly surprised by someone’s work. You’re going to be facing a deadline. You’re going to need to make a thousand creative decisions on every project. Find time to put some love into your work. It sounds cliche but I can truly tell when someone has a passion for this job simply by listening to their work. If you’re not willing to put in the extra time to make it truly shine - not willing to surprise me - you’re probably in the wrong business. But if I see your passion come through, odds are I will keep sending work your way.
Finish your work on time
If you’re a freelance artist, time management can be a real hurdle. Being able to work with a deadline shows professionalism and self management. Your work should always, without fail, be turned in by the given deadline. Want to truly impress? Turn your work in a few days early informing your supervisor that you wanted to leave time for any necessary fixes they may ask of you. Trust me, you’ll blow their minds. If you need a little help staying on course, check out this post I’ve written on tips for improving creative productivity.
WHAT TIPS DO YOU HAVE FOR THE FRESH FACED SOUND EDITORS OF THE WORLD? LEAVE YOUR IDEAS IN THE COMMENTS.